How Green are your Kitchen Cabinets?


Yes! They are off the grid, wireless and you don’t even have to plug them in! They do not consume an ounce of energy, except for your elbow grease when they need cleaning.

The cabinets in my home are green, really. They are painted in Kelly-Moore”Desert Moss” or something like that. Other than that, they are the most un-green cabinets ever. Years ago, I knew less about the importance of healthy cabinetry than I do now. The installer I hired used MDF, oil based paint and tried building the “frame” (there should be no frame work like this inside cabinetry) in 2×4’s!!! Can you BELIEVE that??? The original cabinets were solid wood but are almost falling down from the 1978 furr down. Thankfully, I know better now!

So what do green cabinets really mean? Healthy and Sustainable.

Jeff Mitzel, the owner of GreenAward Custom Woodworking, was kind enough to share his perspective on this subject. Jeff’s green cabinetry practices start in the shop which uses radiant heat and also bio gas heating which burns the hydrogen in the wood. He also uses common sense ways to keep warm and radiant heat strips are aimed to keep the back of your neck warm which warms the entire body. Waste materials are recycled and used in children’s art classes and in art therapy around Austin. Jeff is green down to his core and his values are present in every decision he makes every day of the year.

Back to the cabinets! The sustainable part, past the green of the shop, will depend on the client. Each has their own sense of green, different for each individual and in different moments in time. Jeff likes to find out what is the client’s next green step. He has created a pricing model to help clients have quality healthy and sustainable cabinets for different budgets. The best way to go green affordably is to use products in the mainstream like low formaldehyde plywood. Buying something local and commonly available helps avoid large shipping fees which helps his customers make choices that fit their budget.

The healthy part of cabinets is all about air quality. Jeff uses finishes on the cabinetry that are cured with ultraviolet light rather than by evaporation. Products that cure through evaporation need the volatile properties, VOC’s. Waterborne finishes are replacing traditional finishes but also contain VOC’s, though in smaller amounts. UV cured finishes don’t require VOC’s to dry and cure, and the level of quality of UV cured finishes are equal to anything else out there and are durable enough for commercial floor grade traffic while saving money. A high end quality finish is affordable, very green and very consistent quality.

This is important because we want clean air in our homes. Many of us have heard of off gassing, the evaporation process of VOC’s that can go on in some products for more than a year.

A Researcher at UT, Richard Corsi, has studied indoor air quality from a toxicity perspective and how products break down over time. Ozone bumps into molecules and breaks them apart and creates an exponential rise in new chemicals. What are they? We don’t even know, maybe something ok. Maybe not.

Off gassing from new products we bring into our home often falls off after a few months while small amounts of ozone in our air continues to break down chemicals in our home every day and becomes the major factor in our indoor air quality over time. The UV cured finish Jeff uses has been tested at the University of Texas and shows a very low interaction with ozone which makes for a very safe finish. No off gassing in the short term and very small ozone effect over the long term.

The important thing to think about is that the kitchen is our food storage and prep area of the home. We ingest the airborne chemicals that off gas from our cabinets and that also break down from ozone and which deposits on our cookware, tableware, plates, and cups and glasses.

We do respond to chemicals. We can become sick now or sick later, and they can change our DNA, especially in our children, while studies show infants raised in nurseries with new stuff have higher incidence rates of asthma.

When our children are born, many families seek out a healthier life style and begin to learn about other options. We buy organic foods that have been carefully grown to eliminate chemicals in the products, but then we put them in cabinetry that is both off gassing and that will go through the ozone effect.

Where do we go from there?
Jeff likes to show his clients samples with traditional finishes like shellacs and natural varnishes. In his shop, he has taken the time to study different finishes, what it does and how it looks. Stain versus not. Often we are looking for color and we want our kitchen to feel warm. Wood is appealing, but stains muddy up the grain of the wood. The point of a good finish is to show off the natural beauty and grain of the wood. You can spend thousands on a specialty finish, but you are better off with less because you going to lose the grain. You can really see the difference; you can see the natural shine of a hard wood that is not there in most cabinetry.

Natural varnishes can take longer to dry and have been replaced by modern chemical finishes in mass production facilities which value the speed in which these finishes can be applied and dry while the finishes and techniques used to apply safer natural finishes which also show off the beauty of wood have largely fallen by the wayside.

Now that we have brought back some of these techniques, we apply some of the same techniques on modern green materials. A technique used to create the rich dark Cherry color in our grandparents furniture can be applied to caramelized bamboo to bring out greens and yellows and then finished with a dark garnet shellac for a very rich and varied finish.

Creating unique finishes opens the door for combining materials in unique ways, and many green materials combine well with each in creative ways and also with local woods. Caramelized bamboo combines nicely with a flooring material made from waste wood products that has some of the same colorings and which Jeff has recast for use as doors. Locally harvested Mesquite combines nicely with a board made from Sorghum, Kirei. There are so many more ways to be creative!

Jeff Mitzel is definitely contributing to a better and healthier air quality with his natural and simple use of materials. Jeff likes to take his love for cabinetry, wood and beautiful finishes and share it with anyone who wants to know more. He can be reached through his email address;