Business Articles - Specialty and Trade

Choosing Green Cabinets

Cabinets have become a cornerstone of traditional living areas like kitchens and bathrooms, as well as welcome additions in other areas of the home, such as basement wet bars, laundry rooms, pantries, and garage workshops. Unfortunately, the potential health hazards associated with the materials used to build cabinets, as well as those associated with conventional paints and finishes, mean that these popular, space saving home organizers are also prime candidates for going green. Here are a few suggestions, drawn from green remodeling expert David Johnston, on what you can do to make sure your new cabinets are as green as they come, no matter where you have them installed.

Going Green with David Johnston
ServiceMagic understands that it can be tough for homeowners to wade through all the "green" building information out there, which is why we've teamed up with green remodeling expert David Johnston to provide you with the best, most accurate, green remodeling advice we possibly can. Johnston is the founder of the green consulting firm What's Working, Inc., the author of multiple books on green remodeling (including the Nautilus Award winner for homeowners, Green Remodeling: Changing the World One Room at a Time), and he has more than three decades of experience in the building industry. All of that makes him the perfect candidate to provide you with the advice you need when it comes to going green with cabinet installations in your home.

Cost vs. Value and Going Green with Cabinetry
First and foremost, homeowners are concerned with the budget implications of going green with cabinetry, and rightly so. Without beating around the bush, cabinetry is one area of home improvement where going as green as it gets means that you can end up spending a lot of money, and even some of the more economical avenues can still raise eyebrows. All of which begs the question, is going green worth the trouble where cabinets are concerned? According to Johnston, the answer is a resounding "yes." Going green with your kitchen, bath, or other cabinetry project isn't about finding the cheapest price. From a green remodeling perspective, greening your cabinets means eliminating common health risks associated with economy cabinetry materials, embracing cabinet solutions that you'll enjoy for years with minimal maintenance and upkeep, and making sure your choice of cabinetry contributes to a more sustainable, environmentally friendly world for your children and grandchildren. Looking at things from that point of view, it's easy to see what green guru Johnston means when he says that the true value of going green with your choice of cabinetry is far higher than any bottom line.

Green Cabinetry the David Johnston Way
Just what advice does Johnston have when it comes to ensuring your new cabinets are as green as they come? Plenty. Contrary to popular belief, green remodeling isn't entirely focused on cutting your utility bills. It also places a premium on healthier homes and higher quality remodels. Here's some advice, drawn from the wisdom, experience, and writings of Johnston himself, to help steer you toward the greenest cabinets around.

  • Avoid MDF, Interior Grade Plywood, and Particleboard—Every one of these products is a major ingredient in stock and semi-custom residential cabinetry. They also all contain urea formaldehyde based adhesives, a proven carcinogen that can off-gas into your home for years after installation. If you can, avoid cabinetry made frommedium density fiberboard, interior grade plywood, and particleboard.
  • Seal MDF, Interior Grade Plywood, and Particleboard—If you do purchase cabinetry made from these materials (most cabinets you can purchase contain these materials to some degree), be sure to paint over any exposed surfaces with several coats of a low- or no-VOC paint or sealer before installation.
  • Choose Custom Cabinetry Made with Formaldehyde-free products—From a health perspective, the greenest cabinetry on the market is custom cabinetry. It also happens to be the most beautiful and functional cabinetry solution, since it's custom built for you, your space, and your needs. Unfortunately, it's also the most expensive option. Prepare yourself for a little sticker shock.
  • Use Forest Stewardship Council Certified Wood—If you do hire a custom cabinet maker to design, build, and install the cabinets in your kitchen or bath, ask them to use only Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified wood so you know that the wood used to build your cabinets has been harvested in a responsible, and sustainable manner.
  • Recycle Old Cabinets—As much as 85 percent of the construction waste sent to our landfills could be reused in other construction projects, and that goes double for old cabinets. Consider repainting, refinishing, or re-facing your existing bath and kitchen cabinets rather than throwing them away, look for used cabinets and cabinet hardware if you can find them, and if you do invest in new cabinets, donate your old ones to a retailer who specializes in selling reclaimed building materials to green minded buyers.
  • Use Low- or no-VOC Paints, Stains, and Sealers—Paints, sealers, stains, and other finishes used on cabinetry can off-gas a host of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) into your indoor environment, including some that have been implicated in skin disorders, respiratory problems, and even cancer. By choosing low- or no-VOC paints, stains, and sealers, you'll reduce your exposure to these potentially harmful chemicals, or eliminate them all together.

Which Shade of Green is Right for You?
While thinking green when it comes to cabinetry is a smart choice for your health and the environment, it's not unusual for homeowners to feel a little overwhelmed when presented with the full scope of green remodeling options. If you're feeling unsure about how green you're willing to go with your new cabinetry installation, there's no need to worry. Going green isn't an all-or-nothing proposition, and any step you take in a green direction is a smart one whether you paint an old set of cabinets with low-VOC paints or spring for a set of custom built cabinetry for your kitchen or bath remodel.

If you think green is the right choice for you, talk with your contractor about adopting a green remodeling philosophy, find a contractor who specializes in green building and remodeling, or seek out the services of a green consulting firm so that you can be sure your new cabinets are as green as they come.

David Johnston
We are proud to partner with David Johnston, internationally recognized green building expert, to provide our homeowners and service professionals with the information necessary to "green" their projects.
• To learn more about David Johnston, click here.
• To learn more about Green Certification training, click here.

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