What is Non-Toxic Kitchen Cabinetry and Where Do I Get it (in Toronto)?

March 4th, 2015 by Cathy Rust No comments »

I received a letter from a reader asking where he could find non-toxic kitchen cabinetry in Toronto. The question’s a bit more complex than it sounds. What does “non-toxic” mean? It could mean (which I think it probably does), something that doesn’t off-gas harmful chemicals, known as VOCs or volatile organic compounds. But just because something doesn’t off-gas doesn’t mean it’s non-toxic. There are lots of products out there with all kinds of poisonous chemicals in them that don’t off-gas, but you’d never want to drink them. To me, something that is truly non-toxic means that you could ingest it and it wouldn’t poison you.

So, here are my suggestions for cabinetmakers in the Toronto area whose products are low VOC. If you have any you’d like to add, please feel free to do so in the comments section.


Ikea kitchen IKEA’s cabinets are all “non-toxic” in that they off-gas very low VOCs. They are stock built, so you have to stick to what they offer. If you’re using a contractor, they might be able to alter cabinets to your needs or create fillers where there are gaps. They have a 25 year warranty. They are made from MDF (medium density fiberboard), so some people aren’t keen on that fact. See a summary of their sustainability report here.


aya kitchen transitional style AYA Kitchens also has a green line where they make cabinets from NAUF (no-added formaldehyde), but it’s a specific order. http://www.ayakitchens.com/brand/about/greendesign.html They also have practices within the factory to minimized waste and use less toxic glues, adhesives, paints and stains.


artcraft kitchen According to my friend and expert sustainable kitchen designer, Clara Puskas, Artcraft is an eco-friendly cabinetmaker. Its showroom in Toronto at Binns. While it is a German company, these cabinets are made in Niagara Falls, Ontario. (I couldn’t find any information about the toxicity of its products.)


Irpinia Kitchen IRPINIA, an Italian cabinetmaker, manufactures cabinets in Toronto as well. You have the option of using water-based stains and finishes with a 15% additional charge. They also offer MDF NAUF cabinetry with low-VOC offgassing. http://irpinia.com/EN/about/gogreen/


Scavolini kitchen Scavolini makes beautiful, low VOC cabinets, but they’re made in Italy and can take up to 12 weeks to get here. http://www.scavolini.us/Company/Product_Compatibility


Team 7 kitchen There is an interior design store in Ottawa, Greyhorne Interiors, that imports Team7 cabinets that are made in Austria. I believe Greyhorne will ship to Toronto, but I’d check with the store if you’re interested in this line. Everything about Team7 is sustainable from their local (Europe) wood choices to waste minimzation (they burn their wood waste and convert it to electricity and heat). They use natural oils and waxes to colour the wood.  http://becgreen.ca/2014/08/greyhorne-interiors-now-carrying-team-7-kitchens/ These kitchens also take 8-12 weeks to order.

If you have a cabinetmaker you already use and like, the other option is to ask him/her to use NAUF plywood such as Husky Zero Uf plus plywood, or solid wood (pros and cons using solid wood including splitting front panels in winter due to dryness), and water-based stain or paints. Ask what your choices are for a local hardwood — it will vary depending on what kind of finish you want.

My countertop of choice these days is quartz which is much harder than granite or marble, doesn’t off-gas and requires zero maintenance. For example, my daughter decided to do a class project on the counter involving glue, and not PVC (white) glue, but strong, smelly, really sticky stuff. She was liberal with it, and it soaked through to the counter. I thought the finish was ruined, but it turned out a little nail polish remover dissolved the glue but not the finish (whew!). If you’re using Arborite or any laminate counter top you’ll want to make sure to request a NAUF product for the MDF base or have them seal the underside before they install it (AFM Safe Seal is one option).

Many thanks to Clara Puskas from XL Kitchens for her help in putting together these resources.



E-waste on the Rise

February 23rd, 2015 by Cathy Rust No comments »

Here in Canada we’ve finally begun addressing the issue of electronic waste. As new phones and electronics make last year’s gadgets look passé, we ditch the ones we had for the newer, better models. Even if we hang onto our phones and computers for as long as possible, the majority of them have an average lifespan of 4-5 years — and by then, let’s face it, they’re ancient!
The EPRA — electronics product recycling association — has branches set up across the country, in every province except New Brunswick. Their job is to get electronics out of landfill and back into the production stream. Perhaps one of the most heartening principles of the EPRA is that it will not ship unprocessed electronic waste off-shore; we are dealing with it right here in Canada. We’re not perfect, but e-waste recycling, an industry-based initiative, is increasing so that more and more valuable and toxic metals and plastics are being removed from the waste stream and put back into the production stream.

Below is an infographic regarding what is happening with e-waste globally.


