Eco-Friendly Furniture Kalispell MT
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Green home design doesn't stop at the walls, windows, roof and floors. It extends to the home's furnishings as well. Thanks to a burgeoning eco-friendly furniture industry, homeowners can now outfit their homes with all types of furnishings that are not only stylish, comfortable and functional, but also are made with such materials as reclaimed or certified wood, natural or organic fabrics, and glues and finishes that contain no formaldehyde or volatile organic compounds (VOCs).
These eco-friendly furniture options range from the traditional to the modernistic to the avant-garde, and include organic upholstered chairs and sofas, dining tables made from plantation-grown tropical hardwoods, and chairs and tables made from wicker, rattan, seagrass and bamboo.
Most eco-friendly furniture manufacturers have adopted green production processes as well. Cisco Brothers of Los Angeles, Calif., for instance, recently implemented its Inside Green method of construction, which uses certified wood, water-based glues, hemp, natural latex foam and premium natural wool batting. As a result, all of the furniture created by Cisco Brothers is non-allergenic as well as earth-friendly.
Three Key Questions
Making the right choices among all of today's eco-friendly furniture options requires a bit of thought and planning before you buy. After all, just because a salesperson says an end table is eco-friendly doesn't necessarily mean it is. Unfortunately, there are no industry-wide standards for what constitutes eco-friendly or green furniture, so you're pretty much on your own when setting the rules by which a salesperson must operate.
If you want truly eco-friendly furniture in your house, you can start by asking three key questions before you hand over your credit card:
Where was the furniture made?
What is it made of?
Are its materials really green?
Depending on the answers, you can determine if the items you're buying are green enough for you.
Where Was It Made?
The question of where a furnishing is made is the most important because, in general, the lumbering and manufacturing processes of furnishings made domestically are easier to verify than for imported products. "We don't want to sell furniture that weighs on the backs of the poorest people on Earth," says Peggy Farabaugh, whose Vermont-based company, Vermont Woods Studios, specializes in eco-friendly furniture, both domestic and foreign.
Like many eco-friendly vendors, Farabaugh works first with local artisans to produce furnishings. For almost any indoor furnishings, she notes, locally available woods like cherry, walnut, maple and oak compete favorably, in both appearance and function, with more expensive tropical exotics like mahogany, teak, Spanish cedar and purpleheart. "And with local woods, you don't have to worry that five acres were cut down and wasted just to get at one mahogany tree," she notes.
In addition, local furniture makers are usually either self-employed or employed by a manufacturer who must adhere to American labor laws and workshop conditions, which are among the toughest in the world, Farabaugh points out. That's not always the case with foreign-made furnishings, particularly those made in Asia.
Sometimes, however, North American woods just don't have the characteristics needed to serve a certain function or look. For instance, outdoor furniture is likely to survive much longer when it's made from rot-resistant tropical hardwoods rather than local rot-resistant hardwoods.
Knowing this, Farabaugh was forced to track down outdoor furniture made with lumber from sustainably managed tropical forests - and that's where things get can a little tricky.
Are the Materials Really Green?
As is the case with most eco-friendly furniture makers, Farabaugh first worked through the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) to locate a Bolivia-based lumber supplier and manufacturer called La Chonta. Because La Chonta had the FSC's blessing, Farabaugh says she was confident in both the lumber and labor policies behind the furniture she imports.
Indeed, the FSC label is fast becoming the gold standard by which lumber used in just about any eco-friendly furniture is measured. Founded in the United States, the FSC is a 17-year-old, non-governmental, independently funded organization with its headquarters in Bonn, Germany and offices in more than 40 countries worldwide. In each country in which it operates, the FSC conducts "audits" of various forestry operations, manufacturers and associated exporters to ensure trees are being harvested and used in a sustainable and socially responsible manner.
In addition to the FSC, there are numerous other independent agencies overseeing lumbering practices around the world, including CertiSource UK in Great Britain and the Timber Trade Action Plan, a European Commission-supported agency based in Switzerland. You might hear the names of these organizations and others like them when you shop for eco-friendly furniture.
What Is It Made Of?
In addition to domestic and tropical woods, bamboo is rapidly becoming one of the primary materials used in making eco-friendly furniture. Although tough and wood-like in most of its characteristics, bamboo is actually a grass that grows rapidly in tropical, subtropical and even some temperate climates. Because some of the 1,500 or so bamboo species can grow up to 60 feet in a single season, it is considered a sustainable source of furniture-making material, according to the American Bamboo Society of Encinitas, Calif.
Similarly, genuine rattan and wicker furniture is considered quite eco-friendly when made from the traditional, rapidly regenerating vines. Unfortunately, most furniture today labeled "rattan" and "wicker" is actually made from polyester extrusions that look like the original woody vines. Some manufacturers even create plastic furniture parts that resemble bamboo and call the products "bamboo." Paints and stains can make these substitutes difficult to distinguish from the real deal, so be sure to check the source materials carefully.
Recycled, reclaimed and recovered lumber is also finding its way into eco-friendly furniture. Comprised primarily of domestic species, this lumber comes from various sources.
Waste lumber from housing projects, for instance, is recyled and reused in furniture rather than dumped in a landfill or burned. Reclaimed lumber comes primarily from older wood-framed buildings that have been torn down, but have big timbers that can be re-sawn into lumber. Recovered lumber often comes from the bottoms of lakes and rivers in which log drives were once conducted. These logs fell off rafts a hundred years ago and floated to the river bottom. They are now brought up by divers to be sawn into lumber.
Homeowners should also pay attention to the parts of furniture that are non-wood, especially the upholstery and padding. Eco-friendly upholstery is often made from organically grown cotton or hemp, with natural dyes derived from coffee, berries and the like.The padding problem can be solved by using foam rubber derived from rubber trees that, when tapped, exude a natural latex emulsion, as opposed to the more widely available synthetic latex compounds.
In addition, nearly all furnishings require some sort of glues and finishes, which can be problematic because of the VOCs they usually emit, affecting indoor air quality. Look for products that promise no VOCs were emitted during the construction and finishing processes. Water-based finishes generally don't emit any significant VOCs - but the processes used to manufacture water-based finishes are rarely considered eco-friendly. Shellac, however, is made from secretions of the tropical lac insect. When mixed with denatured alcohol, it is widely considered an eco-friendly finish.
In the final analysis, finding home furnishings that are truly eco-friendly is becoming easier all the time. With a little bit of effort, you can ensure you're in the vanguard of eco-friendly homeowners who are furnishing their homes in a smart manner.
Ken Textor is a frequent contributor to Smart HomeOwner. He's based in Arrowsic, Maine.