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How to Buy Non-Toxic Furniture

Old LabelBack in 2012, we wrote about the history of flame-retardant chemicals in furniture sold in the United States. It’s a long, sordid story, but the bottom line is that dousing cushions with pounds of chemicals is not only almost completely ineffective at preventing the spread of fire, the chemicals have been linked to adverse and serious health effects, including cancer, developmental deficits, and infertility.

For decades, consumer advocates had tried to get these dangerous chemicals removed from household products, with little success. Over the years, some of the “worst” chemicals were phased out, only to be replaced by other chemicals that were at best questionable, and at worst just as bad as their predecessors. The real problem was a California law (TB117) that required upholstered furniture to meet an open-flame test. Although this wasn’t a national standard, furniture companies implemented it across the board. Strong lobbying by the tobacco and chemical industries repeatedly blocked any real change from happening.

Then the Chicago Tribune ran a series of investigative pieces on the issue, and lawmakers started listening.

In 2013, California legislators changed TB117 to require a cigarette-smolder test instead of the harsher (and less necessary) open-flame test. The idea is that cigarette-resistant fabric on the outside of furniture is sufficient to keep the whole thing from going up in flames. Many fabrics are already smolder-resistant due to their composition or the weave of the fabric. If fabric isn’t compliant, chemicals can be added to the fabric, or a layer of another, resistant fabric could be added underneath.

Starting in 2014, companies could voluntarily meet the new standard, and starting January 1, 2015, full compliance was required. But the new California standard doesn’t outlaw fire-retardant chemicals in foam; it just makes them unnecessary. Companies can continue including the chemicals, which is especially likely to happen while they use up existing materials. That raises the obvious question: How can you tell if you’re buying furniture that includes flame retardants or not?

The mostly good news is that new labeling standards should help you out. Upholstered furniture will have one of three labels:

  • If the label says that the furniture meets Technical Bulletin 117, it meets the older standard, and would almost certainly contain fire-retardant chemicals. (The label pictured above is an example of the old label.)
  • If the label says that it meets Technical Bulletin 117-2013, it might or might not contain chemicals. (This new label means that the fabric meets the cigarette-smolder test, but could also still contain chemicals in the foam.)
  • Newest labels have a check box! These labels have a statement that says, “The upholstery materials in this product:” and then there are two other lines. One says “contain added flame retardant chemicals,” and the other says “contain NO added flame retardant chemicals.” One of those will be checked, so it will be easy to tell.

It’s important to remember that these standards apply only to upholstered furniture, not to mattresses or bedding (which are not included in TB117-2013) and not to car seats (which are covered by federal law). If you’re concerned about toxic chemicals in child restraints, you can read our take on it here, and you can check this article about “detoxing” your car seat here.

 

2016 Chicago Auto Show: What’s New

Darren and I just got back from a fun-filled day at the Chicago Auto Show. Top on our list of things to see was the redesigned 2016 Honda Pilot, which you can read about here.

There were a lot of other vehicles to examine, though.

sedonaRedesigned Kia Sedona: This is the vehicle I was most impressed with. Darren will have a review of the 7-passenger Sedona shortly, but neither of us had seen the 8-passenger model, and there was a lot to drool over.

The styling is sleek, and the interior (at least on the higher trim models we saw) was gorgeous, with two-toned leather. It looked and felt luxurious.

The middle seat in the second row appeared to be a decent width, although the contoured bolsters of the two outboard seats mean that it doesn’t provide for a typical flat “bench,” which could potentially cause issues when installing a child restraint that doesn’t fit within the footprint of that center position.

The 8-passenger Sedona has three LATCH positions (both captains chairs, plus the third-row passenger) plus a fourth tether anchor in the center of the third row.

The absolute coolest thing about the 8-passenger Sedona, though, was the effortless system for accessing the third row. Simply turn a lever, and the seat practically moves itself out of the way. Another turn and the seat moves back into position. It is by far the easiest method I’ve ever encountered. Watch how easy!

Chevy Volt

This popular plug-in Hybrid gets a big redesign for 2016. For starters, they removed a couple hundred pounds of weight to make the car lighter, and they increased both the electrical range and the fuel milage. All good stuff.

