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Tips to make a toddler's room sustainable

Published: Wednesday, Feb. 15, 2012 1:47 p.m. CDT

(ARA) - Whether you've been taking steps toward green living or you're a newbie and want to jump start your efforts and reduce your carbon footprint on earth, one area of opportunity is your toddler's room.

Two interior design instructors from The Art Institutes share how to make your toddler's room sustainable.

"Sustainability is a popular subject, and most experts in design agree sustainability has to be a way of living and incorporated into our every day," says Kristina Held, interior design instructor at The Art Institute of Charlotte. "Wooden toys are a small investment and a good place to start." Held recommends Plan toys or Haba toys which are wood and naturally antibacterial.

Wooden toys: Even Kourtney Kardashian promotes wooden, sustainable toys as opposed to plastic toys on her "mommy blog." Some of the top reasons to buy wooden toys:

* Conserve energy: It takes more energy and fuel to make plastic toys. * Plastic toys are made with chemicals - and we all know how toddlers tend to stick toys in their mouths. * Wooden toys are durable compared to plastic toys (you also don't have to replace batteries).

Fabrics: Consider bedding, curtain treatments and upholstery. "Think about choosing natural fibers such as linens and bamboo," says Kelly Spewock, interior design department director at The Art Institute of Pittsburgh. "Bamboo is the most popular at the moment, and it is also a renewable resource." A blend of cottons with acrylic and rayon make great upholstery fabrics, Held says. Worried about the softness to the touch? Cotton textiles that are brushed are soft on toddler's skin, and so are terry clothes made of hemp and cotton. Try to avoid dyes. Cotton is the best for preventing irritated skin and breakouts, and it is also easy to clean.

Repurposing furniture: If you're taking the room from baby to toddler-friendly, Spewock recommends repurposing your furniture. "Get creative by converting the crib into a bed by taking off the railings and use old wooden boxes as shelving," Spewock says. Go the shabby chic route by sanding an old desk and painting it white or a pastel color. Then, remove some of the paint with a cloth for an old/distressed look and feel. Saw off half of the table's legs to make a toddler-accessible play/work area, Spewock says.

Flooring and carpeting: Carefully consider flooring and carpeting because toddlers are just a few feet off the floor and on their hands and knees all day. "Carpets are tough. You have to constantly steam clean to get rid of the dust mites and dirt they collect. Toddlers are breathing the dust, dirt and the glues on wall to wall carpeting," Held says. Carpets with natural fibers create less off-gassing (toxins and glue coming from the carpets and furniture). She recommends Amtico floors which can be made to resemble wood, tile, stone and linoleum. But nothing beats wood flooring, Held says. Again, it is naturally antibacterial, easy to clean and warm to bare skin.

Take sustainability to the walls: Spewock recommend Zero-VOC paint which has no off-gassing and is water-soluble. Paint gives off fumes just like the glue in furniture and fabrics in the carpets. "Ten years ago you'd pay twice as much for environmentally friendly paint. Now, it's affordable and much more common," Spewock says.

Show and tell: Educate children through design and teach them through example, recommend both Spewock and Held. Introduce green plants and teach your toddler how to take care of them, Held says. Plants get rid of toxins you don't want in your air.

Consider maximizing the natural light in your toddler's room. "It's been proven in a classroom setting that children stay awake, more alert, and they are generally happier when exposed to natural light," Held says. Expose them to fresh air, especially if your home is cooled by central air where toxins are circulated. Open up and freshen up to avoid harvesting viruses, dust mites, animal hair, etc.

Decorate the walls using symbols and imagery such as trees, a globe of the world and other items that represent the natural world. To teach them about energy conservation, paint a sun with its eyes closed for the "off" light switch position and a sun with its eyes open for the "on switch" position. "Celebrate Earth Day and get your children interested in helping to recycle," Spewock says. "Live it so your child embraces it."

Kristina Held is an architect by trade, a member of American International Architects, and Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Accredited Professional (LEED AP) certified. She teaches residential design and working drawings, perspectives, and architectural details. She also has two daughters of her own, a 4-year-old and a 6-year-old.

Kelly Spewock is also LEED Certified. In addition to her interior design chair duties, she is also owner of Little House designs in Pittsburgh.

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