Eco-Friendly cabinets

olivertwistkitchenJuly 22, 2012

Sorting through all this "Green" stuff and trying to decide what is just "greenwashing" is making me nuts.

I want to be as eco-friendly as possible, wood from an FSC-certified forest, no melamine inside cabinets, water-based stains, formaldehyde free, etc. Very tough to find.

I met with KD who wants me to get Wood-Mode and says they're Eco-friendly, but yet they don't have LEED certification, they're not totally formaldehyde free, no water-based stains, no FSC certification, etc. He was trying to tell me how hard it is to get those certifications, and that they're still eco-friendly. And that really no one does water based stains (which I know isn't true). I'm sure they are, on some level, but maybe not "green enough" for me. There are some cabinet companies out there that sound super Green, e.g., Neil Kelly, but they're on the West coast and there are no dealers nearby.

Crystal Cabinets and Breathe Easy have dealers nearby me in Long Island. Anyone know much about those cabinet manufacturers or have used them? Am I being crazy? (I know I am, but...)

I also know that at some point I will prob need to just find a happy medium. I loved the KD I met, and honestly doubt that someone else, even if they carry the cabinet line I want, will be as good a match for us.

Thanks in advance for any Green advice.

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I have no insights or advice to give. I just wanted to say we are struggling with the same issues. For us, the biggest dilemma is the floor. Do we go with a formadahyde-free bamboo or a FSC certified domestic hardwood? Bamboo a highly renewable resource, but they are ALL shipped from China. If we wanted to be really green we'd go with linoleum or cork, but that's not the look we are going for. It's tough to balance it all.

For cabinets we are going with a local Amish company (Dutchwood, thanks to GW).

    Bookmark   July 23, 2012 at 12:10AM
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I hear you!
I'm hoping for cork, but am afraid that once I actually see how it might look in our kitchen I might hate it.
I like the IDEA of bamboo cabinets, but hate the look.

I know people joke about how could bamboo possibly be green if it's shipped all the way from China, but then I heard someone say that it's not like the bamboo cabinet (or bamboo floor) is shipped from China, just the thing sheets of maybe it isn't so bad?

    Bookmark   July 23, 2012 at 12:17AM
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You need to decide why you want eco friendly...

Then find a company that satisfies. LEED certificatin is not everything.

  1. Formaldehyde is an issue of health for some people. Depending on your needs, you may not be able to compromise on this issue.
    2. Sustainability versus renewability versus low energy comsumption versus low VOC versus etc. These are interconnected but not necessarily achieved the same way. For example, a cabinet shop that is in your city that has a small foot print may use the least amount of energy than a large shop that is LEED certified by decreasing the shipping needs AND having a small factory that uses small foot print overall AND providing living wage to a local craftsman. If you ask them to source the wood from FSC certified forest, then it may not be a big deal to them to make it happen for you since it is a small shop. I don't know.

Only you can decide how to balance these competing needs. The important thing is that you are trying and aware of the issues out there.

    Bookmark   July 23, 2012 at 1:30PM
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We had custom cabinets in order to use no-added-formaldehyde plywood. Our low-VOC cabinet finish has been unsatisfactory. Good luck with this-- it feels like an endless game of trying to optimize too many parameters at once. You will settle somewhere good.

    Bookmark   July 23, 2012 at 1:38PM
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kaismom-Thanks, all good advice. Helps keep things in perspective.

waterdamage-UNsatisfactory? What was unsatisfactory about it???

    Bookmark   July 23, 2012 at 2:12PM
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We went with the Eco-Friendly line from Executive Cabinetry. I think they're made in South Carolina. Good quality - not as high-end as Crystal but still quite nice in my opinion.

Here is a link that might be useful: Executive Cabinetry

    Bookmark   July 23, 2012 at 2:29PM
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tadhg555-What made you go with Executive Cabinetry? I can't tell from their website if there are any local dealers; I just emailed them. Can you post any pics? Do you have soft close drawers? What makes them "not as high-end"? Thanks.

    Bookmark   July 23, 2012 at 2:40PM
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Tadhg555 beat me to it--I also have Executive Cabinetry in my kitchen and am VERY pleased. If you check the link you can get the tech details but I liked that they use healthy green practices in their business.