They also added a fifth seating position to make the car more appealing to families!

Now, Chevy admits the rear center seating position has “no legroom,” and that’s not an exaggeration. The battery runs right through the center of the car, so there’s no way around that. A small boostered or forward-facing child might be okay sitting there, but a rear-facing seat is probably going to be the best option for that position.

Chevy Double-Cab Trucks

Chevrolet’s trucks come in Single Cab, Double Cab, or Crew Cab body styles. The Double Cabs are the ones with the very small, fold-down back seats. As many people know, those can be notoriously difficult to install car seats on due to the shallowness of that fold-down seat. Chevy has come up with a solution, though: a removable headrest that can be inserted into the seat bottom, parallel to the ground, to extend the depth and make it more car-seat friendly. They didn’t have any available for us to see, but we’re intrigued by the possibility.

Mazda5

People asked us to take a look at the Mazda5, mainly to see if it still existed, as there were rumors it was being discontinued. It was there, so fans don’t need to fret. The 5 took some hits recently when it performed abysmally in the small overlap frontal crash test. The model at the show didn’t have crash test data listed, leading us to believe that something has changed. That could be good news for people who had been considering the 5 but were scared off by the previous crash-test results.Mazda5 sticker

Honda HR-V

HRVA few people asked us to take a look at this new crossover from Honda. We weren’t able to get too close to it since it was on a turntable, but it looked nice from what we could see—sort of a CR-V/Accord mashup.

 

 

VW Sportwagen

sportwagenThis is another one people asked us to look at. This 5-seater hatchback had a generous amount of cargo room, although the back seat (at least in the leather version we saw) had funky seatsportwagencargo bights with LATCH anchors located well above the bottom seat cushion.

 

Hyundai Santa Cruz

This is Hyundai’s foray into the truck-crossover market, a market that typically has not had much success. We couldn’t get a good look at the interior as the truck(ish) was up high on a turntable, but it does appear to have half-doors that presumably lead to some sort of back seat. All in all, it wasn’t the most attractive vehicle we saw all day. It reminded Darren of a Subaru Brat.

Hyundai Santa Cruz Subaru Brat

 

Random Fun Stuff

Toyota had a Sienna all decked out for the SpongeBob movie. The bright yellow van included a ship-like steering wheel, seats colored like SpongeBob characters, a bubble wand on the roof, and a flatscreen TV in the cargo area. Sorry, you can’t purchase it.

SpongeBobSienna

And in case you didn’t see it on our Facebook page, Darren and I got to dance with some Kia hamsters:

Gee Whiz! A Vintage High Chair!

IMG_3332I like vintage stuff. A lot. A couple years ago I wrote a post about vintage baby products, in which I mentioned that I wanted a 1950s high chair in aqua to match my retro kitchen.

Well, my dreams have come true. Actually, they came true about 18 months ago, but I had forgotten about it until recently.

One day around Halloween 2013, I was perusing eBay, something I rarely do because I wind up making impulse purchases when I should really know better. Then I saw it: A vintage aqua high chair in fantastic condition. Christmas was coming up, so I decided to buy it for myself and have my husband “give” it to me as my gift. When it arrived it looked amazing, but unfortunately it reeked heavily of cigarette smoke and there was no way we could put it in the house. So instead we put it in the rafters of our garage and promptly forgot about it.

I didn’t give it another thought until this past Christmas when my husband was getting some decorations out of the garage and asked what I wanted to do about the high chair. At first I didn’t even know what he was talking about, but then he said, “I think the cigarette smell is gone.” Oh yeah! My high chair!

IMG_3337I stuck my nose in it, and indeed, the odor had disappeared. I moved our spare aqua-colored vinyl kitchen chair out of its spot next to the counter and replaced it with the high chair. It matches my kitchen set almost perfectly—so well, in fact, that my 3-year-old came over and started yelling at us, “Fix it! Fix it!” apparently thinking that we had somehow altered the regular chair.

