Can you offer advice for building our kitchen cabinets sustainably?


Can you offer advice for building our kitchen cabinets sustainably?

Asked by Jennifer Housel, Kingsley, PA

My husband and I plan to begin building a green home later this year. We live in northeast Pennsylvania and are finding green building supplies hard to come by. We need to get our kitchen designed and have not found any local resources for green kitchen cabinetry. Could you please give us some recommendations? Since we are trying to do this project in an ecologically responsible way, we do not want to ship all of our materials across the country:kind of misses the point!

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Susan Davis's picture

It?s great that you are thinking about your kitchen cabinetry now, in the design phase of your home-building project. Making your new home as green as possible starts with thoughtful planning and research for local resources. Knowing what makes cabinets really green is the place to start.

A cabinet is basically a wood box with doors and drawers. The strongest, most durable sustainable cabinets consist of plywood boxes and a hardwood veneer of the wood species you prefer: maple, cherry, oak, walnut, etc. These are usually the materials of choice for traditional cabinetmakers at local shops.

The great news is that Columbia Forest Products, the largest manufacturer/supplier of hardwood plywood and veneers in North America, has completely converted manufacturing processes to produce formaldehyde-free products. The manufacturing plants are located in several states, with at least four very near Pennsylvania. Chances are, the local cabinet shops are already using plywood supplied by Columbia Forest Products. Cost-competitive with the similar urea formaldehyde (UF)-made hardwood plywood, Columbia's PureBond formula is derived naturally, then enhanced with a proprietary resin, giving it particularly strong bonding and water-resistance qualities. Columbia also offers Forest Stewardship Council (FSC)-certified plywoods and veneers of most wood species, to take your kitchen cabinets to the next level of green.

The finish applied to your cabinets is the next consideration, and choosing a finish that does not offgas volatile organic compounds (VOCs) into your home is important if you are concerned about healthy indoor air quality. Having the finish applied before the cabinets are installed in your home, and using low-VOC stains and finishes like those offered by AFM Safecoat, can guarantee a durable, healthy, and environmentally friendly surface on your cabinets.

One of the principles of sustainable design is to use local resources and materials as much as possible. Consider working with an independent kitchen designer and having your cabinets built by a local cabinet shop. There are many local cabinetmakers supplying cabinets cost-competitive with the pre-manufactured cabinets shipped from far away. The designer can specify the materials to be used, and if the shop is not already using a formaldehyde-free plywood, they will soon be converts.

Four years ago when we started specifying these products, our cabinet shops grumbled a bit, but very soon we were getting feedback that their employees were not getting sick as often and productivity had increased! If you think about it, these are the folks that were getting the worst exposure to the formaldehyde as they cut the materials and built the cabinets.

As you can see, having a local cabinet shop involved in your project can give you a competitively priced, environmentally friendly, beautiful, and healthy product; support your local economy; and also contribute to the health of the cabinet shop workers and the sustainability of the valued trade specialists in your community. This is really a green win-win-win!

For more information:

"Getting Great Green Results from a Cabinet Shop" gives tips on working with custom cabinetmakers.

GreenHomeGuide's Know-How articles offer more advice for greening your kitchen.