View of kitchen, cabinetry, lighting, maple hardwood flooring
Well, five months after my deadline, my kitchen is finished. I’ve promised my friend Nancy Peterson, CEO of Homestars.com, that I will write a post for her called “Why I will never be my own general contractor again”. Let’s just say it was an eye opening experience. This post, however, is not about the mistakes I made (and there were plenty!), it’s about whether or not I achieved my green kitchen goals.
I would say that I accomplished some green goals but failed miserably in others, in particular with indoor air quality. For many of you, this will be the one area where you will probably not want to compromise. I, on the other hand, seem to be willing to sacrifice mine and my family’s health for the sake of aesthetics, and in some cases, durability.
I was contacted by Essentia a few weeks ago regarding their mattresses. I had never heard of them before — probably because they don’t do a lot of traditional advertising. It turns out they are based in Laval, just outside Montreal. It manufactures and distributes its mattresses straight from its Laval location, importing the raw ingredients.
Essentia Mattresses are an alternative to synthetic memory foam mattresses. Apparently, one of the complaints about memory foam mattresses is that they “sleep hot.” In other words, because they are synthetic, they don’t breathe and therefore, a lot of people heat up during the night (and not in a good way!). Because Essentia mattresses are made from plant-based ingredients, they breathe, allowing for a cooler, more comfortable sleep.
Another complaint with memory foam mattresses is that the “cast” is difficult to get in and out of. The cast is the shape that’s formed once you sink into the bed and it moulds to your body. Once that shape is there, it can be difficult to move out of it.
Essentia mattresses are made from hevea milk, the sap from the rubber tree. On their website, being the Canadian company they are, they liken collecting rubber tree sap to tapping a maple tree for sap. The sap is boiled down to produce the hevea milk, which is then shipped to Canada. Essentia adds a few other ingredients such as jasmine essence, cone flower oil and grapefruit seed extract, pours it on a mould, steams and bakes it in an oven to produce the mattress. The mattress is covered with a 100% organic cotton cover.
There are two kinds of latex manufacturing: Dunlop, which was developed in 1929, and produces a firmer latex, and Talalay, a newer method that produces a “light and fluffy” latex. Essentia uses the Dunlop latex method for production of their memory foam.
Products: Essentia makes latex mattresses in various sizes, as well as pillows which will mould to your neck and head. Mattress products vary from thinner to thicker. While all offer the same support, the difference will be in how long the mattresses last. Thicker mattresses last longer than thinner ones. For their complete product line, see their online catalogue.
Comfort: because the mattress is produced entirely from plant-based ingredients it breathes and allows for air circulation. Petroleum-based memory foam mattresses don’t allow for air flow, so heat generated while sleeping builds up around you. In addition, because the latex foam isn’t temperature sensitive, there isn’t the same cast problem that there is with synthetic memory foam.
Fire retardants: there has been a lot of attention given to the highly toxic chemicals used for fire retardants, particularly when it comes to mattresses. In Canada, fire retardants in mattresses are not mandatory, however, they are in the US. Essentia does not use fire retardants for its mattresses shipped within Canada, and for those shipped to the US, they use Kevlar as a fire retardant.
VOCs: Again, thanks to fire retardants, synthetic materials and petroleum used in other memory foam mattresses, mattresses generally contain a lot of volatile organic compounds. These are chemicals which leach into the air and you can breathe in. They have been linked to cancer, asthma, headaches, etc.. Essentia mattresses are made without the use of VOCs. The local health and safety board officials tested the workers’ environment and determined that their workers don’t need to wear protective gear or masks to work with the materials. The mattresses have also received the GreenGuard certification, a certification developed in California to limit the emission of harmful chemicals into the air.
Durability and End of Life: The mattresses have a 20 year warranty, longer than most coil mattresses, and on top of that, because the mattresses are derived from plant-based ingredients, they are biodegradable at end of life, so no landfill!
Production Process: The rubber tree sap is sourced from a plantations in Indonesia that have acceptable working conditions and no practice of using child labour. The company uses LEAN production methods to keep waste low. My contact at Essentia, Jason Wright, told me that waste is almost negligible except for cotton scraps from making the mattress covers. They are looking for ways to repurpose those as well.
Employee engagement: Essentia has recently formalized a program they developed a few years ago that encourages employees, particularly within their retail stores, to get involved with non-profit organizations within their communities. They are participated in a variety of events such as providing venues for artists, and hosting vegan cooking competitions. The point is to develop community connections.
