Ask a Green Builder: What kind of carpeting is healthy for a kids’ room?

Sisal3Question: I would like to know just how dangerous carpet is in terms of releasing harmful odors or formaldehyde in the air. Is it something to be concerned about? We are redoing our kids' room and want to put carpet in. What do I look for in a "environmental" carpet? — Jeff

Answer: From Karen Feeney, green resources manager, Allen Associates, Santa Barbara:

Carpeting is one of the biggest contributors to poor indoor air quality in the home. New wall-to-wall carpeting, including the backing and glues used to install it, may all release gases that can irritate the skin or promote respiratory problems, including asthma attacks and allergic reactions in some people. Over time, these toxins lose power, only to be replaced by another health hazard — the mold and dust mites that find a home in the carpeting. Molds also release chemicals into the air that can make you feel very tired or sick.

The carpeting industry is becoming more aware of these health issues. Many carpet manufacturers have reduced their formaldehyde and volatile organic compound (VOC) emissions and are making carpets with recycled content as well as less toxic materials.

In 1992, the Carpet and Rug Industry (CRI) launched its Green Label program to test carpet, cushions and adhesives to help companies identify products with very low emissions of VOCs. CRI recently launched its next series of improvements called Green Label Plus for carpet and adhesives. This industry-managed program sets standards for indoor air quality and helps customers select the lowest emitting products on the market. Interested parties can go to CRI’s website to learn more about its Green Label Plus Program.

At Allen Associates, in an effort to further address these potential health issues, we recommend that our clients reduce the amount of carpeting they have in their homes or, if they choose to install carpet, to use area rugs and/or rugs made with natural fibers. Rugs made with natural fibers such as sisal (shown above) or wool (both renewable materials) can help to eliminate many of the health effects I mentioned above. Sisal or other natural, grass-based carpets can be found at most carpet stores and even at Pottery Barn! Wool’s texture and resilience enable it to recover well from crushing, resist soiling and clean readily (it keeps dirt and dust high on the pile surface where it can easily be vacuumed or spills can be blotted dry). Wool carpets are typically made with a jute backing (rather than vinyl) and are not treated with stain-resistant chemicals. Most carpet stores carry a variety of wool carpet lines.

Contact Karen Feeney
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