Release Date: April 16, 2011

Nick Mueller column: Green choices make for happy, healthy home

The Post-Crescent

Casework, cabinetry, or cupboards — whatever you call them — are the thin line between organization and chaos in our offices, homes, and garages. Make a few simple and smart choices when selecting cabinets and your new credenza can contribute to a healthier and happier home.

Even as recently as 15 years ago, the majority of cabinetry made in America was packed full of formaldehyde, a toxic disinfectant and preservative that is potentially carcinogenic. Although we've come a long way in cabinet materials, less is more when it comes to formaldehyde. The goal here is healthier indoor environmental quality.

The Kitchen Cabinet Manufacturers Association (KCMA) spearheads a cabinet sustainability guide and scoring system. It started in 2006 and has changed the conversation towards healthier cabinets. KCMA's Environmental Stewardship Program (ESP) offers a point scoring system for cabinets that address air quality, product resource management, process resource management, environmental stewardship, and community relations in reference to cabinets.

While not all casework has ESP certification, it's a good start when looking for cabinets that have less of a negative impact on indoor environmental quality.

ESP certification is best used as a baseline when selecting cabinets, however you should rely on specific product criteria to meet your sustainability goals. Instead of interior shelving made of formaldehyde bonded particle board, look for straw-based agrifiber products that utilize low VOC (volatile organic compounds) rather than formaldehyde glues. Simpler yet, particle board that has no added urea formaldehyde works as well.

To limit the VOCs from paints or stains, look for cabinets that have the factory bake on that glossy finish, as the off-gassing of the paint happens at the factory and not in your home. For sealants and cabinets painted on site, use water-based products that have inherent low VOCs. For the lumber that is used in fabricating your casework, look for cabinets constructed of wood that has been certified by the Forestry Stewardship Council, which designates wood that has been harvested and made into lumber through responsible best management practices. To eliminate the possibility for mold growth, place your cabinets on bases that are nonporous and are mold resistant. Metal legs are a simple way of solving this problem.

Care-free cabinetry goes beyond corralling the clutter. Selecting casework made of smart materials that protect the indoor environmental quality of your home or office makes cabinetry an environmentally friendly organizer.

Nick Mueller is a project manager with The Boldt Co. in Appleton. He can be reached at Nick.Mueller@Boldt.com