As for the quality, very satisfied. I did not want fiberboard so wood construction was important to me, which they have. I got painted cabinets so the 'high end' issues of matching grain, glazing options, etc weren't a concern. I wasn't going to be seeing any wood and the plywood construction and maple drawers and cabinet doors was just fine. The finish is wonderful, smooth and holding up very well. My contractor was able to create exactly the kitchen I wanted including a tricky slide out cabinet adjacent to my refrigerator so they can definitely be customized in terms of size. The drawers are dovetail, they have soft close and the cabinets can be ordered with glass fronts. Though I didn't order anything other than a pullout garbage cabinet, there are lots of bells and whistle options as well. Guess I did have at least one of those as I had panels done for my refrigerator and dishwasher, perfect matches in color and fit as well. The order process was done on time, no shipping issues and the install seemed to go very smoothly.

I have recommended Executive cabinets to several people after having such a good experience. Since I did my kitchen in 2010, they have added a builder's grade line which one of my colleagues had installed in his recent kitchen remodel. Those don't come with soft close and I think the choices of options are more limited. However I saw them installed and they look great; they are a stained finish and the wood is very pretty. My colleague is quite satisfied and the price point was exactly where he needed it to be.

    Bookmark   July 23, 2012 at 4:14PM
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Can't give you a definitive answer, on our end of the business it is as difficult as yours. I am typically suspect of most of the hoorah it's green based on past experience. What I do know is that certifications are something a company buys, there is no other way to get them. Sure if you don't comply you can't get it but if you do comply you still don't get it without the money and the paperwork.

LEED or USGBC are the two standards for the BUILDING industry. Cabinets can only contribute LEED points, they are not in and of themselves certified.
NOTE NEITHER LEED nor USGBC considers finishes or VOC's in allotting points.
Also note that you get more LEED points using melamine interiors than wood, more for particle, flakeboard and MDF than for plywood. So the cabinets that I carry that have the highest LEED points possible (Saxton) are a particle board cabinet with melamine interior and sides, and foil doors. Not the most popular choice for many folks.

FSC- applies does not apply to bamboo, there is no regulation for Bamboo or Lyptus. If you rummage around there is enough question about which is greener- managed domestic hardwood or bamboo. My personal opinion is domestic hardwood from managed forrests but others will disagree.

I had one company (now out of business) that was able to ship an FSC certified cabinet (not just the wood) so long as delivery was within 500 miles of the factory. It took them 3 years to get the certification.
Many companies use FSC certified woood when they can, but also use wood from smaller suppliers that have managed forests who do not have FSC certification (due to the expense and paperwork.) I have no objection to that though it becomes more a matter of trust. If you don't use FSC wood exclusively you can't use the logo.

KCMA -ESP- Kitchen Cabinet Manuracturers Association Environmental Stewardship Program. This is the only environmental rating in the cabinet industry. When it started it was a rubber stamp. It is now siginificantly more difficult to obtaim. It considers 5 areas
Air Quality in manufacturing; Resource Management- Process
;Resorce Management- Product; Environmental Stewardship, and Community Involvement.
I consider KCMA ESP certification a minimum to carry a brand.

VOCs and Formaldehyde- Not the same thing. Now any cabinet that is CARB2 certified (or better yet CARB 3) will have extremely low VOCs and Formaldehyde. However if you are allergic then you will want none. A lot of companies have NAUF particle and/or plywood available. ( I have the afforementioned Saxton in particle and QCCI in plywood, there have to be others) Fewer have No VOCs and I really don't know just what LOW VOC actually means so I'm skeptical.
I spent a lot of years attempting to find a water borne finish that was equal to standard varnishes and to date I have not seen one. QCCI just came out with a no VOC oil finish that appears to hold up very well. I gave a sampe to a client and told them to abuse it as best they could- it came back looking like the one I didn't give them. I have not personally put it through a torture test though. It is a very nice finish but very limited in color options and on which woods it works. It is also dead flat so not for everyone.
VOCs is the one place where a small shop has both an advantage and a dissadvantage. They can manage to use water bornes because of the small scale (though not as durable) OTOH if they use standard catalyzed varnishes they don't typically have the same kind of air treatment,filter, exhaust that a larger shop has.

In the long run the issue comes down to reduce, reuse, recycle. Each of the certifications deal with those thing only in part. I'm not a Wood-Mode dealer, though I use to work for one. On those standards they apply but if your KD doesn't know how to explain that to you they should find out more. Many of the moderate sized brands (especially in Pennsylvania) have been doing those things as a matter of course for decades with no certifications.

    Bookmark   July 23, 2012 at 5:47PM
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Where were you guys when I was asking about Executive, lol! Getting some quotes.

Any pics you can share? Any other comments about finish, function, durability, quality, etc? Really interested, but not finding much info outside the company website.