E-waste on the Rise

E-waste on the Rise
Infographic by CustomMade


Tips on Green Building Materials

February 18th, 2015 by Contributor No comments »

Tips on Green Building MaterialsThere are many ways green building materials can be defined, especially when it comes to taking account of their environmental impact and social results. There are quite a few materials being used today, such as engineered lumber, natural earthen materials, biomass building panels, paints with low or non-existent volatile organic compounds inside them, as well as a number of other products manufactured all around the world by companies who focus on protecting the environment and workers all around.

As the years have been going forward, a lot of manufacturers have been getting on the bandwagon concerning green building materials. There is hardly a product today that is not capable of being replaced by a type of environmentally safe and sound alternative, as well as a variety of green materials that only get better and better as time goes by.

If you need to build a natural, green home, then you will need to consider alternative materials for all walls, foundations, windows, floors and so forth. If you plan on building a more conventional wood frame house, then you will need to give quite some thought about the green materials you can use to make it happen. The following tips will give you a few ideas you can use to make your choices matter in the long run:

  • Keeping your expectations realistic

You need to focus on selecting the materials and products you feel will meet the greatest amount of criteria concerning green building. A lot of materials will meet such criteria, but they will have a significant cost attached to them, which may not make them the greatest choice. Some others may be green, but they may not have the greatest aesthetic appeal, so this would also make them a poor choice. Others may provide a nature-friendly approach, but may lack in structural stability and strength, while others may even provide more strength than the usual, run of the mill materials used in construction today. Whatever the case, you would need to keep at least a few criteria in mind concerning sustainability. Choose materials that offer the greatest gain for your projects, but also consider their environmental impact and what this would entail.

  • Buying from environmentally-conscious companies

You would do well to look for companies that follow that particular ideal and that offer these types of products in the long run, as pollution prevention and an adherence to the green ideal show a great deal of environmental responsibility taken by the company. A good example of that can be recycled materials being used for products, as well as any sustainably harvested forests and other similar solutions. This should work in all building services, especially when it comes to wallpapering, tiling, roofing, and any type of building refurbishment. For more tips visit: Building Services Builders.


mobEE Strawbale School Portables are a low impact breath of fresh air

February 11th, 2015 by Cathy Rust No comments »
Straw Bale Portable mobEE

Straw Bale Portable mobEE


I met Ben Polley on the trip to Poland in October, 2014, but his company, Evolve Builders had been on my list of ones to contact for awhile. Evolve Builders builds low impact houses and buildings from straw, earth and wood. The company is divided into various divisions each of which specialize in a particular area of green building ranging from green design to “biological based building systems” (dealing with gray and black water and the like) through the Torus division.

mobEE, the prefabricated straw bale school portable system has recently signed a contract with the Pinoleville Pomo Nation to provide six mobEE units for the aboriginal group. What is unusual about this contract is that this nation is based in northern California. You might be wondering, like I did, why this group from northern California selected a southern  Ontario-based natural builder to build these school buildings for them. The questions was answered in Evolve’s press release:

After extended bid requests for a strawbale constructed portable school structure failed to garner interest locally or elsewhere across the U.S., determined Pinoleville Native American Head Start program representatives discovered Evolve’s mobEE eco-portables. Both parties came to learn that they held in common many organizational values, including support for local jobs, environmental stewardship, healthy buildings and energy efficiency. This inspired a joint effort that ultimately will meet Pinoleville Pomo Nation’s ideals, needs and budget.

Construction of the walls will take place in the Durham, Ontario factory then the parts will be shipped to California where they will be assembled by local trades, overseen by the mobEE group.

» Read more: mobEE Strawbale School Portables are a low impact breath of fresh air

Green Living and Recycling Go Hand in Hand

January 25th, 2015 by Contributor 2 comments »

Green Living and Recycling Go Hand in Hand1

There are many way to embrace an eco – friendly lifestyle. Recycling remains a cornerstone of the “green “mindset. With the increasing world population, the problem with the waste disposal becomes more severe. Furthermore, recycling is vital for the sustainable living and preserving the planet’s resources.  In order to fully incorporate this practice, people need to know not only the benefits, but also the ways in which they can support the initiative.

Recycling vs. Raw Materials

One of the mains benefits of recycling is that it reduces the need for raw materials. Mining, logging and quarrying as well as the processing of goods produce an enormous amount of pollution. Even the electricity required to fulfil those tasks have a great impact. In the process of getting raw materials, the natural habitats are destroyed, resulting in the death of the local wildlife.

Recycling on the other hand requires less energy. Opponents of the idea argue that transportation of the recycling materials also adds up to the pollution.  This is true, but it is nothing compared to the emissions produced for transferring the raw materials. In most of the cases recycling uses less energy, thus have less influence on the environment. For example, the bags made from reused material, rather than polyethylene decreased the energy consumption by two – thirds.

Some of the materials cannot degrade for hundreds of years.  They will continue to pollute the Earth even when we are no longer here. They will not only flood our planet, but will also poison the soil. Cleaning the ground from these toxic ingredients will become almost impossible.

» Read more: Green Living and Recycling Go Hand in Hand

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