Ed. Note: After reading this article, Ted Sosniki, President and CEO of Go Green World Products, LLC, manufacturer of Green Planet Paints, offered some additional and helpful advice regarding these paints. His comments are indicated in quotation marks.
I came across Green Planet Paints the other day while doing some research on another product. It was the photo and the tag line that caught my eye. A woman is sitting in a tub of paint and the tag line reads “Paint so safe you can bath in it.” It turns out this is a petroleum free, “truly zero” VOC, non-toxic paint.
Ted: Note I would not recommend bathing in it though as it would dry and clog your skin pours. Not good health wise.
It’s important to note that while the big commercial paint manufacturers have been doing a good job at lowering their overall energy use and eliminating the noxious fumes from some of the chemicals that are needed to make synthetic paint, according to the Green Planet website, there are still over 1500 chemicals used to make most commercial paints and further, the main ingredient is still petroleum. So making paint is still a fairly petroleum-intensive process.
Ted: …[commercial paint companies] have not yet done anything as far as petrochemical reduction, increased Bio based content or recycled content which is what defines “Green”.
Green Planet Paint, on the other hand, is plant and clay-based that is completely petroleum free and “Truly Zero VOC.”
Ted: (Although Green Planet Paints are a true zero VOC paint the paint is not an absolute zero VOC but it does have the lease amount in the industry even after tinting with the GPP tint system, the actual VOC level is at 0.08 g/l. Also, VOC content/emissions dose not define green by its self, green means that not only is there a reduction in VOC emissions but that there is also a reduction in petrochemical content, an increased use of sustainable and recycled content and this is what defines green.)
It’s explained on the website that even in zero VOC paints there exists about 5 g/l (grams/liter) of VOCs/liter of paint. It consists of plant-based binders and additives and mineral-based pigments. While there is an odour, which according to reviews on the website, is the smell of damp clay, or “earthy,” it is not toxic and will go away within a week or so.
Ted: Note that in some cases a chemical or cleaner small is sometimes noticed when GPP is applied to latex paints that are less than 10 years old and the GPP primer was not used. We have also noticed that in few cases where an exterior latex was used on the interior of a building, this chemical or cleaner smell is sometimes strong and can last up to 30 to 45 days, especially when the GPP primer was not used. In these cases we found that it is the underlying latex that is gassing off and causing this and it can include some bleeding of the underlying paint into the clay of the GPP paint giving a translucent look in some places. The GPP primer is a special primer and not a thinned out highly flat paint like that of the big manufactures. The GPP primer was designed to lock down a wall and prevents gas off of the underlying substrates/paints.
Green Planet Paint Color Palette itself consists of 48 naturally pigmented colours in varying tones from vivid and intense to soft, pastel. Coverage is 350-400 square feet and is applied to walls with a roller, brush or sprayer.
Ted: custom coloring is available at a one time fee if the color requested has never been matched yet. There are some limitations as minerals cannot make synthesized colors like oil based tints.
Green Planet Paint was originally developed by Meredith Aronson in the early 2000s. Meredith is a materials scientist with an expertise in clay and natural pigments. She was interested in creating a paint out of non-toxic, non-petroleum based materials. Eventually, she developed a paint that uses clay and natural pigments with soy/plant-based resin binder. She eventually sold her paint company to Go Green World Products, LLC after filing for bankruptcy.
I contacted Ted Sosniki, President and CEO of Go Green World Products, and asked him a few questions about the paint. One of my first thoughts was whether this is a washable paint, and how long it was expected to last. Ted told me that indeed it is washable, and applied properly, the paint will last for about 10-15 years on a previously painted wall, and up to 20 years on a new wall. I noticed that the website says that Green Planet Paints “can improve the air quality in the room or building by over 50% and are listed on the federal IRS tax deduction/credit bill.” I asked Ted to explain that a bit more. I was wondering if Green Planet acted like American Clay which neutralizes the negative ions in any room where it’s applied; his response:
“Kind of like American Clay but on steroids, due to the resin / clay mix with Tio2 [titanium dioxide], it becomes a air scrubber. Tio2 is used on all kinds of air cleaning systems, lights that can remove smells from the air and water systems for purification of water.”
Finish: The paint is available in Eggshell or Flat, as well as Primer. Available sizes: 1 quart, 1 gallon, 5 gallons.
