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.
K7 kitchen by Team 7, available in Ottawa through Greyhorne Interiors
James Flynn, owner of Greyhorne Interiors in Ottawa, let me know that in addition to representing Team 7’s furniture lines, Greyhorne now carries its kitchen cabinets as well. The cabinets are made with the same care and precision as its furniture, and, like its furniture, all efforts are taken to lighten the company’s environmental footprint.
All their designs have sleek, modern lines. Greyhorne carries four Team 7 lines:
Inde-Art Design House is a cabinet and furniture company located in Leslieville in Toronto. Their kitchen cabinets are beautiful in a rustic, artistic way. Sorab from Inde-Art told me that they use wood from decommissioned fishing boats and torn down houses from India to make the cabinets. The wood is mostly teak, and, after seeing the pictures, is quite stunning.
Upper Cabinet close-up
Cabinets are either custom-built or you can buy them directly from their showroom if you don’t need specific measurements for the space (free-standing kitchens are becoming more fashionable these days).
Cabinets can be either stained or painted depending on the look you’re after. As seen in some of the photos, they also do a distressed look, however, a natural stain will bring out the grain in the wood.
Cost: Is medium-end, however, it is dependent on the style, type of cabinet you choose (in-stock, premade or custom). Inde-Art can offer two different qualities of cabinet box and hardware depending on your budget.
reclaimed and distressed wood kitchen cabinets
Time: Again, it is difficult to predict how long a custom cabinet will take to make. Some of them are made in India, some are made in their warehouse in Toronto, depending on the wood and design style you choose. If the cabinet is not in-stock it could take up to three months to make. The company has recently started importing drawer and cupboard doors from India and making the boxes in-house in Toronto.
For more information about the cabinets, please contact Inde-Art or visit their website.
Two years ago I attended the press party for Nexterra LivingHomes. I was pretty excited about the concept of a green modular home that achieved the goals of being lighter on the planet, but was still functional and gorgeous. The house is now ready and, since I was in Toronto to attend the GreenLiving Show, Gary Lands of Nexterra, took me on a tour of the nearly completed and furnished model home. There are three other homes that will be built at 20 Senlac, blue prints and property positions are available on the Nexterra website.
Exterior Rainscreen cladding be Externit
Side view of house — double garage under scaffolding
The Nexterra LivingHome consists of 6 prefab boxes: four large boxes and two smaller ones. The finished home is a spacious three plus one bedroom, meaning three bedrooms on the second floor with a fourth in the basement. Ceilings are 10′ tall on each level so there is a real feeling of space — even the basement ceilings are 10′. The home has wonderful flow, with windows used both strategically and liberally so that there is plenty of natural light.
Laura Felstiner, involved with establishing Nexterra’s partners, told me they are targeting LEED Platinum certification, but won’t know until the house is completed and systems are operating, in order to monitor energy consumption.
Some of the features of the home:
Third floor tower leading to roof deck (also works as a heat stack)
Building envelope and HVAC system: The building is tightly sealed, with R35 insulation in the exposed walls, and R30 insulation in the basement walls.Insulation is Heatlok Soya, a sprayfoam insulation made from recycled water bottles and soy. It’s an excellent insulation with an R-value of 6 per inch. The key to Heatlok is that it doesn’t lose its R-value over time. Many sprayfoams lose a little of their insulation value due to natural shrinkage of the material.
There is easy accessibility to the roof via the third floor stairway, which also acts as a heat stack. When days are hot in the summer and (hopefully) nights are cooler, opening the door to the roof, while opening lower floor windows prompts cool air to be drawn into the lower floors while the hot air escapes through the open top floor door. There is also space for a whole house fan in the roof which would accomplish the same thing if the lower level windows are open. The roof is also solar PV panel ready, and there will be a roof deck as well.
Geothermal heating system by Geosmart provides both heating and cooling for the home. In addition, because the building is tightly sealed, there is a Heat Recovery Ventilator and air purification system by Water Furnace, that keeps the air clean and circulating through the house.
Windows have fiberglass frames, made by local Toronto business, Inline Fiberglass, and are double-glazed, low-emissivity, filled with argon gas. These windows are some of the best insulating windows on the market today. You can read more about the advantages of fiberglass windows in this article.
