Home Sweet Home May Not Be So Sweet: Is your New Nursery Healthy for your Baby

On the surface the image looks pretty serene - parent and infant rocking gently in a big chair in the room freshly painted and carpeted for its new inhabitant....

On closer inspection, all may not be right. If done incorrectly, the renovation of a baby's room can turn this space from lullaby land into a chemical soup.

Decorating their new baby's room is an exciting project for expectant parents but, there are many potential hazards in this important project. A common mistake, for example, happens when choosing paint. Look for a low-toxicity water-based paint as these are considered safer than conventional latex paint which can give off noxious fumes. If you decide to paint, do it early. If the room still smells of paint when a baby or child moves in, chances are the paint is still giving off dangerous emissions. If you use a low-odour paint, you will be able to use the room much sooner. Many parents decide to wallpaper babies' or children's rooms. Wallpaper and their glues emit irritants. Wallpapers are made of vinyl and the adhesives contain chemicals to prevent moulds. Wallpapers get mouldy when indoor moisture is high. Although it is a common belief that natural materials are healthier than synthetic ones, this isn't always the case. Some natural resin and linseed paints, used for interior trims and doors, give off odours that some people find irritating.

Be careful when choosing new furniture for your little one's room. Furniture made from particle board emits fumes which can be harmful to babies and young children.

Some parents choose to put humidifiers in children's bedrooms although they may not be necessary in damper environments. Residential humidifiers should be used with caution as they accumulate dust and debris which will support the growth of bacteria and fungi. If you do choose to use a humidifier, be sure it is cleaned and maintained regularly. Some types of vaporizers also give off respirable particles coming from minerals dissolved in the tap water.

Most carpet is made using synthetic latex backing, which is a source of long-term emission. Look for carpets that have been made without latex bonding.

An even healthier choice is hardwood or tile flooring. If sanding the floor yourself, isolate the area carefully and use a central vacuum vented to the outside or one with a high efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter to clean up the dust. Use a finish for the hardwood that is water-based and low odour.

Canada's authority on housing, CMHC, has taken a special interest in healthy housing renovations and indoor air quality. Because of the direct relationship between poor air quality and health problems, CMHC has done extensive research in the area and offers consumers a renovator's kit that addresses these issues.

Tips for healthy renovation of a baby's or child's room

  • Most carpet is made using synthetic latex backing which is a source of long-term emission. Look for carpets that have been made without latex bonding or use hard, smooth flooring.

  • Ensure that the wood flooring is solid wood, not pressed wood.

  • Exposure to odours is avoided by installing pre-finished wood flooring.

  • If sanding the floor yourself, isolate the area carefully and use a vacuum exhausted to the outside or one with a high efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter.

  • If painting, buy low odour water-based paints.

  • Be aware that wallpapers and their glues emit irritants. Wallpapers can become moldy in the presence of moisture.

  • Natural materials aren't always healthier than synthetic ones. Some natural resin and linseed paints, used for interior trims and doors, or linseed oil-base floor coverings, give off irritating odours.

  • It is best to avoid particle-board furniture as it gives off emissions. Use solid wood or seal all exposed surfaces and edges completely.

  • Use a humidifier only if you are sure it is necessary and you clean it regularly.

  • Be aware of sources of pollutants from other parts of the house.

To order CMHC's Healthy Housing Renovations kit for $24.95, Building Materials for the Environmentally Hypersensitive for $29.95 or other housing publications contact your nearest CMHC office or CMHC's web site at www.cmhc-schl.gc.ca.

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