Green Cabinets: When Wood is Good - Green Building Elements

Green Cabinets: When Wood is Good

CabinetsSo you’re building or remodeling green, and you’re trying to decide what to do about the cabinets.

Scanning the requirements for various green building programs, you seem to have two choices. First, you can try to find cabinets made with Forest Stewardship Council certified wood from companies like Neil Kelly Cabinets. But if the company is not local, the packaging and shipping of these products may cut into their green-ness. Or you could try out agrifiber based cabinets, like Humabuilt Wheatcore Cabinets, which have arisen due to the demand for green cabinets.

Unfortunately, when faced with these choices, many before you have given up on the idea of green cabinets and gone for possibly cheaper, more convenient plain old wood cabinets from their nearby kitchen and bath dealer. If you find yourself in the same boat, chances are there’s a lesser known green option waiting for you there. Many large cabinet manufacturers across the country are certified as members of an extensive green program called KCMA-ESP.

The Kitchen Cabinet Manufacturers Association developed their Environmental Stewardship Program in 2006 to encourage cabinet makers to be more energy efficient and environmentally friendly in their manufacturing process. Included in the program are requirements to increase air quality by lowering the presence of formaldehyde, increasing energy efficiency in the manufacturing process, following recycling practices, and furthering community relations through local programs and charities.

Nearly 100 companies have jumped at the opportunity to join other green-minded companies in the KCMA-ESP program, like Quality Cabinets, which has turned its cabinet manufacturing into a zero-waste process. Quality Cabinets converted 50,000 tons of wood byproduct into fuel for facilities, eliminating 5,000 waste containers and decreasing their reliance on coal and natural gas. Every year, 16,000 tons of sawdust are converted into filler for pet bedding. Most impressively, they’ve reduced CO2 emissions by 350 tons a year, the equivalent of removing 58 cars from the freeways.

Despite the efforts of companies like Quality, members of the KCMA-ESP often find themselves on the outside looking in when it comes to green building programs. Although they are made from wood, the original renewable resource, the cabinets themselves are not considered green. Green building programs like LEED can only recognize final products, not the process of creating them, as green. Until major cabinet manufacturers remove all added urea-formaldehyde from their cabinets – something that Quality Cabinets has been researching and testing – they will not qualify for LEED credits.

If your goal is to build or remodel green, a cabinet in which the manufacturing process was held to strict green standards may be as important to you as one that is made from recycled materials. These are green cabinets that you don’t need to look very far to find.

What has been your experience with green cabinets or KCMA-ESP?

Photo by Lynn Davis

(Disclosure: Joel is the director of RSI Green for RSI Kitchen & Bath in St. Louis, MO, which sells the above mentioned Humabuilt Wheatcore Cabinets and Quality Cabinets.)


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  • Kendra Holliday

    This is encouraging news! The more accessible these options are, the more people will buy them. The more they buy them, the more affordable they become for the general public.

  • The beauty of it is that the general public already has been buying these cabinets, whether they knew they were green or not, because they are affordable. If you’ve recently purchased cabinets, check the cabinet type against the list of companies in the KCMA-ESP. If they’re in the program, act like you intended to buy green cabinets the whole time.

  • The beauty of it is that the general public already has been buying these cabinets, whether they knew they were green or not, because they are affordable. If you’ve recently purchased cabinets, check the cabinet type against the list of companies in the KCMA-ESP. If they’re in the program, act like you intended to buy green cabinets the whole time.

  • Dwyer Products manufactures kitchen cabinets that are GreenGuard certified for Indoor Air Quality. Our cabinets do provide LEED credits under Indoor Environmental Quality. The Dwyer cabinet has a cabinet box made from steel. The doors can be provided in steel or from Thermofoil. The Thermofoil door is a 3/4″ mdf board the has a woodgrain vinyl finish vacuum formed to the wood core. The cabinets have full overlay doors with Grasse six way adjustable Euro hinge.