Appliance Bank: AEG microwave, oven and steamer oven
Franke Sink with culinary work prep sink and built-in compost bin
Recycling bins built into kitchen cabinets — by Scavolini
Kitchen: The cabinets were done by Scavolini, an Italian company that takes sustainability very seriously. Not only are the cabinets NAUF (no added urea formaldehyde), but there are thoughtful additions such as a recycling centre built into the island. The company itself also practices sustainability during the manufacturing process. The two manufacturing plants run almost entirely on electricity derived from the rooftop solar panels on their factories, waste is minimized as is the amount of water used in manufacturing. While the cupboards are manufactured in Europe, they are shipped by boat and flat-packed, and are assembled on site. Flat packing items allows companies the opportunity to ship more items in one container, lessening the number of cargo holders needed.
Countertop by Caesarstone, Faucet by Franke
Countertop: Caesarstone “Quartz Reflections” with up to 42% reclaimed quartz and with particles of recycled mirror and glass which adds a very nice sparkle.
Euro-Line Appliances provided all the appliances and the stainless steel sink. The sink is by Franke and includes a prep bowl and strainer, as well as a built-in compost bin. Appliances are by AEG and include an induction cooktop, and a wall of ovens consisting of a microwave, convection oven and steamer oven. The dishwasher is also AEG. European appliances use significantly less electricity than standard North American models and will lighten the electricity load for the house, Faucet is by Franke.
Barnboard in mudroom
Mudroom: Between the garage and the kitchen is a mudroom to which barnboard has been added for a great rustic touch. Barnboard comes from Muskoka Timber Mills, and was installed by Andrew Reesor, a local artist.
Dual flush Aquia II by Toto
Powder room: Just off the mudroom is a smart little powder room containing a dual flush (3/6 litres) toilet by Toto Aquia II, and a vanity and sink by WETSTYLE, featuring a proprietary WETMAR material for the sink basin. It is completely recyclable at end of life and can be made into new WETSTYLE products.
Inlaid cork flooring by Jelinek at entry way.
Other features of the main floor: The welcome mat at the front door is actually an inlaid cork flooring provided by Jelinek. Wood flooring through the rest of the house is Kentwood, FSC engineered oak. Engineered flooring is often used because it behaves more consistently than solid wood, not being susceptible to expansion and contraction.
Halo LED lighting in basement
LED pot lights throughout the house are 4″ Halo, 5Watt lights. When Gary was showing me around the house he asked me what was my favourite feature. I told him the LED potlights (he might have been a little disappointed with my answer). I thought they were 50W halogens because of their light temperature (colour) and brightness. I had no idea they were LEDs. Not only will these lights use 10 times less electricity than their halogen counterparts, they will likely not need to be replaced for 15 to 20 years. Now that’s great lighting.
The pendant lighting in the kitchen and over the dining room table is provided by Eurolite.
Living Room — furniture by Gus* modern, art by AGO
Furniture in living room is provided by Gus* Modern. Pillows are provided by Bev Hisey and are Goodweave certified. Goodweave is a not-for-profit group with the aim of ending child labour in the carpet industry while providing education opportunities for children in South Asia. Second life rugs were provided by Elte.
Cast-iron fireplace by Jotul
The fireplace is provided by Jotul, model F 370 DV. Jotul manufactures this fireplace from recycled iron in one of the cleanest foundries in Europe.
The desk in the home office was constructed by JM & Sons out of recycled metal and reclaimed wood. Gary explained that the home’s interior is set up so that if someone has a home office, any clients they might receive can stay in the main part of the house. This eastern-facing wall has large windows so that lots of natural daylight can stream in.
Master bathroom, bath tub, sinks and vanities by Wetstyle
The second floor consists of a Master-ensuite with floor to ceiling closets on the end walls providing lots of storage space. The washroom has been outfitted with Wetstyle tub and sinks and vanity. Other storage cupboards also come from Wetstyle.
Faucets and showerheads throughout the house are low-flow from Aquabrass. I should also mention that while all toilets and faucets are low-flow, they’ve also built the house to be grey-water ready. Grey water, water that comes from the shower drains, can be used to feed all toilets in the house, literally helping to reduce your water use in half.
Bunkbed in bedroom #2 by Kolan
Bedroom #3, crib by Oeuf
The two other rooms on the second floor are set up as kids’ rooms, one with a crib, the other a set of bunk beds. These rooms are bright and spacious and putting furniture in the rooms shows that they are big too — there is plenty of play area in both rooms. The kids’ bunk beds and bookshelf are made by Oeuf out of Baltic birch and eco-MDF and low VOC water-based finishes. The table in this room was made by Heidi Earnshaw, a local artist.
The crib and dresser are made by Kalon from FSC domestic maple and low VOC food grade dyes and stains.
The paint throughout the house is white, zero VOC provided by PARA paints.
