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Suzanne and baby Starting a family and embarking on renovations go hand in hand for many Australians. But how many of us consider the health and environmental impacts associated with renovating? Minimising such impacts is what guided Suzanne and Graham when undertaking renovations on their inner Sydney cottage.

When my husband and I found out I was pregnant, what did we do? Renovate of course!

Although the renovation madness had descended, we didnít want to expose our developing baby to unnecessary toxins that could have a life long effect. So we got busy!

First we looked at our planned renovation of a two bedroom semi-detached cottage in Newtown, Sydney and worked out what kind of design would catch the most light and give the right ventilation. We wanted it to be as green as possible and to keep the toxins as minimal as we could.

We planned the renovation in two stages; first we gutted the back of the cottage and then we built a new upstairs room.

Thankfully a thick layer of lead dust had been sucked out by professionals when we first purchased the property. Renovations disturb dust, and as old buildings in inner city areas are often full of fine particles from cars, industry, lead paint and building materials, we knew this was a priority but one often overlooked by those renovating while living in the space.

Asbestos sheeting had also been used in our house and we were careful to keep it intact so fibres werenít released. Again we had it removed by a licensed handler.

We sourced plant and water based paints from a local dealer. We reused as many of the original house materials as possible, for example when we took out a wall we scraped back the bricks and reused them on a new wall and old timber was remilled on site for a new purpose.

We sourced quality materials from building recycling yards and visited council tips that on sold timber, bricks, windows and glass.

When choosing materials we were guided by factors including sustainability, price, durability and health impacts. We chose plantation timber over timber sourced from old growth forests in Australia and overseas and used MDF (Medium Density Fibreboard) with a lower formaldehyde content.

We looked at sealants and glues and asked for product Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDSs). Anything we didnít understand we researched on the internet to see if it posed any danger to unborn children. It was a confusing but ultimately enlightening experience, as products arenít tested with pregnancy and children in mind.

In the end we chose lanolin and linseed oil for timber treatment and cleaned with newspaper, vinegar, hot water and bicarbonate soda. When we did use something suspect (like a sealant on the internal Baltic pine floor) I vacated the premises for a few days. During such work my husband wore high particulate masks available at hardware stores and good ventilation was a priority.

We also installed solar powered sub floor ventilation to keep damp at bay rather than deal with damp problems later and the mould that can encourage.

It was hard work but we felt confident that weíd kept our environment as safe as possible.

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