Mass-produced synthetic and composite construction materials made with chemical additives fill the air with toxic fumes that disturb our health through extended exposure leading to ailments ranging from headaches to cancer.  Most products manufactured during the past fifty years contain substances known as Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC’s) that evaporate quickly, creating vapors that may be toxic.  In fact, toxic VOC’s are consistently ten times higher indoors then outdoors.

It is important to determine what is inside the walls of the bedroom if a truly healthy environment is to be created.  Are the studs made from chemically treated wood?  What kind of insulation is in place?  Asbestos, widely used in the 1970’s, may be present in insulation, fireproofing, radiator enclosures, and floor and ceiling tiles.  Its particles are especially dangerous when airborne and should be removed by authorized personnel only.  Mold grows in damp areas within walls and ducts as well as in basements and can trigger allergies and carry infectious diseases.  Lead is found in old plumbing and is known to cause brain damage, especially among the young.  Pipes made from polyvinyl chloride (PVC) widely used in construction give off VOC’s and when burned put off gas so toxic that they can cause death in as little as thirty seconds.  Not only do you need to consider what is inside the walls but also the materials from which the walls are made.  Many types of wall board contain chemicals that can create toxic off gases.  Plaster, one of many natural wall textures, lets the walls breathe which in turn creates a healthier environment.


If you are involved in a new construction project, specify only products that will not be hazardous to the occupants and review all manufacturers’ Materials Safety and Data Sheets.  In renovation and purely decorative projects it is essential that the space be tested for toxic substances before any work is begun.  Literally hundreds of different chemicals (VOC’s) are found in plywood, particleboard, paints, adhesives, and synthetic fabrics.  Efforts should be made to eliminate as many as possible within the project’s budget. Toxic VOC’s are a major cause of air pollution in the home.  The three most common and most harmful chemicals are formaldehyde, benzene and trichloroethylene.  They have been linked to a number of physical problems such as: eye and skin irritation, lung and breathing problems, headaches, nausea, muscle weakness, liver and kidney damage and even cancer.  While many VOC’s are noxious irritants at normal room temperatures but their hazards increase dramatically with heat and an enclosed environment.

All efforts should be used to minimize the overall environmental consequences resulting from materials used in the bedroom.  Consideration should be given to the energy used in extracting, harvesting, processing, installing, using, and ultimately disposing of all materials and products.  For example: using wood certified by the FSC ensures that the wood has come from forests managed by companies that meet the FSC’s environmental, social and economic performance standards in addition to supporting biodiversity, protecting water quality, and respecting the rights of indigenous people.  


Since many products in our homes are made from raw materials that are essentially non-renewable, the use of rapidly renewable resources when possible is not only respectful of the environment but often the path to finding materials that have been organically manufactured with care for the health of the consumer as well.  Rapidly renewable resources primarily come from products grown, harvested, and replanted on a relatively short rotation compared to trees and include bamboo and other grasses, cork, soy, wheat, hemp, cotton, and sisal. 

Bedroom Construction

By:  Melissa W. Cooper

Interior and Architectural Design in Connecticut and New York