Homeowners who want to increase sustainability in their homes often overlook cabinets as an improvement area. There are many substances and materials involved in cabinet production that decreases sustainability in home air quality and the world’s forests. Here are some alternative cabinet options and considerations for the eco-friendly homeowner:
Bamboo & Biocomposite Boards
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Bamboo is rapidly becoming a popular alternative for wood cabinetry because it’s made from grass rather than wood. However, it’s not yet certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) as a sustainable resource. Homeowners also need to be aware that formaldehyde is used in gluing them together, so find ones with low or no formaldehyde. These are not made entirely of bamboo, so check what the inside shelves are made of and how they’re bounded together.
Biocomposite boards, like wheat, sunflowers, sorghum and rice also substitute for wood. These pieces of farm waste are easily renewable, which allows for an eco-friendly cabinet resource and secondary income for farmers who would otherwise dispose of it. It has a beautiful grain and is held together with formaldehyde-free or low volatile organic compound (VOC) glue for increased sustainability.
A newly engineered alternative to wood, Lyptus is the environmental choice over cherry, mahogany and oak. It’s made from the mixture of two breeds of eucalyptus to create a source that grows faster and can be harvested quickly and efficiently without harm to the environment. It shares many properties with hardwood and actually closely resembles maple. With its close grain structure and high hardness (above that of oak), this material is popular for homes with high-traffic kitchens or bathrooms.
Reclaimed or Salvaged Wood
Reclaimed or salvaged wood is lumber taken from deconstructed buildings with wood frames and components like barns, farmhouses and warehouses. Homeowners can have custom cabinets built that save the environment by not cutting down more trees. This lumber can be acquired locally and is available in many different textures and species. The down side is that it takes longer and costs more for carpenters to sand and create new cabinets. Homeowners should also check reclaimed and salvaged wood for any signs of mold, mildew or rot, as it affects longevity and durability.
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The most common option for homeowners is wood cabinetry, which can be made from various solid hardwoods like oak, mahogany or Brazilian cherry. It’s strong, withstands a lot of damage and repairs are easier than for wood veneer or engineered wood. However, these cabinets require cutting down trees, which is not sustainable. Homeowners can ensure they get sustainable solid wood cabinets by checking for the FSC label, which means the cabinets met the strict standards associated with forestry, milling and distribution of wood products. Homeowners with these cabinets should also consider alternatives to replacement when they show signs of wear. Cabinet refacing costs will be about twice as much as the cost to refinish cabinets, while simply repairing cabinetry will cost the least.
Stock cabinets are premade cabinets constructed from materials like wood veneer or laminate. While they are the most affordable, it is hard to find eco-friendly ones. For example, FSC-certified wood stock is nearly impossible to find and many stock cabinets have VOCs or formaldehyde gluing them together, which reduces indoor air quality. Homeowners can buy stock cabinets made from metal, vinyl or other materials to help cut down on the environmental impact, but you must check for the chemical glues. There are some companies that construct eco-friendly stock cabinetry, but they are expensive.
Cabinet Chemicals to Watch Out for
Melamine is used in laminate cabinets to make them water and stain-resistant. As a result, they can cause irritations and kidney damage in high doses. It can’t be recycled or degraded, and it’s persistent in the environment as a problem chemical.
Volatile organic compounds are fumes emitted by some finishes and stains. Water-based finishes have become the best option as demand for eco-friendly alternatives have increased. Homeowners can also look for certifications from Green Seal or GreenGuard to know whether a product has low or high VOC emissions.
Cabinets, especially their interior, are often bonded with formaldehyde glue that releases chemical fumes. Cabinet producers have been directed by the U.S. Congress to lower the levels of formaldehyde because of its danger to human beings. Be sure to check whether a cabinet is formaldehyde-free or not before buying it, as it could prove dangerous to your home.
Whether it’s making your current ones last longer or seeking alternative options, homeowners who want a more sustainable home should focus on their cabinets. They are used daily for storage and cooking, meaning they get a lot of traffic from various people who could inhale bad chemicals. It’s imperative these cabinets are made of the finest quality with low chemicals and high durability so they last a long time and keep indoor air quality clean for everyone.