    Bookmark   July 23, 2012 at 10:38PM
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I just want to say, I hope jakuvall posts more. Very informative.

    Bookmark   July 23, 2012 at 11:45PM
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I agree with Marcolo. Excellent info jakuvall. Thanks for taking the time.

    Bookmark   July 24, 2012 at 12:22AM
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I also agree! Very informative and also very reassuring.
Jakuvall, are you a KD?

    Bookmark   July 24, 2012 at 12:25AM
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Me too, jakuvall -- I'm a fan too... and thank you to Marcolo for pointing me here. In a moment of excess attitude that I think he might appreciate, I looked at the title of this thread, rolled my eyes internally and moved on! I appreciate the correction and am very excited to have that big info-dump. Thanks.

And kaismom as always, I love reading everything you have to say! Speaking of knowledgeable....

    Bookmark   July 24, 2012 at 1:12AM
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Circus Peanut

Oliver, have you looked into local cabinetmakers? I've found this to be the most reasonable option, cost-wise, and guaranteed to fall within whatever green parameters I set, since I get to choose all the raw materials.

No matter how well intended the commercial cabinet company, they are mass production facilities and rely on certain materials and practices that are not always as healthy as one might want. (To be fair, of course, just because someone runs their own local shop doesn't mean they are not spraying scary toxic finishes willy-nilly.)

Jakuvall, have you experimented with PolyWhey finish? We've been using it for woodwork and furniture for a number of years now and the stuff wears like iron, even on staircases and floors. Curious what your take on it is; best low-VOC waterbased 'green' finish I've ever found.

    Bookmark   July 24, 2012 at 8:08AM
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Annie Deighnaugh

Nothing greener than recycling already existing cabinetry. You might check out Green demolitions or some other closer cabinet recycling place. Depending on what you need and what they get in, there are some excellent kitchens available...saves money too and the money all goes to charity. A win win win.

Here is a link that might be useful: Green Demolitions

    Bookmark   July 24, 2012 at 9:30AM
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FWIW, we have Crystal with a couple of custom boxes. We ordered unfinished maple, inset cabs and painted them ourselves with BM Advance paint, which has been great! One of the doors came with a crack, which they replaced with no hassle. There ended up being another crack in the face frame of our sink cab, but I am sure that it wasn't there when they were delivered and suspect it was caused when our contractor made our laminate countertops on site. But it's only a surface crack, which is barely noticeable now that it's painted.

The only complaint I have is that the soft close full extension glides are not great. They are not Blum...they're some other brand Crystal uses...actually, they have their name on the plates covering the hardware. At the time, I didn't even want soft close at all (but they came standard), so I didn't pay attention to what the glides were. If I had to do it again I would have insisted on Blum.

The cabs were really beautiful though and the insets were perfect...we almost left them unfinished!

    Bookmark   July 24, 2012 at 9:54AM
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I will try to post photos of my Executive cabs tonight. We worked with an eco-ktichen design place here in the East Bay (EcoHome) and they sell both Crystal and Executive. I can't remember the exact difference between the two (maybe Crystal has solid wood throughout while executive uses plywood on some unseen portions?). I really can't recall -- someone else could give you the specific differences.

We went with a natural cherry and it really looks good with our soapstone and quartzite countertops.

    Bookmark   July 24, 2012 at 2:01PM
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I was thinking along the lines of Annie-try to find used ones at Green Demolitions, Habitat for Humanity restores, etc.

    Bookmark   July 24, 2012 at 4:03PM
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Ikea's cabinets are low VOC, and they are really committed to sustainability in all areas.

We went with their cabinets, and are very happy. We also have a Marmoleum floor, another eco-friendly choice.

As a fellow Long Islander, however, if you do decide to go with Ikea, and have the cabinets installed for you (as opposed to DIY), I must advise you to use anyone but the contractor whose name is given out at the Hicksville store. Long story for another time, but I understand (too late for us) that there are other choices in the metro area.

I can recommend an excellent sheet Marmoleum installer, however, which is somewhat of an art.

