Fin MacDonald

Information on me and my current projects

Monthly Archives: March 2015

Protecting Indoor Environmental Quality (IEQ) in the Nursury

Having just moved into a new house, and with a baby on the way, its time to set up the nursery.  While many people base their decisions on appearance and utility, I think the health aspect could use more attention.  I wanted to create this blog entry to share some of the decisions we made, and why we made them.

Low Emission Furniture

When buying food people pay close attention to the ingredients, however this is seldom true for furniture.  In many cases the furniture we place inside our homes contain toxic ingredients.  This is especially true of composite wood products and mattresses.  The glues and resins in these products often contain formaldehyde and other volatile organic compounds (VOCs).  Formaldehyde has a boiling point of -19 degrees Celsius which means it vaporizes at room temperature and enters the air.  We know for certain formaldehyde causes cancer, so you don’t want baby breathing that in.

The California Air Resources Board (CARB) has created standard 93120 that place limits on the amount of airborne toxins including formaldehyde emissions allowed for different types of composite wood (man made wood products like particleboard, plywood, veneers etc).  If your crib, dresser, or change table is CARB phase 1 or CARB phase 2 compliant then you know it is under the safe emission level.  If not then there is no limit to the amount of formaldehyde that might be present.  Our crib had a solid wood core and featured veneers of a different type of wood.  These veneers were glued on, so we made sure that the crib met the CARB requirements.  The is no legal requirement for manufacturers in Canada to meet CARB.

One step up from CARB would be GREENGUARD Gold certification (formerly known as GREENGUARD Children & Schools).  The emission limits for products certified to either of these standards is even lower.  This is especially important for items a baby will have direct contact with, such as a crib mattress.  We found a GREENGUARD Gold mattress and purchased it.

No-VOC Paint

Paint is another item that has a big impact on the indoor air quality.  Similar to formaldehyde, other VOCs also have a very low boiling point which allow them to vaporize at room temperature.  Paint that is manufactured without VOCs won’t cause any fumes or other IAQ pollution.  This means that you could literally paint with the windows closed and not get a headache because there are no dangerous fumes from the paint.   If you don’t want to go for no-VOC paint, you can look for low-VOC paint.  We chose to use Olympic Icon paint which is not just no-VOC but also Ecologo certified.

Mercury Free Lighting

We installed L.E.D. bulbs in the nursery lighting.  When buying bulbs you typically have two choices when it comes to energy efficiency.  L.E.D. or Compact Fluorescent (CFL).  What many people don’t know is that CFL bulbs contain mercury, and the amount of mercury is not regulated.  When these bulbs are burnt out they need to be taken to a toxic waste disposal site.  This isn’t something you want in your nursery (or your house at all).  If one of these bulbs were to break indoors the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recommends you open a window, shut off your forced air heating or air conditioning system, and leave the room for 5-10 minutes before attempting to clean (more info).


Finally, once the room is finished you can flush out any toxins that may have snuck into the room.  You do this by airing out the room for long periods of time.  Any toxins that may enter the room’s air can leave throught the window.  Its important to assemble any furniture well in advance of the baby’s arrival to allow for any toxins to off-gas and be flushed out.  We assembled our furniture two months before the baby arrived and aired the room out for a few hours once a week.




Our Household Carbon Footprint: 2014

After working in the Carbon industry for a couple of years I felt it was time to prepare our household’s carbon footprint, and set a few goals for the future.  If the few years I spend working in the accounting industry have taught me anything, its that what gets measured gets managed.  This carbon footprint will serve as a baseline for future years as I try to reduce our impact on the environment.  I also wanted to try to go beyond just global warming though.  For that reason I have also included a metric on nuclear waste.  The Greenhouse Gas Protocol Corporate Standard was used to calculate emissions.  The values calculated do not include upstream emissions or embodied energy.

Our current apartment is located at 1833 Riverside Drive.  We have a one bedroom apartment which is roughly 637 square feet (60 square meters).  Our building heats the units with a natural gas boiler.  We cool the unit using two electric air conditioning units.  We also have electric lighting and various plug loads.  The apartment houses myself, my wife, and a cat.

Our transportation consists of a family car.  We own a 2003 Hyundai Elantra.  Green & rust coloured.  I use this car for work, and our family uses it for errands and weekend or vacation getaways.  In the past year we have driven from Ottawa to Nova Scotia once.  My wife works on a major bus route downtown and uses transit to get to work.  We did not travel by airplane at at all during 2014.  We took two long trips by train to Niagara Falls and Nova Scotia.  Our emissions are as follows:

Scope 1 (Owned Automobiles): 3,451 kg CO2e

Scope 2 (Purchased Electricity and Imported Heating): 1,780 kg CO2e

Scope 3 (Train and Bus Transportation): 601 kg CO2e

Total Emissions: 5,832 kg CO2e

Footprint Breakdown

Breakdown of GHG Emissions by Source

Our carbon footprint shows that driving a car is really impacting our emissions in a bad way.  Taking the bus on the other hand is a great way to travel and reduce emissions.  Our heat related natural gas emissions are high, but that is to be expected.  In Ottawa’s climate we need lots of heat in the winter.  Our electricity emissions are quite low.  This is due to the great work Ontario’s electricity grid has done to remove coal and reduce other high carbon sources of electricity.  Ontario generates a lot of electricity with nuclear plants though, and as a result we created 40.64 kg of uranium waste.

In April we are moving into a townhouse.  We chose a location that was on a major bus route for both of us.  It is also walking distance for me to get to work when the weather is agreeable.  We will also be welcoming a baby into the world in August, which means our house population will be increasing.  With this move in mind, I have set the following goals for the next year:

  1. Cut automobile transportation emissions in half by driving considerably less.
  2. Keep electricity emissions from increasing by carefully managing plug loads and phantom power.
  3. Evaluate and consider responsible options for local natural gas offsets using landfill gas.
  4. Quantify any airplane emissions which are planned for 2015.