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The Easy and Inexpensive Green Home Guide

James Tse

The Nursery: Baby's Home Safe Home

Babies spend up to 16 hours a day in their nursery, so creating a safe, toxin-free environment is a priority. According to Greene, an organic crib mattress is a good place to start. A new crib mattress comes from a factory loaded with potent fumes. (See for yourself -- give one a sniff.) With their organs still developing, and an inability to handle the same toxic load as adults, chemical exposure in infants can lead to serious health problems.

Organic crib mattresses are available online (naturepedic.com and organic-crib-mattress.org), and can cost the same as standard crib mattresses. If you do buy a standard mattress, Greene recommends putting it on a screened porch or other aerated enclosure and letting fresh air eliminate some of the fumes.

Parents can spend hours deciding on a nursery theme, comparing paint swatches and browsing furniture, but only minutes are spent on what kind of paint and furniture to choose. Most paints contain high levels of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) like petroleum. When some VOC paints are exposed to sunlight, they create smog (that's right -- the stuff hovering over Los Angeles). Many cribs, dressers and bookshelves are made with medium-density fiberboard, which off-gasses formaldehyde, a known cause of asthma and allergies.

Kimberly Rider knows plenty about choosing eco-friendly home furnishings. She's the founder of Kimberly Rider Interiors, a Sausalito, California, interior design firm dedicated to "blending sustainable materials and modern design." After the birth of her son in 2006, her business expanded to designing green nurseries, a skill she captures in her book Organic Baby: Simple Steps for Healthy Living. "When I designed my son's nursery, I had to do all the research and ask all the right questions," she says. "I knew I couldn't mess up. The health and safety of my son was in my hands."

Greene and Rider both recommend low- or zero-VOC paints. The Home Depot sells The Freshaire Choice, which contains no VOCs or harsh chemicals and comes in 66 shades. Harmony by Sherwin-Williams is another eco-sensitive paint; some colors are even made from sustainable materials like soy and sunflower oil. With furniture, look for solid wood items with a water-based finish and no formaldehyde. Vintage items, when checked for safety, can be a cost-effective alternative.

The Diaper Bin: Change Has Come

The debate continues about disposable diapers and cloth diapers: convenience versus complication; time and money spent versus time and money saved. What isn't debatable is the environmental impact. Approximately 27.4 billion disposable diapers are used each year in the United States, which translates to 3.7 million tons of landfill waste.

For Linda Byerline, the decision to use cloth diapers wasn't about her local landfill in El Cajon, California. It was about the premature birth of her baby. "My daughter was born at 33 weeks," she says. "She was on a ventilator." One of the doctors noted that the off-gassing of her tiny disposable diapers might be exacerbating the breathing problems. He suggested Byerline buy cloth diapers. Unable to find any, she made her own. "After switching to cloth diapers," says Byerline, "her medical charts documented a 50 percent decrease in her needing breathing assistance and medication."

Seeing a need in the marketplace, she created Happy Heinys, one-size-fits-all reusable diapers in an array of styles and colors. Bidders on eBay bought her first diapers for $200 each. Now eight years old, the company sells 1.5 million diapers per year for less than $20 each.

Happy Heinys do require extra effort. You must empty the waste into a toilet, and wash them in a separate load of laundry. A less labor-intensive option is the "hybrid" diaper. One such manufacturer is gDiapers, which combines a cloth diaper cover with a 100-percent biodegradable insert that can be thrown away or flushed down the toilet.

The savings involved might be enough to convince some families to switch sides. Byerline says that $300 covers all the Happy Heinys you need from birth to potty training. According to the Real Diaper Association, the average family spends $1,600 on disposable diapers during that same period. (That's $66 per month.)

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