Here is a link that might be useful: Ikea sustainability report

    Bookmark   July 24, 2012 at 5:17PM
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So much great advice here! I'm just restating what others have said, but suggest we combine all these good ideas into an "eco-scale":
1) Reuse what you have. Can you have a local cabinetmaker reface/paint or otherwise rehab what's already there? Biggest energy and material waste in remodeling is demo, and secondarily is production and shipping of new materials. In our remodel, we've changed the layout and couldn't reuse all the cabs due to damage or poor design, but we've got two uppers that we'll rehab and reinstall, and one of the bases will turn into a dining room buffet. Several others are now garage storage, so we only really put two nasty bases into the waste stream.
2) Use recycled. Get to know your local recycled building materials dealers. Some will let you put in requests, and they'll call you when they have the kind of items you want. We're getting all our bases except for one corner unit re-used. Easy enough to paint and make doors match different boxes, either yourself or with the help of a handyman or cabinetmaker. Downside: It takes time to assemble the pieces, and you may be on a schedule that doesn't accommodate for it.
3) Use a local cabinetmaker. Around here, they're cheaper or equivalent to big-box stores, and they'll use the exact type of FSC and American-sourced wood and finishes you want, and they fit your space like a glove. The materials have a smaller carbon footprint because they haven't been shipped around the world like the made-in-China "eco" products. We're having a professional craft our fridge surround and one corner unit -- that's it! Comparatively inexpensive, and fits perfectly into the rest of our reused/recycled pieces.
4) As a last resort, use commercially-branded "eco" products and compare the pros and cons. Where are they made? Why do you want certain green products -- for low VOC, or source of wood, or made in USA? Prioritize, and then (if your like us) let your budget make the final decision.

    Bookmark   July 24, 2012 at 5:22PM
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oliver yes I'm a KD
Circuspeanut - no have not tried that one. You might say I'm from Missouri.
Also a note I forgot to mention- if you are chemical sensitive waterborne does NOT mean you won't have problems, nor does anything that says no VOC. That simply means that it does not have volatile organic compounds which are bad for the ozone layer. Everything I have ever looked into that had low or now VOC did have isocyanates, which are not bad for the ozone, just bad for you.
In a former life it was my job to research all of this sort of stuff for a trade organization back when "non toxic" was the buzz word instead of green. I moved to Missouri then.
As an aside my better half happened to forward me an interesting (timeley) piece, follows:
Checking out at the store, the young cashier suggested to the older woman, that she should bring her own grocery bags because plastic bags weren't good for the environment.

The woman apologized and explained, "We didn't have this green thing back in my earlier days."

The young clerk responded, "That's our problem today. Your generation did not care enough to save our environment for future generations."

She was right -- our generation didn't have the green thing in its day.

Back then, we returned milk bottles, soda bottles and beer bottles to the store. The store sent them back to the plant to be washed and sterilized and refilled, so it could use the same bottles over and over. So they really were recycled.

But we didn't have the green thing back in our day.

Grocery stores bagged our groceries in brown paper bags, that we reused for numerous things, most memorable besides household garbage bags, was the use of brown paper bags as book covers for our schoolbooks. This was to ensure that public property, (the books provided for our use by the school) was not defaced by our scribblings. Then we were able to personalize our books on the brown paper bags.

But too bad we didn't do the green thing back then.

We walked up stairs, because we didn't have an escalator in every store and office building. We walked to the grocery store and didn't climb into a 300-horsepower machine every time we had to go two blocks.

But she was right. We didn't have the green thing in our day.

Back then, we washed the baby's diapers because we didn't have the throwaway kind. We dried clothes on a line, not in an energy-gobbling machine burning up 220 volts -- wind and solar power really did dry our clothes back in our early days. Kids got hand-me-down clothes from their brothers or sisters, not always brand-new clothing.

But that young lady is right; we didn't have the green thing back in our day.

Back then, we had one TV, or radio, in the house -- not a TV in every room. And the TV had a small screen the size of a handkerchief (remember them?), not a screen the size of the state of Montana . In the kitchen, we blended and stirred by hand because we didn't have electric machines to do everything for us. When we packaged a fragile item to send in the mail, we used wadded up old newspapers to cushion it, not Styrofoam or plastic bubble wrap. Back then, we didn't fire up an engine and burn gasoline just to cut the lawn. We used a push mower that ran on human power. We exercised by working so we didn't need to go to a health club to run on treadmills that operate on electricity.

But she's right; we didn't have the green thing back then.

We drank from a fountain when we were thirsty instead of using a cup or a plastic bottle every time we had a drink of water. We refilled writing pens with ink instead of buying a new pen, and we replaced the razor blades in a razor instead of throwing away the whole razor just because the blade got dull.

But we didn't have the green thing back then.

Back then, people took the streetcar or a bus and kids rode their bikes to school or walked instead of turning their moms into a 24-hour taxi service. We had one electrical outlet in a room, not an entire bank of sockets to power a dozen appliances. And we didn't need a computerized gadget to receive a signal beamed from satellites 23,000 miles out in space in order to find the nearest burger joint.

