Buying new cabinetry for your home that knowledgeable experts would judge to be truly “green”, sustainable, and having limited off gassing is a lot harder than people think. The popular book Freakonomics showed us that cause and effect can be quite different from what might be expected. This counter intuitive reality particularly applies to the cabinet industry and the designing and sale of new kitchen cabinetry.
Many homeowners are concerned about the off gassing of products that they are exposed to. And rightly so. The typical US citizen is exposed to toxins from the many of the products we buy and the food and beverages that we ingest. New cars, rugs, paint, furniture, and of course the cabinetry we buy, all off gas and emit VOC’s Volatile Organic Compounds. However, the more research the typical Googler does to try and find cabinetry that has low VOC’s, and is green and sustainable, the more likely they are to actually purchase the opposite.
This is due to several factors:
- After 2018 the federal government essentially applied the strict California CARB2 standards for off gassing to the entire cabinet industry. See link.
- There is unfortunately no unbiased source rating cabinet off gassing beyond the EPA.
- Because of this, the cabinet brands that advertise and promote their environmentally safer properties have no documentation showing any of their vague claims. This dishonest sales approach and the lack of transparency makes these brands the MOST likely to actually be at the bottom of the list for being safer, greener, and more sustainable.
For example, many of the cabinet brands that make this claim tout their lack of waste in manufacturing cabinetry. This is often because they use particle board to make their cabinets, so any sawdust and waste goes right back into the product. Unfortunately, particle board and MDF board has the highest off gassing levels and is the least durable and most toxic way to make cabinetry.
Many brands advertise that because they are 100% US made, they don’t have any “Chinese” wood products. They claim that this makes them more reliable and LESS likely to off gas. This assertion tries to capitalize on the Asian flooring, and drywall scares from a decade ago. The reality is that all cabinet brands need to meet the same standard and the brands with imported cabinet doors, fronts, and sides are typically delivering cabinetry made from parts that were manufactured several months before. These parts travelled around the world being unloaded, stored, and finally assembled in US plants, before getting delivered into a customer’s home. And since most off gassing takes place in the first few months after cabinet parts are manufactured and painted, many of these brands using imported parts are actually at the lower end of the off-gassing spectrum.
Conversely, all kitchen designers know that with the most expensive cabinetry that we sell the cabinets are being custom made for the individual customer. These expensive brands are shipped only a few days after everything dries. When these high-end semi-custom and custom cabinets arrive in our clients’ homes or in our showrooms, the rooms instantly smell like new cabinets. The only effective way to decrease the off gassing is to store the cabinetry for a month or two BEFORE installing them. For those that want more detail on this topic read this blog.
Finally for any person wanting to minimize their environmental footprint when buying new cabinetry, the MOST IMPORTANT thing to do is to buy quality cabinetry that will last, and to buy a well-designed kitchen that has no room for design improvements. Expert kitchen designers are needed to create the designs that last generations.
Buying cheap cabinetry and a kitchen designed by the homeowner, contractor, or anyone less knowledgeable almost assures that the next home buyer will rip everything out and start from scratch. Possibly once again buying poorly made cabinetry with a new, equally inferior, design. Many of the kitchens Main Line Kitchen Design designs and sells were renovated by foolish flippers and builders just prior to sale. These short-sighted sellers believe that the home sold because of their shoddy renovations and not DESPITE them.
I always advise people to stop Googling cabinet brands and instead to Google kitchen designers and cabinet dealers. Find a great cabinet dealer and an experienced kitchen designer with your best interests at heart. They will help you navigate all the miss information about cabinetry on the web. If you search well, you’ll get quality cabinetry and a beautiful and functional kitchen that will last a lifetime.
So, search well, take your time making the right decisions for you . . .
and of course . . .