What safety issues should I worry about with a windowless nursery?
August 14, 2014 7:50 AM   Subscribe

I am converting my home office into a nursery for impending child. It's not technically a bedroom as it has no windows and is about 10x12' (very high ceilings though). I've gotten a little nervous reading some home blogs where commenters freak out saying a kid will die in an airless room (these are mostly on converted closet arrangements, e.g. here). What should I worry about? How can I best prepare/alter this room?

Salient facts:
- This is a loft-style apartment with high ceilings and fairly thin, drywall walls.
- As stated above, room is about 10 x 12, 14' ceiling, with a door to the hallway.
- it is also the warmer end of the apartment in winter - making it more likely we will keep door open/use fans all year
- We can keep that door open most of the time (quiet end of the apartment) depending on how bad of a sleeper the kid is.
- We are looking into a fan or air filter (suggestions?) to improve circulation.
- We are somewhat aware of furniture/paint off-gassing issues so are planning to paint months ahead and let new furniture air out on the balcony and prioritize un-treated/less-treated or used furniture
- We *could* cut a small window next to the door into the hallway
- Baby will likely sleep in our bedroom for at least 3-6 mo

Salient questions:
- Am I completely making up this threat and giving internet commenters too much credit?
- Do you have any suggestions for reliable sources of information on safety of child sleeping quarters?
posted by bluedeans to Home & Garden (14 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
For me the real worry would be no secondary exit in case of fire. I don't think a window next to the door would make any difference - if you can leave a window open, you can leave the door open, right? If you're worried about airlessness/offgassing try sleeping in there for a few nights yourself and see how it feels.
posted by mskyle at 7:58 AM on August 14, 2014 [10 favorites]

See here for a basic explanation of what you need to have a bedroom considered up to code. It will vary by location but I'm pretty sure the 2-points-of-egress rule is universal. I would personally be nervous to have a child routinely sleeping in a room with only one entrance, but your risk tolerance may vary.
posted by Jemstar at 8:02 AM on August 14, 2014 [3 favorites]

I'm not really too sure what the worry is - too much build-up of carbon monoxide maybe? fwiw, we regularly close the bedroom doors in the winter (of course the windows are closed), with no worries about the baby being able to breath. If you can sleep comfortably in that room, no reason why the baby can't.

My concern would be more summer temperatures, where you can't ventilate a hot room before bedtime, but depending on how the building and room are oriented in relation to the sun, that may not be your concern (our bedrooms are on the west side of the house and get hot in the afternoon).
posted by vignettist at 8:12 AM on August 14, 2014

It's not like the room is hermetically sealed, so no one is going to suffocate in there for lack of a window. Like previous posters mentioned, the scary part is having only one way in or out if there is a fire or other emergency.
posted by fiercecupcake at 8:12 AM on August 14, 2014

Yeah, agreeing that it's the egress thing. This would not be code-compliant as a bedroom. It'd be fine as an office, activity room, or other room where you're awake when you're in there, but it's not a bedroom. (Reliable source of info: This is against NFPA code.)

Seriously, run a search (on the NFPA or on the internet in general) for "fire bedroom window." The danger is that the fire develops while you are asleep and cuts off your hallway. If you have a window, you have a second potential escape (or entry route for firemen to get your child, in this case).

I would not use a room without an egress window as a bedroom, for myself or anyone else.
posted by pie ninja at 8:14 AM on August 14, 2014 [5 favorites]

In the case of a fire, they would have to get up to get the kid in the other room. It wouldn't matter whether the nursery had a window or not, since you would need to be able to get into the hallway to get to the nursery from the bedroom.
posted by quaking fajita at 8:29 AM on August 14, 2014

Well, here's the thing. Building codes are just that--rules that must be followed when you are building. Existing structures don't need to be renovated into consistency with current code to be legal (or even safe) to live in.

Building code can certainly provide useful guidelines for how you can select or modify (by installing childproof window guards on lower-than-code windows, for instance) existing structures, but the idea that you are a bad parent for not housing yourself and your child in a modern 100% code compliant structure is ludicrous.

People love to tell parents that they're Bad Parents, and the way that they're bad often tracks closely with socioeconomic status: it's much easier to be a Good Parent when you have plenty of money. By, for instance, living in a newly constructed house rather than an old or questionably renovated apartment, popping a parent out of the job market into to the role of full-time caregiver, etc.

