Monday, December 03, 2007

Our Cabinet Decision

Trying to be green isn't always as easy as it sounds, especially for remodeling homes. Although there is research that shows that green building adds only a marginal cost to a new building (commercial construction), it's not necessarily the case for home remodelers. We've discovered this the hard way, especially when selecting cabinets for our kitchen.

See, for our cabinets we did the traditional 3-estimates approach, but one of the estimates we did was from a local Chicago manufacturer, Urban Prairie, getting their feet off the ground at GreenMaker, Chicagoland's green building supplier. They offer cabinets made from sustainably harvested wood (not a clear-cut forest), minimizing wood waste, assembled with formaldehyde-free glue and non-toxic finishing, resulting in low-VOCs. The owner was really hip to our green remodeling efforts and tried to work with us as much as possible, but ultimately, the expense was still almost one and half times the cost of other estimates we received.

The second estimate was close to the "green" cabinets, but still a bit much for our budget. But before we went with the third estimate, cabinets from a big-box home store, I did want to know the manufacturer's sustainability practices. Specifically, where they get their wood from and how is it harvested, and whether their adhesives used formaldehyde. When I called American Woodmark, I got a first flustered rep who clearly had never been asked about this before. She took my information down, and I was called back a few days later by Bryan Earl, the vice president of marketing and communications.

Although American Woodmark doesn't score very high on the eco-friendly scale, Mr. Earl was fairly forthright and not ignorant on the topics. He explained that while the wood was not FSC-certified, trees were not illegally logged in some foreign country, but came from Appalachian mountains. One negative was the statement that they don't really replant, they just "let the trees take care of themselves" in terms of repopulating.

As for the adhesives used in the particle board, American Woodmark uses glue that does contain formaldahyde, but their products exceed HUD's air quality standards of .4 parts per million (ppm). Mr. Earl then proceeded to tell me that wood gives off formaldehyde naturally. While I don't doubt the veracity of the statement, I do think it might not be at as high a rate as formaldehyde-based glue.

Anyway, despite these issues, we are limited to a shoestring budget and unfortunately were not able to go with green cabinets, electing for other green features in our kitchen remodel. So a few weeks ago we placed an order for mission-style cherry cabinets from American Woodmark. The cherry is at least a quick growing tree, and more importantly, we have the satisfaction of letting manufacturers know that consumers are starting to pay attention to these issues.

Much to our surprise, our new cabinets arrived earlier than advertised last week. Ah! They're piled up in our living room now, and it have lit a fire under us to get the kitchen ready for them. It's amazing how room utility comes and goes as building supplies find a space in unexpected areas of the home!


Jim said...

Sweet! Those look quite similar to our cabinets. What sort of finish and door style did y'all opt for?

- Jim

jay said...

We went with "Townsend" and "Cherry Spice" which turned out to be a nice typically dark cherry stain.

David Summer said...

Hi! If you haven't placed an order yet I may be able to help you out with a truly green product at the Woodmark pricepoint. You can reach me via email - or phone (847) 917-6300.

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