Healthy Home

14-08-2009 1-08-46 PM  

You can’t put a price on your family’s health. When we set out to build the Mill Creek NetZero Home, we were determined to make it a healthy living environment for us, our children and those who visit us.

The factors that are most responsible for making a home’s air toxic are paint, formaldehyde and carpet.


Engineered wood products (also called composite wood products) have saved untold numbers of trees since they were invented. What could be wrong with making big pieces of “wood” by gluing together tiny ones, thereby reducing the waste associated with creating lumber from trees? The answer to that is formaldehyde, a substance that “has been shown to cause cancer in animals and may cause cancer in humans” (EPA website).

The medium-density fibreboard (MDF) that most furniture is at least partially made of these days is composed of tiny pieces of wood bound together using urea formaldehyde, a particularly high-offgassing type of formaldehyde. The kicker is that you can make MDF without formaldehyde, but almost nobody does it because it’s about 50% more expensive. Say what? See above quote regarding putting a price on your family’s health.

To avoid urea formaldehyde offgassing into our home, we decided to have the built-in shelves in the closets and pantry built out of Medite II MDF. Medite II uses a “formaldehyde-free adhesive system” and costs about 50% more than regular poisonous MDF.


Pantry shelves in the MCNZH, built out of formaldehyde-free Medite II fibreboard

We also decided to buy our kitchen from Ikea, which follows European standards for formaldehyde in their fibreboard products. The Europeans apparently believe in protecting the health of their citizens.

Finally, our house was built in such a way as to minimize how much Oriented Strand Board (OSB) is inside the vapour barrier. Although manufactured with the much slower-offgassing phenol formaldehyde, it is still a good idea to have as little OSB as possible inside one’s house.


OSB is exempt from formaldehyde regulations because it has very low emission levels (APA)


Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) can emit from standard paints, so it’s well worth it to invest in low-VOC paints. Andrea from sells them online. Otherwise, you can buy them at most paint shops. We used Lifemaster from Dulux, which they claim to be “the first solvent free, no VOC, low-odor interior latex paints”.


Have you ever noticed that Ikea doesn’t stink? Canadian Tire has a smell. Zellers definitely has a smell, but Ikea is pretty much scent free. I think that the main reason is that Ikea follows European standards when it comes to offgassing. In other words, their stuff doesn’t poison you once you bring it home.

We aren’t installing wall-to-wall carpet in the MCNZH (aw, no new house smell!), and the carpets that we do use will either be reused (done offgassing long ago) or from Ikea.

We have a bad habit of choosing unhealthy options because they are cheaper. I personally think that they shouldn’t be allowed to sell high formaldehyde MDF board regardless of the (fairly minimal) extra cost. Not everyone has the time or inclination to research everything that they buy for health effects, and it fact, many people trust that the government would not allow a poisonous product to be sold for use in their home.

Until the authorities do the right thing, as they eventually did with Bisphenol A in plastics, those of us who know about the risks can choose the right paints, carpets, and engineered woods to minimize the risk for those inhabiting our homes. The MCNZH will be a healthier home for us having made those choices.

Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.

Hey Conrad, How did you find out about the Ikea and the European off-gassing standards?

The book "Ecoholic" ( documents it. I've also had several verbal confirmation from Ikea staff members (apparently they get taught about Ikea's low-offgassing standards in training). There are also hints about the standards throughout the web, but for some reason Ikea doesn't brag about it.

From Ecoholic: "all of Ikea's pressed woods are essentially formaldehyde-free (". From page 140.

Here we go (from Ikea's 2008 sustainability report):

Reduced formaldehyde emissions

IKEA has a vision that formaldehyde emission levels in
wood based products shall be on the same levels as in natural
wood. For instance, new techniques are tested in all
areas where formaldehyde based glues are used to minimize
IKEA has earlier eliminated the use of formaldehyde
based lacquers and has now also removed all formaldehyde
in glue systems used to glue veneer surfaces on furniture.
A new standard has been set for wood based board, demanding
reduced formaldehyde emission by 50 percent.
This new demand equals half of the EU E1 level. All of this
has been implemented during 2008.

Thanks for this info! About off-gasing... for anyone reading this who is living in a newer home that is probably still off-gasing from kitchen cabinets, carpet, laminate flooring etc. - there is some hope until we get to building our own "healthy homes":

NASA has identified certain plants that can filter the air of much of these pollutants (like Benzene, Formaldehyde, and
Trichloroethylene.) The information is found here:

The smaller indoor plants are capable of filtering air pollutants just like trees and shrubs do outdoors. The list includes (but is not limited to) plants commonly known as English Ivy, Snake plants, Spider plants, Cornstalk Dracaena, Peace Lily, and many more. Each type of plant has its own "specialty" for what it removes. My family added several of these plants in a newly built home and noticed a change in the quality of the air and my dull headache disappeared. (Coincidentally? The headache part is just my personal experience - I can't claim that for anybody else.)

Have you found any options for furniture (couch) that is low or free of urea formaldehyde? Thanks.

Uh, Ikea?

i kind of love your last comment.

Post new comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.