I emailed Dorel rep Ryan Hawker to see if it was a COSCO high chair. I told him the only information I could find was the name “Peterson” stamped into the front of the tray. He said that the companies COSCO and Peterson had merged to become “COSCO Peterson,” and then they dropped half the name to become just COSCO. He thinks the high chair is from the 1950s and was likely made in their plant in Columbus, Indiana. (Fun Fact: “COSCO” stands for “Columbus Specialty Company.”)

In case anyone out there is fretting over the potential dangers of using a 60-year-old seat that doesn’t meet current safety standards: Not to worry. It’s in my kitchen solely for decoration. We keep stubbing our toes on it, so I can’t guarantee it’ll be there much longer, but I’m holding out. Sometimes we need to sacrifice for beauty, or at least cool retro appeal.

CarseatBlog’s Recommended Carseats List – 2015 Update

The-Best-RibbonIt’s been a little over 7 months since we last updated our list of recommended child restraints. In that time some models have been updated, some discontinued and new products have been introduced. A few weeks ago we started the process of revising and updating the entire list and after much thought and discussion we arrived at a consensus. Behold our Updated 2015 List of Recommended Carseats!

We acknowledge that many certified child passenger safety technicians have had it ingrained upon them that they are supposed to act completely neutral toward child restraints. All current seats pass the same FMVSS 213 testing, they are all safe when used correctly, etc., etc. In the course to become certified, most techs were told never to tell a parent that one child seat or brand is better than any other. Instead, technicians are instructed to tell parents that the best seat is the one that fits their child, installs well in their vehicle and is easiest for them to use correctly. Nothing wrong with that.

However, the reality is that once you’ve installed even a dozen different seats, you quickly learn that there are real differences. Some child restraints do tend to install better in general, while some really are easier to use in general. Features like lockoffs for seatbelt installations and premium push-on lower LATCH connectors do make a difference in the vast majority of installations but that doesn’t necessarily mean that every seat that lacks those features is a bust or not worthy of your consideration.

Many years ago, the mighty NHTSA started recommending seats. They didn’t make these recommendations based upon crash testing. No, they were made upon a subjective determination of factors relating to ease-of-use. Ironically, these factors were no more likely to apply to someone’s child and vehicle than the recommendations of an experienced technician! Enter another respected institution, the IIHS. A few years back they began rating booster seats based on fit to a standardized 6 year old dummy. Again, no crash testing whatsoever. Again, no guarantees that the results would apply to your child in your vehicle.

So, who is CarseatBlog to go recommending specific child seats? Well, Heather and Kecia are very experienced Child Passenger Safety Technician-Instructors. Darren has been a certified technician for 14 years now and has like a zillion websites on the topic. Our newest blog writers, Jennie (an experienced CPS Technician), Alicia (nurse and former tech), and Andrea (long-time CPS Tech and Tech Proxy) are moms with younger kids who can actually use many of the seats that our own kids have long outgrown. We also like to think that we’ve earned a respectable reputation in the child passenger safety community of manufacturers, agencies and advocates.

Most importantly, though, we’re just parents who have used a lot of different car seats. Collectively, we have 15 kids ranging in age from 1 to 17. We’ve been through every stage, survived every transition, and personally used an astonishing number of different carseats and boosters. So, about 6 years ago, CarseatBlog broke the unspoken rule and began providing expert recommendations for carseats to parents. Like many other products we use daily, we know which ones we tend to like in general, which ones we’d use without reservation for our own kids and which ones we are comfortable recommending to CarseatBlog readers and visitors. And like parents, we know all carseats aren’t created equal!

With all that said, please take our recommendations with a grain of salt. They are merely opinions, after all. And while we did thoughtfully consider the pros and cons of each seat and combine that with our personal experiences with the product – there’s no crash testing involved. Some seats were omitted because we opted to include a similar model from the same manufacturer. For others, we simply didn’t have enough experience with the product yet to form an opinion. There are a number of products that we don’t mention just because a list of every seat we like would be too inclusive. Carseats and boosters not on this list may still be worthy of your consideration! Conversely, some seats we do list may just not work well for you, your child or your vehicle. We’re not saying these are the best or safest choices in child car seats, we’re just saying they’re models we think you should consider. If nothing else, it’s a good place to start when you are carseat or booster shopping!