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A sign of green kitchen cabinets: the ESP label

by Susanne Clemenz

The "VOC-free" designation is becoming a familiar term. It means ingredients used in many products (particleboard and paint, e.g.) don't emit (out-gas) toxic fumes. There are additional ways to make green kitchen cabinets a reality.

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Options for green kitchen cabinets

  • Sealing: An inexpensive way to eliminate most out-gassing of existing cabinets is to seal them. To do this, remove doors and drawer fronts. Clean everything thoroughly. Then, following the manufacturer's instructions carefully, seal the exteriors with a clear water-based, VOC-free sealant.
  • Recycled wood: Salvage companies have wood from demolished older buildings to use for cabinets. A custom cabinet shop planes, sands and constructs the cabinets. This creates a uniquely beautiful kitchen.
  • New green kitchen cabinets: Some manufacturers offer strawboard (wheat) instead of particleboard cabinet cases and drawer boxes. Strawboard is toxin free, stronger than particleboard and inexpensive. Alternately, bamboo is gorgeous, highly durable, toxin-free and self-sustaining cabinet material. Steel cabinets are also emission-free, if finished with VOC-free paint.

The new ESP label and fiberboard standards

The Kitchen Cabinet Manufacturer's Association created stringent guidelines in 2006. Manufacturers who meet these standards display an "ESP" certifying label. Air quality, environmental stewardship, good community relations, plus process and product resource management criteria must be met to earn this label. Over 150 brands already have ESP-rated products. Aristokraft, Dura Supreme, Kraftsmaid, Medallion and Thomasville are a few of these.

In addition, in July 2010, the President signed the Formaldehyde Standards for Composite Wood Products Act into law. This sets nationwide limits for formaldehyde emissions from composite wood products such as particleboard, medium-density fiberboard, and hardwood plywood. Some of these standards take effect July 2011, others by 2014. particleboard standards don't apply to foreign products; insist on U.S. particleboard and plywood in any green kitchen cabinets you purchase.


About the Author

Suzanne Clemenz designed her passive solar home and interacted with the contractors every day of the 6-month project. She started drawing floor plans and making models in the early '70s after purchasing several building lots. Recently she expanded and

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