While you should absolutely consider fire egress and other code considerations when selecting your child's room (or if you ever have a chance to renovate your own space), I have trouble not seeing this type of internet hectoring as another way of beating up people who aren't rich.
posted by pullayup at 8:31 AM on August 14, 2014 [8 favorites]

We're in a similar situation: we have a loft, our "second bedroom" had windows that opened into the kitchen, the previous owner had covered them with plywood and painted over them to use as a nursery. We used it as an office for a while, but when little baby Okt came along, it became her room. It works fine. The plywood is thin, so sound carries both ways, but otherwise it's worked for two and a half years with no problems.
posted by Oktober at 8:34 AM on August 14, 2014

Just as a data point, I live in an older house (built in 1949) and my baby's nursery measures about 11' by 11'. In fact that's the size of both bedrooms in the house, and I've never once worried about either one being dangerous by being airless. There are windows in there, but they are new and tightly sealed/weatherproofed so they aren't a source of ventilation. I'm a little befuddled by the idea that a space that large could be considered "airless" just because there is no (open) window. I think this is maybe adults who are sensitive to sleeping in stuffy rooms (which are uncomfortable but not dangerous in the sense of dying of suffocation!) projecting that discomfort onto a baby. On top of that, I imagine that the door into the room is trimmed to allow a bit of airflow even when the door is closed, and that the room may also be hooked up to air intake vents and registers if you have forced air.

In terms of fire safety, my sense is that windows present their own risk (possibly larger than fire) for small children in terms of kids climbing up to the sill, leaning against the window, and having the whole thing fall out. I probably wouldn't install a window in your nursery space for that reason alone; it will immediately limit how you can arrange furniture in order to avoid giving your kid something to climb onto and lean against a window.

In terms of the two means of egress to meet fire code: at least in my house, there's no way the kid could get out of the windows himself (its own safety concern!), so if there were a fire and the door was blocked off, we're really talking about the windows serving as a place for the fire department to come into the room and rescue the kid. I kind of feel like this is an area where people can have different risk tolerances that are reasonable, and that it wouldn't be unreasonable to use that room as a nursery and ensure that you have working (and tested biannaully) fire alarms in every room. I can understand where other people might think that was too risky, but as a parent you can easily end up getting quite paralyzed by information about all the things that can potentially injure or kill your kid and my personal take on this is that I try to focus on the ones that are statistically most dangerous--and in terms of nurseries, that's definitely worrying about how you set up the crib (no loose bedding, stuffed animals, or other suffocation risks) in terms of safe sleeping.
posted by iminurmefi at 8:39 AM on August 14, 2014 [4 favorites]

A grown adult would be able to live in a perfectly airtight chamber that size for over a day before carbon monoxide became a problem. A baby would be able to live a lot longer. So unless you're planning to leave the baby alone in the room for a few days after hermetically sealing up the vents and door jamb, you'll be fine as far as the air supply goes.
posted by Jairus at 8:46 AM on August 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

Although I'm the one who initially mentioned secondary egress and I do think it's an important consideration, I know parents who built their two children a windowless bedroom with no secondary egress in their loft apartment and I don't think they are terrible parents or anything like that! On the other hand my sister won't let her kids sleep in the basement because there is no secondary egress and I don't think she's ridiculously overprotective either.

As pointed out above, everyone has different risk tolerances.
posted by mskyle at 9:05 AM on August 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

Some more food for thought:

-two of my friends have their children sleep in closet bedrooms (NYC); their kids are still alive, meeting their developmental milestones, no known health issues at this time

-We have a window in our bedroom, but it's on the 4th floor with no fire escape and faces the rear courtyard (no fire truck access); there is a second egress in our apartment via the living room (but to a terrace, not a fire escape). This setup is quite common in NYC. Many other friends' apartments have fire escapes off of one room in the apartment, but not the bedroom(s); friends in high rises have no secondary egress from the apartment and would not be reachable by a fire truck ladder. We just make sure we have smoke and carbon monoxide detectors that are regularly tested.

-If you're worried about fire fighters having notice that there's a child in the apartment, you could get a sticker for your apartment door similar to these ones for pets.

-the room is not sealed off, the child will not suffocate

-we recently bought this air purifier because our apartment was getting "stale" during the day (windows closed, a/c on only when we're home); after 2 days of use it is markedly better and seems to also reduce nose stuffiness (dust, pets, etc). Highly recommend.
posted by melissasaurus at 9:11 AM on August 14, 2014

I would use such a nursery mostly for sleeping, as I am a proponent of sunshine & windows, for imagination as much as for air. I would use a fan if the room does not have any other ventilation. All nurseries and bedrooms should have a smoke/CO alarm. I'm writing this while sitting in my soon-to-be-born grandson's room. I will buy a smoke/CO alarm when I go to the store today. Thanks for making me think of it.
posted by theora55 at 11:55 AM on August 14, 2014

I would have no problem using a room without windows but with an open door as a sleeping area for a child. A fan that is blowing towards the door but not directly on the baby would be fine for air circulation purposes.
posted by h00py at 4:54 AM on August 15, 2014

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