Tired of constantly having her house looking like an aftermath of a kid’s birthday party, a friend asked me for ways to keep the environment in mind when turning her basement into a playroom. She was thinking of installing new floors, painting the walls, and buying some new furniture. I quickly did some research and came up with these simple and relatively low-cost recommendations.
1. Use VOC-free paints: Paints that do not contain any or very small amounts of volatile organic compounds such as benzene or tolulene are better for your family and the environment. The smell of fresh paint actually comes from the vapours released from the toxic ingredients used as solvents in conventional paints, otherwise known as VOCs. Buying low or VOC-free paints ensures that you aren’t adding more toxins into the air, especially your indoor air. Indoor air quality is often two to five times worse than the outdoor variety, and concentrations of VOCs can be up to 1,000 times greater indoors than out!*
2. Get an air-cleaning plant: Plants like the peace lilies, bamboo palms, and mums are great in removing chemicals such as formaldehyde, benzene and carbon monoxide from the air and they can add a homey feel to a room as well.
3. Forest Stewardship Council or FSC-certified wood flooring: I was going to recommend bamboo flooring because it is a renewable resource that can be grown and harvested quickly (3 years vs. 120 years for oak). But the lack of a third-party certification system to ensure that the bamboo is harvested in a sustainable fashion (e.g. use of pesticides, monoculture trends) and that the workers have appropriate working conditions and wages make me wary to recommend bamboo flooring as a better alternative to wood. However, FSC-certified wood is a good choice. Products that have the FSC label indicate that they come from forests that are managed to meet the social, economic and ecological needs of present and future generations.**
4. Green Carpeting: If you are going to choose carpeting, buy ones with 100% recycled content (e.g. PET plastic). Carpets can be a major source of indoor air contamination because the adhesives and the latex rubber used by some manufacturers generate VOCs. Also, be sure to air out the carpet for 48 to 72 hours before having the kids play on it because most of the VOC emissions dissipate after that amount of time.***
5. Green Kids Furniture: Search the internet for “green kids furniture” and you will come up with a list of companies that produce exactly that. I won’t name any names here but you will be able to find kids furniture that uses FSC-certified wood (or even recycled paper), non-toxic and VOC-free paints. And their prices are very reasonable! Better yet, shop at garage sales or online on buy/sell sites to find someone who is selling or sometimes just giving away their kids’ furniture.
* The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, “An Introduction to Indoor Air Quality”, http://www.epa.gov/iaq/index.html
** Forest Stewardship Council, http://www.fsc.org/about-fsc.html
***Carpet and Rug Institute, www.carpet-schools.com/emissions.htm
VOCs: VOC (Volatile Organic Compounds) emissions can be natural or anthropogenic (person made). Natural sources include vegetation, forest fires, and animals. Anthropogenic sources include solvents and solvents containing products and other industrial sources. Although natural sources of VOC emissions are larger overall, it is anthropogenic sources in populated and industrialized areas that are the main contributors to air quality problems (Environment Canada, 2005).
FSC: The Forest Stewardship Council is an independent, non-governmental, not for profit organization established to promote the responsible management of the world’s forests. Products carrying the FSC label come from forests that are managed to meet the social, economic and ecological needs of present and future generations.
PET: PET stands for polyethylene terephthalate. PET is used to make containers for soft drinks, juices, water, edible oils, other foods, and some household cleaners. PET plastic can be recycled into carpets, fleece clothing, new plastic bottles and more.
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