How to manage VOCs and Formaldehyde in your Cabinetry

Today I want to take the time to discuss an important issue that doesn't get talked enough about in the Kitchen and Bath design world. While I love sharing projects and trends with all of you, there are some trends that are less about looks and more about safety and health, and the composition of your kitchen cabinets is a perfect example.

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More and more homeowners are looking for formaldehyde-free kitchen cabinets. That’s because the cabinets made from pressed wood like particle board, hardwood, plywood paneling, and fiberboard typically contain formaldehyde. That’s a problem because formaldehyde is considered a VOC, or volatile organic compound. VOCs “off-gas,” which means they evaporate from their source and linger into the air we breathe. The federal government regulates formaldehyde as a carcinogen, and the Environmental Protection Agency considers it a significant source of indoor air pollution. Exposure to formaldehyde and other VOCs can cause watery eyes, a burning throat, headaches, other flu-like symptoms, difficulty breathing, and dizziness.

Where do V.O.C.s come from?

The National Kitchen & Bath Association explains very well how wood products, such as those used in cabinets, can emit low amounts of formaldehyde. Let's take a look at their 

"Formaldehyde, a naturally occuring chemical present in human breath, is widely used. It has been studied extensively and is typically encountered in the home in low levels. 

All wood species, and therefore all wood products, contain and emit small amounts of formaldehyde. An oak tree, for example, emits 9 parts per billion of formaldehyde. It follows that any wood cut from that oak tree also contains small amounts of formaldehyde, as do all wood products. Formaldehyde also is found naturally in a wide range of fruits, vegetables, mushrooms, seafoods, meats and coffee.

All cabinetmakers use composite wood in the construction of cabinets. It is an essential material for industry products extending the yield from the harvest of trees, making cabinetry more affordable. Composite wood generally is make with a small amount of urea formaldehyde adhesives in order to achieve durability and performance expected by consumers in the difficult kitchen environment that varies exposure to extreme heat, cold and diverse cooking products (mustard, ketchup, alcohol, and the like), detergents, water and heavy usage."

 

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Cabinetry Products to Consider

Solid Wood vs. Composite Wood Products

Cabinets made from composite wood products, such as particle board or medium-density fiberboard, can be risky because they have most likely been produced using a urea-formaldehyde binder. In addition to off-gassing the chemicals they contain, if these types of cabinets are not manufactured and installed properly, they can susceptible to moisture and could swell or develop a mold problem. Solid wood cabinets are a safe choice ; however, they do carry a hefty price tag and do still contain organically occuring formaldehyde.

Wood products labeled CARB compliant are a safe bet, as they meet the standards for reducing indoor air pollution set by the California Air Resources Board. The CARB product emission standards are the lowest in the world.

There are wood composite products available that are low-VOC-emission certified, called NAF, no-added formaldehyde. It is important to recognize that products that carry the NAF guarantee do still contain formaldehyde. As explained by the NKBA, organic compounds contain small amounts of formaldehyde, and there is no way to completely remove them from the environments. These products must be specially requested before getting a proposal from your cabinet supplier as they do cost more than traditional cabinet materials. 

 

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Compliant Cabinetry Finishes

Not only is it important to discuss the contents of the wood used in cabinetry, it is just as important to discuss the finishes that are applied to them. The Government of Canada regulates the volatile organic compound concentration limits for architectural coatings such as paints, stains, varnishes, lacquers and other types of coatings that are available and applied to surfaces, including cabinetry.

One of the biggest VOC emission sources in cabinetry does not come from the natural wood and the different ways it is manufactured into cabinets, but rather, the finishing products that are applied to them. Most stains, paints and lacquers used in the cabinet manufacturing industry are solvent based and contain large amounts of volatile

organic compounds. It is important to be aware of the products that are being used on your new cabinets.

The best thing you can do for the health of your family and your home, is to ensure that your cabinet manufacturer uses water-based or water-borne finishing products. "Water-based" or "water-borne" is a term given to products that use water as the primary thinning agent. Most water-based products have a low-to-no voc emission rating that can be compared to other products.

 

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Have Cabinets Custom Made

Custom cabinets are the healthiest option. You can work directly with your kitchen and bath designer to choose the wood and finishes that ensure the cabinets your purchase meet your priorities. Plus, you can create a manufacturing and installation schedule that makes certain that the cabinets are not installed until they are completely dry and odor-free.

What this means for our clients

At Gipman Millwork, we use only wood products that are part of the FSP (Forest Stewardship Council) which sets the standards for what is a responsibly managed forest, both environmentally and socially. They have mandatory criteria that must meet the CARB (California Air Resource Board) and these products must be third-party tested to meet low-formaldehyde-emission standards in North America to qualify. 

Our finishing products, including all lacquers, stains and paints are all water=based products that are certified to be low-to-no V.O.C. emissions and the company who manufactures these products is on the front line on environmentally friendly technology. Complying with the strictest of standards in environmental and workplace health.

 

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The 5 Reasons You Should Be Designing with White

If you talk to any kitchen and bath designer, they usually have at least 2 favorite white paints tucked in their back pocket. These are their go-to's and with good reason. White is as timeless as can be and provides a stunning backdrop, no matter your style. It's like liquid gold in the color (or colorless) department. Here, our Kitchen and Bath Design, Nikki Gipman is sharing 5 reasons why you should most certainly be designing with white.