What you notice when you walk through this house is not only is it a great example of a green-designed beautiful contemporary house, but also there is an absense of “new home smell” — ie., no smell of chemicals off-gassing into the air. Neither the products that were used to construct the house nor the furniture installed for modelling the home contain toxic chemicals providing a comfortable healthy indoor air environment.
If you’re at all interested in modern, low impact homes, take a look at this one. It will be available for sale at some point, right now it serves as the model home for three others to be built down the same laneway.
Beside budget, style, color, durability, brand that influenced our selections in the past, kitchen cabinet manufacturers increasingly compete for our business on the basis of providing healthy cabinets.
Cabinets are often made of particle board, press wood, hardwood plywood paneling , medium density fiberboard etc. that typically contain formaldehyde , and other VOCs that are emitted as gases from certain liquids and solids including various binders, lacquers and paints. The higher the VOC in finishes and adhesives are used, the longer time it will take to dissipate and will continue to out gas after installation (even if it is at a lesser degree)
Because we spend 90 percent of our time indoors, chemical free materials are very important to protect our health, future immunity, enhance our quality of life, and contributing to the environment overall.
Here are some suggestions to keep in mind when considering cabinets for a new home or a remodeling project:
a Green Cabinet Maker
works with formaldehyde-free and low or zero VOC adhesives, binders and finishes.
has a written policy stating the company s commitment to environmental quality
use sustainable materials and production
using a local cabinet maker will help reduce the embodied energy as cabinets are expensive to package and ship
efficient, just-in-time manufacturing process uses no material access, waste kept minimal
offer clean design, simple aesthetics, FSC-certified and recycled woods
works with materials used harvested or extracted in a conscientious way
the manufacturing process does not harm or exploit the people that made it
strive to manufacture, quality, well -made, durable and functional, easy to maintain product
use materials that are at the end of their life easy to dispose in a safe manner
use materials that are sustainably harvested-mature trees are selectively cut allowing younger ones to replace them
use materials that are rapidly renewable, eg bamboo which is a grass not wood, grows like weed and very sustainable for cabinetry, or cork which spontaneously regenerates
conserve by using wood veneers. Wood veneers are less wood (wood is a slowly renewable resource) All solid, engineered and reclaimed wood are FSC-certified
applies useful application for discarded or waste materials from the manufacturing or building process
provides MSDS (Material Safety Data Sheet) to disclose their furnishing materials. MSD Sheet list the product components to help consumers make the most informed choice for their home.
meet LEED Green Building Rating System specifications for rapidly renewable resources, low emitting materials and can help earn points toward LEED certifications, including all adhesives used in assembling the cabinets
use rapidly renewable materials, like bamboo; or wheat straw_wheatboard, it has proven to be just as strong as particleboard and as a rapidly renewable source growing in a single season, and is made without formaldehyde; or agrifiber that will decompose (although hindered by binders, resins and finishes) these boards and panels are manufactured from agricultural byproducts that are annually renewable. Keriboard is an engineered product using stalks of sorghum plants, and bamboo is used in a laminated plywood under the trademark Plyboo.
use woods, veneers from managed forests,
use formaldehyde free particle board or exterior grade plywood, cores made from marine grade plywood which emits lower formaldehyde levels
use wheat straw_wheatboard, it has proven to be just as strong as particleboard, and is a rapidly renewable
use locally or domestically harvested FSC-certified wood (LEED ) or salvaged wood
use stains and water-based paints that are low or zero VOC and Green Guard or Green Seal certified
use materials with third-party verification of source of safety that sets and measures air quality standards for cabinets
use solvent free glues, factory cured and low emission finishes, check for safety.
provide Material Safety Data Sheet . If the cabinets are imported, contact the importer or distributor and ask for manufacturing details. Material Safety Data Sheets list everything that goes into the product.
use eco-friendly hardware, power coated steel:very low emitting VOCs, water resistant, sanitary, hypo-allergenic, low maintenance and very durable
use face construction that can be solid wood, bamboo, agrifiber products, metal or recycled glass. Green cabinets don t support the use of endangered species, but if offer tropical wood, they are all FSC -certified
stainless steel emits no chemical toxins of VOCs, hypo-allergenic, water resistant, low maintenance
Reusing cabinetry is always preferred especially if the cabinets are in good condition. Using salvaged cabinetry can be a way to reduce the impact of manufacturing the amount of material entering the landfills.
Clara Puskas is a Green Designer, Founder and CEO SIPgreen and xlkitchens.
For the most part we rely on third party organizations to determine what is and isn't a "green building material." The only time we might not is when products are locally produced or no third party green designation is available for the product.