Question

Help! What furniture should I get if I can't afford to buy green furniture for the whole house?

Asked by Anita Qiu
Bellevue, WA

I just bought a new house and I'm thrilled that I could use this as an opportunity to get healthy furniture around me. But it turned out to be a very difficult goal to reach -- a couch set with natural latex cushions, etc., costs about $10K, half the budget I have to furnish my whole house. I understand the reasoning that getting green furniture may cost more upfront but will last longer and benefit you more in the long run. But I simply don't have the money to do that, especially after just buying a house. I don't want to buy unhealthy but cheaper furniture as a temporary solution either, because I don't want to get stuff that I know I'll throw away very soon, and I don't want to live around toxic furniture. So I'm torn every day between using all my budget to buy just several pieces of furniture for now and leave the rest of house empty or just forget about being green and get what everyone else is buying. Is there another way?

Answer

Randy Potter

Answered by Randy Potter

Santa Clara, CA

EarthBound Homes

January 18, 2011

Yes, there is another way to furnish your new house without killing your indoor air quality and without breaking the bank: buy vintage used furniture that is made of solid wood.

As an alternative, find nice new unfinished wood pieces that you can afford and then finish or paint them yourself.

Inexpensive furniture will degrade your air quality

The problem with most inexpensive furniture today is that it is made of particle board with a thin veneer in order to give it the appearance of solid wood. This is problematic in two respects:

  • First, the particle board or other pressed-wood products that the "guts" of the furniture are made of contains high levels of urea-formaldehyde, which creates terrible indoor air quality issues.
  • Second, these products simply do not last as long as solid wood or even plywood-based products, so they need to be replaced or repaired much more frequently.

Here is an excerpt from the EPA website which addresses the dangers of formaldehyde in wood products for the home:

"In homes, the most significant sources of formaldehyde are likely to be pressed-wood products made using adhesives that contain urea-formaldehyde (UF) resins. Pressed wood products made for indoor use include:

  • particleboard (used as subflooring and shelving and in cabinetry and furniture);
  • hardwood plywood paneling (used for decorative wall covering and used in cabinets and furniture);
  • and medium density fiberboard (used for drawer fronts, cabinets, and furniture tops).

Medium density fiberboard contains a higher resin-to-wood ratio than any other UF-pressed-wood product and is generally recognized as being the highest formaldehyde emitting pressed-wood product."

Finish it yourself to save money

Your best bet is to find some nice, well-made hardwood furniture that you like, then refinish it yourself with a non-offgassing finish like shellac and find cushions and fabric that are made from natural materials.

I know it is tempting to buy some of the very inexpensive and quite attractive furniture that is on the market today; however, like most inexpensive items, it comes with a huge tradeoff when it comes to indoor air quality and durability.

 

For more information:

Read Kirsten Flynn's Q&A "How can I reupholster furniture sustainably?"

Tagged In: home air quality, durability

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