It's been a long time coming, but the reconstruction of our baby's nursery is nearly complete. The walls are sheetrocked and primed. The floors are sanded, stained and in the process of being coated with hydrathane.
In the interest of forming a healthier environment for our little one, we went with low toxic floor and wall coverings. Specifically we bought paints with a low volatile organic compound (VOC) content, and a floor varnish alternative to poly-urethane.
For the wall paint we used the Benjamin Moore Eco Spec paints which are listed to have a VOC content of under 1 gram per liter. Some other popular paint brands include Sherwin Williams and Pratt and Lambert. The paints are cost more, but I find it well worth the expense in consideration of my child's health. According to the EPA, the health effects of VOCs include:
Eye, nose, and throat irritation; headaches, loss of coordination, nausea; damage to liver, kidney, and central nervous system. Some organics can cause cancer in animals; some are suspected or known to cause cancer in humans. Key signs or symptoms associated with exposure to VOCs include conjunctival irritation, nose and throat discomfort, headache, allergic skin reaction, dyspnea, declines in serum cholinesterase levels, nausea, emesis, epistaxis, fatigue, dizziness.These are things an adult should not deal with, clearly I do not wish to subject an infant to them. EarthEasy.com has some more information on other brands of low VOC paints.
In addition, it's a good rule-of-thumb to allow a nursery painted with traditional paints (not with low VOC paints) to air out for at least a full month before a baby sleeps in it.
We used hydrathane, a water-based varnish, in place of standard poly-urethane on the wood floors at the advice of a gentleman at the hardware store. He informed me that it's more environmentally friendly, has less odor and is less toxic. The odor during application is significantly less than standard poly.
If you're in the process of redoing a nursery, I encourage you to seek out alternative materials that will make sure your child has a healthy start.