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1. White amplifies the natural light in your room.

White, specifically white paint, multiplies natural light exponentially. If your home is feeling a little dim or dreary, break out the white paint and get busy brightening up! White drapery can have a similar effect, by making your windows feel larger and more open.

Designer Tip:

I have two tried and true white paint colors that can do no wrong.

  1. My favorite soft, warm white is Benjamin Moore White Dove OC-17.
  2.  My favorite crisp, cool white is Sherwin Williams SW 7004. 
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2. White creates the perfect backdrop to accentuate.

Hanging your art on a crisp white wall brings out the best in it, no matter what the medium. Whether it’s a black and white photograph or a vibrant painting, help it look it’s best by surrounding it with a simple clean neutral. After all, there’s a reason why art gallery walls are always painted white!

Designer Tip:

You can take this effect one step further by also framing and matting your artwork in white. This creates the interesting visual effect of blurring where the walls end and the art begins.

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3. White makes your ceilings look higher.

White walls, white ceiling and white molding blend together into an optical illusion that creates visual height and volume. This is an especially great trick in older homes with 8’ ceilings.

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4. White makes your colors look brighter.

The attributes of colorful pieces of furniture or objects are amplified when set inside a white box. Because of this effect, you can make fewer grander statements with color and still get maximum impact.

Designer Tip:

In a mostly white room, consider concentrating a large amount of color on one item. For example, in this mostly white kitchen, I chose to make a grand gesture with the jojoba green color of the island. The bold color of the accent island turns into something more, by surrounding it with white.

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5. White makes you feel better.

While this may sound a little silly, there are psychological benefits to the color white. It helps your home feel refreshing, clean, and quiet. And who wouldn’t want that?

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Butcher Block Countertops

All about Butcher Block Countertops
The popularity of wood looks – especially as countertop surfaces – is on the rise
— Tiffany Warner

Are you looking for a unique countertop material to complete your kitchen? Butcher block is the answer. This beautiful wood product can be used in rustic-inspired kitchens to add that old-fashioned farm feel or can even be used in sleek, modern kitchens to offset metal surfaces and appliances. At Gipman Kitchens & Cabinetry, we can create and size custom butcher block countertops for your Kootenay home. All of our countertops are produced locally. 

What is Butcher Block?

Photo by Buckminster Green LLC

Butcher block countertops are made from straight cuts of wood that are then glued together into a thick slab. The material and construction of these countertops make them a very stable and sturdy working surface for your kitchen. Butcher block can be constructed from nearly any type of wood. While maple is the most popular due to its sturdiness and clear grain, cherry and black walnut are also used for their rich colour.

There are two main ways of finishing butcher block to choose from. These include:

Lacquered Finish

A lacquered butcher block finish is very popular due to its strength and lower maintenance. This finish is not food safe, which means that it is recommended you use a cutting board and do not directly cut on the surface. However, since the finish is quite durable, and you should not be cutting directly on it, it has a lower maintenance requirement than oiled.

Oiled Finish

Photo by Jenny Baines, Jennifer Baines Interiors

An oiled butcher block finish is very popular due to its beauty and function. This finish is food safe, which means that you can forgo a cutting board and directly cut on the surface. However, since the finish does not seal the wood in the traditional sense you must be careful of what you set on the surface and regularly oil it to keep it from drying out.

Caring for Your Butcher Block Countertop

Wood countertops do require a few maintenance tasks to keep their beauty over time. Unlike some other countertop materials, wood is a very porous material, so it has to be sealed properly. Without sealing, germs are able to easily get into the material through the surface. Once inside, germs will continue to grow, making your countertop unsafe and destroying its beauty. Once your countertop is installed, you will want to have it sealed and you should maintain the surface with mineral oil or another protectant. Countertops will also have to be refinished after about 10 of use depending on how heavily they are used by your family.

You must also not allow moisture to sit on the surface of your wood countertop for an extended period of time. Spills and other moisture should be cleaned up and dried from the surface quickly. Otherwise you could notice water damage, which will make the surface more susceptible to germs.

Because wood is a soft material, you may notice dents, dings or scratches developing over time. While some may not like this look, many choose wood countertops for this exact reason, as they like the appearance of the rustic patina wood acquires over years of use.

Benefits of Butcher Block

Wood countertops are an excellent option for kitchens as they make a strong and sturdy work surface. If you choose, you can cut food directly on the countertop as many of the styles will disguise small scratches and cuts. The soft material of wood is also much easier on the blades of your knives than granite or stone would be. 

Butcher block countertops can bring warmth to your kitchen, not just in the warm tones and appearance of the wood. The surface is much warmer to the touch than that of granite, tile or stone. If you are planning to use the countertop as an island that people can sit around or eat at, wood is a great option since placing your arm on a cold granite countertop can be quite a shock.

 

Alternatives to Butcher Block Countertops

Something many people do not consider when deciding on solid wood countertops is the amount of wear and damage that they can take on. A great alternative to constant worry and maintenance is going with a laminate countertop with a high definition printed wood pattern.  You maintain the cost effective nature and high durability of the laminate, but can achieve the high end look of wood!

Best of both worlds

All these images are of laminate countertops with the high definition wood grain patterns!

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All about butcher block countertops

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