  • Dwyer Products manufactures kitchen cabinets that are GreenGuard certified for Indoor Air Quality. Our cabinets do provide LEED credits under Indoor Environmental Quality. The Dwyer cabinet has a cabinet box made from steel. The doors can be provided in steel or from Thermofoil. The Thermofoil door is a 3/4″ mdf board the has a woodgrain vinyl finish vacuum formed to the wood core. The cabinets have full overlay doors with Grasse six way adjustable Euro hinge.

  • There are a few companies out there who are building cabinets without the use of UF.

    I have to agree with LEEDs standards with the cabinets since indoor air quality is key. How many of us have gotten new cabinets and they smell for a long time? It is not just the glues and plywood used, but also the stains and sealers used as well.

    Why can’t cabinet makers comply with LEEDs? There is formaldehyde free plywood now, and there has been wheatboard and formaldehyde free MDF for along time. They can buy in bulk. I can understand the issue with stains and sealer since many cabinet makers do not like water based stains but Neil Kelly and others are using it. I think it is a learning curve. What about uv-curing to block everything in?

    When we built I found two different cabinet makers that built cabinets out of wheatboard or formaldehyde free MDF. One was willing to use water based stains and sealers. If you have access to a cabinet maker see if they are willing to make your kitchen and check the price between buying some of the cabinets on the KCMA site versus their price.

    An alternative is to check ebay and craig list as well as building supply houses for people ripping out their kitchens. If the kitchen is a couple of years old, my guess is the voc have already offgassed.

    You spend so much time in kitchen. Personally, I think this should be a formaldehyde free zone.

    The next best thing would buy the KCMA-ESP cabinets.

    Anna http://www.green-talk.com

  • There are a few companies out there who are building cabinets without the use of UF.

    I have to agree with LEEDs standards with the cabinets since indoor air quality is key. How many of us have gotten new cabinets and they smell for a long time? It is not just the glues and plywood used, but also the stains and sealers used as well.

    Why can’t cabinet makers comply with LEEDs? There is formaldehyde free plywood now, and there has been wheatboard and formaldehyde free MDF for along time. They can buy in bulk. I can understand the issue with stains and sealer since many cabinet makers do not like water based stains but Neil Kelly and others are using it. I think it is a learning curve. What about uv-curing to block everything in?

    When we built I found two different cabinet makers that built cabinets out of wheatboard or formaldehyde free MDF. One was willing to use water based stains and sealers. If you have access to a cabinet maker see if they are willing to make your kitchen and check the price between buying some of the cabinets on the KCMA site versus their price.

    An alternative is to check ebay and craig list as well as building supply houses for people ripping out their kitchens. If the kitchen is a couple of years old, my guess is the voc have already offgassed.

    You spend so much time in kitchen. Personally, I think this should be a formaldehyde free zone.

    The next best thing would buy the KCMA-ESP cabinets.

    Anna http://www.green-talk.com

  • Thank you for your comments, Anna. I had many of the same thoughts when it comes to UF in mass produced cabinetry. I’ve spoken with representatives from several cabinet makers and the problem lies mainly in the limitations of the plywood and particle board suppliers. California’s CARB emissions requirements are forcing cabinet makers to address this issue – that’s a good thing. But while more and more UF-free plywood and particle board manufacturers are rising up to meet the demand, the quantity needed for the sheer volume of cabinetry produced every day just doesn’t exist yet.

    Compound the supply problem with the fact that many consumers won’t pay more for a UF-free cabinet and you can see this isn’t a black and white issue. Some low cost cabinet makers fear that the costs of going UF-free will price them out of the market.

    I do think we are in a transition phase right now that, thanks in large part to CARB, will result in UF-free cabinets as the industry standard. The question is how long this will take.

  • Thank you for your comments, Anna. I had many of the same thoughts when it comes to UF in mass produced cabinetry. I’ve spoken with representatives from several cabinet makers and the problem lies mainly in the limitations of the plywood and particle board suppliers. California’s CARB emissions requirements are forcing cabinet makers to address this issue – that’s a good thing. But while more and more UF-free plywood and particle board manufacturers are rising up to meet the demand, the quantity needed for the sheer volume of cabinetry produced every day just doesn’t exist yet.

