Is there a significant difference between kitchen cabinets with no added formaldehyde and those that meet ANSI/HPVA HP-1 and CARB standards?

Asked by Kat
Ithaca, NY

I wanted to get kitchen cabinets with no added formaldehyde, but there aren't any available in my city (Ithaca, NY). I would have to go out of town to get Executive or Crystal cabinets, for example, and the sellers also would want to do the design and/or installation. I plan to do my own design, and I have a contractor I want to use. Dura Supreme cabinets are available here, and the company says they meet ANSI/HPVA HP-1 and CARB standards. They also say, "Our catalyzed conversion varnish sealers and topcoats are formulated to be extremely low in HAPs and formaldehyde. We conform to stringent emissions standards for VOCs." Would the Dura Supreme cabinets be a serious compromise? I and two of my cats have asthma, and I'm sensitive to chemicals.


Polly Osborne, FAIA, LEED AP

Answered by Polly Osborne, FAIA, LEED AP

Los Angeles, CA

Polly Osborne Architects

August 14, 2013

Dear Kat,

For background on the CARB standards, please see my answer to a similar question here.

While I am not familiar with the cabinet brands you are asking about, I can tell you there are differences between CARB standards, “No Added Formaldehyde,” and ANSI/HPVA HP-1. 

The CARB standards are stringent but don’t forbid the use of urea-formaldehyde resins, although the limit is .05 ppm.  They do, however, encourage NAFs (no added formaldehyde) and have a list on their website (here) of manufacturers that comply with this option. 

Urea-based Formaldehyde resins are not the only components of wood composites that may off-gas.  Varnishes, finishes, etc may also contribute, so just because it is CARB 93120.2 compliant doesn’t mean it won’t smell or have VOCs.  While the CARB standard is testing the unfinished material, the ANSI/HPVA HP-1 is testing the finished material and includes other performance properties as well. The American National Standards Institute accredited the Hardwood Plywood and Veneer Association to develop this standard.  It is a voluntary industry developed standard with similar limits to CARB’s. In California, the Air Resources Board would regulate these emissions through their pollution districts, but where government rules don’t apply, the optional ANSI/HPVA HP-1 testing gives the limits for the whole product. They give stated support to the California initiative.

All this is a good step forward.  Soon the federal law will go into affect and the rest of the nation will being following California’s lead. So, at the least, the formaldehyde in raw plywood and veneer will be greatly reduced, which will make both ambient air and indoor air more breathable for us and for all of nature.

Thanks to Lida Mahabadi for her research of these issues.


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