Ted: A semi gloss is available upon request but not necessary to use in bathrooms or kitchens like the petroleum paints as the eggshell was developed to be an eggshell from the beginning and not a blend of flat and gloss like the petroleum paints.
Application: While application is as simple as using a roller, brush, or sprayer because this is a different kind of paint, the website provides a few tips on getting the desired smooth finish you are looking for. I’ve highlighted a few that you might want to keep in mind if planning to use this paint, but definitely refer to the website for more specific instructions if you are planning on using this paint.
Order the correct amount of paint needed for the job. If more than one gallon of paint in the same colour is needed for a room, mix the paint in a large bucket as colour can vary slightly from gallon to gallon.
Use high quality brushes and rollers or a sprayer. Horse hair brushes and quality cotton or wool rollers with a nap of 1/2 to 1″. Do not use foam rollers as the paint absorbs into the foam. Ted: (you do not need to use high quality brushes and rollers, simple cost effective non-synthetic brushes and rollers work the best)
Prime wall surfaces before applying paint as absorption rate may vary with paint.
Do the cut-in first (paint along the corners with a brush), and apply the rest of the paint with a roller or sprayer while cut-in is still wet in order to avoid a “framed” look. Ted: (do not do large rooms like this on hot dry days as issues will arise. For best results we recommend downloading the helpful hints document)
Wait until the first coat is dry before applying the second. Drying rate will vary depending on the humidity in the air, but will usually take around two days.
To store brushes and rollers while taking a break — wrap in a plastic bag and twist end closed around handle. Store in refrigerator. Can be stored this way for up to two days.
Where to buy: SIP Distribution is the Canadian distributor. There are a few retailers who sell it, however, if there is no one in your province you can contact SIP Distribution directly.
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.
One of the things I’m finding, as I write articles for this blog, is that there are a lot of great local manufacturers of truly green building products, that are “best kept secrets.” The problem is, they shouldn’t be secrets, they should be announced to the world so that people will use their wonderful products! The latest in the line of great products is Homestead House Milk Paint. Homestead House Paint Company is a manufacturer of both milk and latex paints based right here in Toronto. I spent a few hours with Jennylyn Pringle talking about her company’s products and in particular milk paint.
Milk paint is made from casein (milk protein), clay, limestone and natural pigments. The ingredients are found locally, and the paint is made in a facility just outside Toronto. It contains no synthetic or petroleum-based ingredients and is, zero VOC. Milk paint is best known as an historical paint; It is a paint formula and technique that was brought over from Europe 250 years ago and today is primarily used on antique furniture or reproductions. Colours are developed within an historical palette and are derived from natural pigments. One of the unique properties of this paint is that it actually soaks into the wood fibers, which means it will last as long as the item on which it’s been applied. Because of this, the paint is breathable and will never peal. One other benefit of milk paint is that because it is slightly alkaline (basic), it resists the growth of mould and mildew.
While milk paint has always been applied easily to plaster and wood, it has never adhered well to other surfaces. Now, however, there is a new primer, Milk Paint Bond, which, when applied to drywall or metal permits milk paint to adhere to these surfaces. Milk paint comes as a powder that needs to be mixed with water. It dries quickly, so, for the beginner, Homestead House recommends either mixing in small batches or adding an extender, which will permit the paint to be mixed in larger quantities and will stand for several days. This is ideal for room applications. When painting a room, it’s best to mix all the paint at once as the colour will be consistent. The website notes that for best consistency use a blender to mix the paint. Jenny said that it’s not actually necessary to use a blender, but if mixing by hand you need to stir really well in order to make sure all the powder is mixed in. The other option is to pick up a blender from a thrift shop.
Homestead House offers workshops in milk paint use. You can check their website for dates and cost. Right now there are a few painters in the city who will paint your house with milk paint, see their “Links page” for a list of painters and designers for more information. If you are interested in a DIY project, consider painting your next room with milk paint, or, ask your painter to give milk paint a try. I’m going to use it to paint our master bedroom. I’ll write a blog post on it when it’s done (don’t hold your breath, I’m thinking summer, 2011).
Cost: 2lb bag (which makes 1 gallon of paint), $75. Coverage: 450 sq. feet. (note that on its own, milk paint is not washable. A coat of hemp oil or beeswax must be applied for washability. If painting a room with it, it’s best to paint in low traffic rooms).
Other products: In keeping with its line of low-impact paints, Homestead House carries low-impact paint strippers and finishing products as well. See their product page for more information.
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.