    Compound the supply problem with the fact that many consumers won’t pay more for a UF-free cabinet and you can see this isn’t a black and white issue. Some low cost cabinet makers fear that the costs of going UF-free will price them out of the market.

    I do think we are in a transition phase right now that, thanks in large part to CARB, will result in UF-free cabinets as the industry standard. The question is how long this will take.

  • Jason Alexander

    My wife is a kitchen and bath designer – so when we finished our basement we used a significant amount of cabinetry for built-in bookcases, storage, drybar and office. When the heating season started our (then 2 year old) daughter started breaking out in severe hives multiple times a day – which we eventually linked to UF out gassing in our newly finished basement (with no help from an allergist – they told us it couldn’t be formaldehyde and MUST be food allergy). By keeping our daughter out of the finished space and applying sealers, carbon air filtering system and alot of ventilation we eventually (some 7 months later) seemed to overcome her severe allergy response and she is now am able to use the basement. UF is definitely an IAQ for all and especially for children and chemically sensitive. My wife gets several inquiries a year in the Chicago market for “green” design and cabinetry choices but still finds it very difficult to find a product she is confident to recommend as there is a LOT of green-washing in the market!!

  • Jason Alexander

    My wife is a kitchen and bath designer – so when we finished our basement we used a significant amount of cabinetry for built-in bookcases, storage, drybar and office. When the heating season started our (then 2 year old) daughter started breaking out in severe hives multiple times a day – which we eventually linked to UF out gassing in our newly finished basement (with no help from an allergist – they told us it couldn’t be formaldehyde and MUST be food allergy). By keeping our daughter out of the finished space and applying sealers, carbon air filtering system and alot of ventilation we eventually (some 7 months later) seemed to overcome her severe allergy response and she is now am able to use the basement. UF is definitely an IAQ for all and especially for children and chemically sensitive. My wife gets several inquiries a year in the Chicago market for “green” design and cabinetry choices but still finds it very difficult to find a product she is confident to recommend as there is a LOT of green-washing in the market!!

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  • Laura Wolf

    Is there a location on the atlanta, ga. area?

  • Laura Wolf

    Is there a location on the atlanta, ga. area?

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  • We are a major producer of cost-neutral hardwood plywood that uses a soy-based resin technology instead of urea formaldehyde adhesives. It’s called PureBond.

    We are overwhelmed with homeowners who have read about PureBond but are frustrated when they ask their cabinet shop or builder about using it.

    To resolve this, we’ve created the PureBond Fabricator Network, where people who make finished goods like cabinets, furniture, and fixtures can be listed and easily found. Here’s a link: http://www.cfpwood.com/PFN.aspx

    If you know of any quality-oriented, green-minded shop that might be interested in being part of this, please let them know about it. We want to eliminate every possible barrier between people who want to invest their money into healthy, accountable home imporovements – while reducing their exposure to VOC’s and toxins. It should be a growing market area for a long time!

  • We are a major producer of cost-neutral hardwood plywood that uses a soy-based resin technology instead of urea formaldehyde adhesives. It’s called PureBond.

    We are overwhelmed with homeowners who have read about PureBond but are frustrated when they ask their cabinet shop or builder about using it.

    To resolve this, we’ve created the PureBond Fabricator Network, where people who make finished goods like cabinets, furniture, and fixtures can be listed and easily found. Here’s a link: http://www.cfpwood.com/PFN.aspx

    If you know of any quality-oriented, green-minded shop that might be interested in being part of this, please let them know about it. We want to eliminate every possible barrier between people who want to invest their money into healthy, accountable home imporovements – while reducing their exposure to VOC’s and toxins. It should be a growing market area for a long time!

  • Donizi

    Thank you for info on cabinets. Can you tell me the toxic/chemical content used in creating thermofoil cabinetry. Formaldyhde? I’m renovating a whole kitchen and struggling to be sure I maintain as green as possible within budget and up against a deadline to choose. THANK YOU!!

  • Donizi

    Thank you for info on cabinets. Can you tell me the toxic/chemical content used in creating thermofoil cabinetry. Formaldyhde? I’m renovating a whole kitchen and struggling to be sure I maintain as green as possible within budget and up against a deadline to choose. THANK YOU!!