The Safehaven Project For Community Living (Safehaven) in Toronto (Etobicoke, North York, Woodbridge and Aurora) in Ontario, Canada is a not-for-profit organization which provides respite and residential care to children who for the most part cannot walk, talk, see or hear. As a volunteer I serve my skills whenever and however I can, thus I was delighted when they asked me to produce the floor and wall mats for a Snoezelen® (sensory) room at their Woodbridge home.
In the past when I had been serving and developing the child care division for our Family freeform furniture business I had built a similar sensory room for Variety Village and had reupholstered the Sensory Room at Safehavens’ respite facility – thus I knew the process of building the least toxic sensory room – which includes using the least toxic building materials: AFM Safecoat and PureBond® formaldehyde–free plywood. To encourage others to take up this same challenge in your own Communities I will now share with you this process.
The first step was to determine what the Customer’s vision was. The beautiful thing about working with high density foam is that one can cut and form it to whatever specs are desired. Once we had the plan it was all a matter of following the process outlined.
Of special note is that we believe that serving child care means, that since resources have become so limited that we must find the cost-savings however we can. Did you know that it is so much easier to ask for someone else than it is for yourself? Thus as we went shopping for our supplies we asked for special pricing and donations. You’ll be surprised at how our Community came through for us.
Determining The Measurements And Specifications
Perhaps the greatest cost-savings tactic relates to the adage “Measure twice and cut once”. Personally I recommend to have two people conduct their “Measure twice and cut once” actions independantly since the result must be precise – if you are off by an inch it will be noticed.
We provided the specifications of the mats and wall mats to our artisan manufacturer / upholsterer and foam manufacturer and calculated the amount of plywood we would need. Thus the manufacturing process began.
As mentioned our goal was to build the best Least Toxic Sensory Room: As such I knew we would need AFM Safecoat Adhesive to bond the foam for the wall mats and a wood sealer for the plywood backing. Since I had some quarts of AFM Hardseal (always good to have a supply in the toolkit) all we needed was the least toxic glue: Only one choice for us: AFM Safecoat Adhesive. I recall when I built the earlier sensory room it reminded me of finger painting days as a child – no odour and applied beautifully with a trowel. We asked CBR Products if they would donate the required AFM Adhesive to which they immediately said yes – and they even paid the freight (Vancouver, BC to Toronto, Ont.).
While the foam dimension were being cut and the upholstered skins were being made we proceeded with preparing the wall panels.
We love Columbia Forest Products‘ PureBond formaldehyde–free plywood. Especially great is that all the manufacturing is done in their mills which are located in North America (jobs for Canada and the USA). The toxic fact about regular plywood is that when they manufacture it they use chemically laden binders to piece it together. With PureBond, although wood naturally contains formaldehyde, in manufacturing PureBond (as with the AM Safecoat and Safechoice products) no formaldehyde is added to the process. Home Depot stocks PureBond: Since awareness is only becoming predominant about this realtively new peoduct innovation insist upon PureBond only. Birch or Maple hardword is the best. If the service representative says they don’t have it or are not aware of this product insist they check their computer system – they do – so insist upon this – accept nothing but PureBond.
Why insist on AFMSafecoat Hardseal and Purebond?
It’s all about the offgassing that occurs and in turn creates a chemical soup in the air quality. Especially when it comes to people with severe challenges (don’t like the word disabilities) and when they have non-verbal challenges, as is the case here, they can’t tell us that they don’t feel well when placed in a chemical soup environment. Remember too we are focused on building the least toxic environment.
While Home Depot will cut the plywood to the dimensions needed, since I had a tradesperson friend volunteer their time we picked up the 96” x 48” x ½” plywood sheets in his pickup truck and did the cutting in his workshop. If you have a friend who is a tradesperson it is a good idea to have them supervise the project of the plywood and installation processes. I could have managed without my tradesperson friend yet having his expertise saved time and probably a few mistakes (I am a Marketing person).
We knew that to anchor these upholstered foam panels to the wall the panels we would need to have two inches on the vertical sides of panels to affix the fasteners thus the wood panels were four inches longer than the foam.
||Sealing the Plywood: Once the plywood was cut to the required dimensions, to address the natural formaldehyde in the wood and to prevent off-gassing our next step was to apply two coats of AFM Hardseal to the boards. Our Mentor and champion who initially shared with me the Truth about all the toxic chemicals that we are using in our building projects was instrumental in building the first Sensory Room: She has extreme MCS (chemical sensitivity issues and uses AFM Safecoat and AFM Safechoice products whenever applicable): she is, as we affectionately refer to, my “canary in the gold mine”. She has the ability to run her hands over a surface and feel the toxins contained within that negatively affect her. When I brought her the sample of the first PureBond coated with Hardseal sample she astutely recommended that while the flat surface of the board was great, the four sides needed be coated an additional two times and that the drill holes also be saturated another two times. When I did as recommended and she again conducted her test she smiled telling me it was perfect.|
It should be emphasized that hers is an extreme MCS case yet why not do it to the extreme when it comes to our health and our children’s health.
The concept of using sealers is that the coating creates a thin membrane that locks in the off-gassing. As the AFM Hardseal dries quickly by the time all the plywood pieces received their first coating I was able to start applying the second coat. The third and fourth coats I applied as I continued in gluing the high-density foam to the boards and the polyfoam to the foam.
Although the adhesive bonds strongly within an hour we let the pieces sit overnight and delivered them to be upholstered the next day.
We are so fortunate that here in Toronto we have our connection with Eversoft Foam and Fibre: great pricing and great service. The foam was custom cut to our specifications. As well, being the foam specialist that they are, we were able to order different densities and firmnesses of foam: for the barrier pieces and the strips around the waterbed we wanted a firm hard foam; for the wall mats we wanted a slightly less yet still firm foam and for the floor mats we wanted a special composition of foams to achieve the greatest comfort: 3” high density foam, 2 ½” of a softer high density foam and ½” of super-soft foam. Using the AFM Safecoat 3 in 1 Adhesive we bonded the poly-foam to the foam of the floor mats (quilting effect).
When putting covers with zippers on the foam mats it is a good idea to remember to fit the foam into the section that has the zipper head first: You’ll be bending the foam at the other end and putting tension on where the zipper will pull to and this will minimize the risk pulling the zipper head of the track.
And now that you know how to build the Least Toxic sensory room we encourage you to get your friends together and go out to help build them in your Communities.
The ribbon cutting ceremony will be happening soon at which time we will post a photo of the completed sensory room.