Green Building    
Posted: August 1, 2014, 12:00am by Scott Allred

Green Cabinetry Options

If you are considering building a new home or undertaking a major kitchen remodel, you may want to consider a “greener alternative”. Cabinetry can contain a variety of materials including plywood, adhesives, and finishes that contain high levels of Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) and formaldehyde. According to the EPA, these products can lead to eye, nose, and throat irritation; headaches, nausea, and a host of other disorders.

Consumers interested in indoor air quality issues and using products manufactured in a sustainable manner should know the origin of all cabinet materials, understand the finishes used, and know where the cabinets are manufactured.

The Materials

Environmentally friendly cabinets start with boxes that are constructed using formaldehyde-free plywood. One popular choice is Columbia Forest Product’s PureBond hardwood plywood construction with non-toxic, soy-based resins. Both sides of the plywood are maple veneered and finished with a durable UV, low VOC water borne lacquer. Other sources for environmentally friendly boxes include plywood made from wheat straw and high pressure laminated veneers applied using low VOC glues. Additional information on PureBond plywood can be found at:

Cabinet doors and drawer fronts can be constructed from locally harvested hardwoods, managed forests (FSC Certified), or wood veneered MDF (Medium Density Fiberboard).  Wood veneers are very thin slices of wood that can be applied to a base door made from MDF. This gives the look and feel of wood without using an excessive amount of valuable hardwood in the cabinet door. Other popular sustainable woods include species such as bamboo and lyptus (from eucalyptus).

The Finish

Cabinet finishes can be the most challenging component of environmentally friendly cabinetry. Low-VOC finishes often take quite a bit of extra work to apply and require a skill set that is very different from solvent based finishes. Water based does not necessarily mean low VOC. There are many water based finishes that are not low VOC.

There are also greener options for the adhesives and edge banding materials used in cabinetry. Adhesives are now available in low VOC or no VOC formulas. The edge band covers the cut edges of the plywood on the boxes, doors, and drawers. Many cabinet manufacturers use edge banding materials that contain polyvinyl chloride (PVC) which releases chloride. The greener option would include ABS edge banding which contains no chloride, heavy metals, or formaldehyde.

Locally Produced

Obviously, local manufacturers should be chosen whenever possible to reduce carbon emissions and freight cost. Many manufacturers are importing cabinet doors, frames, and hardware from China. They are assembled and delivered locally without the consumer having knowledge of the product’s origin.

One recent green building project in the triad, The Greenspirationhome, featured locally produced environmentally friendly cabinets from Blackstone Cabinetry of Burlington, NC. According to Trish Holder of the Greenspirationhome, sourcing locally manufactured products was a labor of love. “My efforts have been justly rewarded with the discovery of local companies that do in fact provide very green products”. On her website, Holder states “custom cabinetry made from NC grown hardwood trees and formalde¬hyde/VOC-free plywood manufactured by Columbia Forest Products in Old Fort, NC. From seed to installation, I’m delighted with the fact that these beautiful kitchen cabinets built by Blackstone Cabinetry never once left the state of North Carolina! Blackstone took care to make sure that all components for these cabinets, from doors to packaging material, were sourced from NC manufacturers.”

According to Doug Agner of Blackstone Cabinetry, many showrooms are adding green cabinet displays to their showrooms and the level of interest is definitely increasing. Agner states that the availability of green cabinetry is very limited and there is a cost premium on the products. Agner anticipates the price premium to diminish as the materials become more readily available. Consumer demand is increasing due to health concerns and reactions to harmful chemicals such as chloride and formaldehyde.

Additional information on this project can be found at and Blackstone Cabinetry at

In summary, environmentally friendly cabinetry can improve indoor air quality, creating healthier homes through renewable solid wood materials with formaldehyde-free adhesives and waterborne finishes.
Scott Allred is chairman of the Triad Green Building Council and the owner of Precept Construction. He can be reached at or 286-6811. For additional resources on green building, visit

The Triad Green Building Council serves members of the Greensboro, High Point, Winston-Salem and Burlington Home Builders Associations that are interested in learning more about green building techniques, products and services.

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