But isn't it sad the current generation laments how wasteful we old folks were just because we didn't have the green thing back then?

Please forward this on to another selfish old person who needs a lesson in conservation from a smart young person...

    Bookmark   July 24, 2012 at 5:41PM
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circuspeanut-said "No matter how well intended the commercial cabinet company, they are mass production facilities and rely on certain materials and practices that are not always as healthy as one might want."
I'd tend to disagree with that. I was a maker at one point and still have a few friends who do. Large companies- have better filters and scrubbers to clean the exhaust, better dust collection, reclamation and recycling of solvents, usually have sources to send chips and sawdust for reuse, have sufficient scrap to send for recycling into chip board, or heat the kilns with the scrap to dry the wood (with the proper scrubbers on the chimney), and when wood is delivered it comes in larger quantities reducing carbon foot print. Most of those things are not possible on a small scale and add to that the number of parts (doors, drawers, etc) that a small shop typically sources it becomes a tough call. I think the entire issue is tough.
I think each one of us gets as informed as we can, without guessing or making assumptions, and makes the best choice for ourselves. Each will be different, some better than others.

As Annie sex- the ideal green choice is reuse or recycle existing cabinetry (with wood or laminate counters -which will get LEED points).

    Bookmark   July 24, 2012 at 6:51PM
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Just hoping someone has pics of Executive cabs "in the wild" they can post? Haven't seen an Executive kitchen yet other than on their website.

    Bookmark   July 26, 2012 at 3:29PM
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I really do need to take some decent pictures, but here is my Executive kitchen.

Sink wall-paneled dishwasher is to left of sink, garbage pullout to right:

Garbage pullout, shows a bit more cabinet detail:

Stove Wall-this also shows the panels on the built in refrigerator and at the very right side of photo is a slide out cabinet at the end of the run:

Here is that cabinet open-it holds my broom now on the empty side, cleaning supplies as you see on the shelves:

Stove Wall to Dining Room view:

Pantry cabinets:

And last but not least, I also had a set of Crystal cabinets installed on my patio, to go with a remnant piece of the kitchen granite. I had to go with Crystal, a 'higher end' line, only because the width of the granite piece was non-standard and Executive didn't make cabinets in that depth. Frankly, in terms of the quality of the cabinets themselves including soft close, drawer build etc...I really don't see anything superior about the Crystal over my Executive.

Here are my patio cabinets:

    Bookmark   July 26, 2012 at 4:36PM
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Oh, those look lovely! Thanks so much for sharing! One of the two places I went just started carrying them. The guy had just gone to a training class for Executive and said a few times how impressed he was with the "fit and finish" for the price. Of course, I'm still waiting for that price, but they look very promising!

    Bookmark   July 26, 2012 at 9:54PM
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Hi RunninginPlace - I am purchasing Exec cabinets today and your look great! A few questions. What size if your trash barrel cabinet? I want a 15" but I was told they can go no lower than 16.5" Also - is that an Executive moulding? It's beautiful. I want a big moulding (4") but the kitchen guy is fighting me on this. Thanks.

    Bookmark   August 18, 2012 at 9:36AM
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"water-based stains"

Do you mean aniline dies?

They are rarely used outside custom shops any more.

"I spent a lot of years attempting to find a water borne finish that was equal to standard varnishes..."

Polyurethane has gotten better, but is still not nearly as tough as many of the old varnishes.

Behlen's Rock Hard Tabletop Varnish is still out there, but only a custom shop is likely to want to mess with it.

Industry much prefers the various catalyzed varnishes since they can be designed to set up very quickly, a matter of hours to harden, and minutes to 'dust free' (no longer sticky).

    Bookmark   September 5, 2012 at 4:30PM
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Patrushka, I apologize-just saw your questions.

I'm not sure how wide my trash cabinet is, I can check. Maybe 24"?

Yes, the molding is from Executive; if you look you can tell that on the main kitchen, where I took the cabinets to the ceiling, there is a filler piece between the top of the cabinet and the actual molding. Mycontractor suggested it, because I wanted to save the cost of gong to 42" cabinets and still have the look of a to-the-ceiling install. I like how it turned out a lot. My husband grumbled a bit about 'wasted' space but since there is still after 2+ years cabinet and pantry acreage we haven't filled I'm not too concerned!

    Bookmark   September 5, 2012 at 5:59PM
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Other than bamboo or lyptus, is there a wood species that is more sustainable or more endangered than another? (I am not getting mahogany). Do you think it matters if I go with maple, alder, birch, cherry?

    Bookmark   January 3, 2013 at 10:22PM
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