10 Ways to Build Greener

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Happy Earth Day!  You are greener than you know!

On this Earth Day, I thought I would take a second to celebrate two things - wood, my favorite renewable resource to work with - and you.  If you are building furniture, you are already doing many green steps, and may not even realize it!  

Consider what is potentially happening when someone purchases a piece of furniture.  Trees are cut down - often not under FSC Certification - in one continent, and then may be shipped across the world to another continent.  Then in a factory where workers - under very different labor and environmental regulations - turn that wood into furniture.  The furniture then is packaged to protect it, and shipped back across the world. It ends up in a distribution center, then shipped to stores, and finally to your home.  By the time the furniture gets in your home, it could have traveled 10,000 miles. 

And you get to leave the pile of cardboard and Styrofoam on YOUR curbside.  

When I build furniture, I drive 5 miles from my home to a local building supply store.  I purchase lumber that is not wrapped in plastic or styrofoam, lumber that is grown local to our region. Then I take that wood home, and I build furniture with it.  It's like buying from a local farmer's market raw fruits and veggies, as opposed to processed and packaged food made in a foreign country.  We are supporting local jobs, local materials, and minimizing shipping pollutants and waste.

And even if your wood does have to travel further, it's a whole lot more economical and environmentally friendly to ship boards than it is to ship furniture in crates, protected by Styrofoam.  

And then let's not forget that by just building with wood, you are choosing a material that is renewable - as opposed to buying plastic or metal furniture, made without renewable resources.  And let's not forget that wood - especially young forests - produces oxygen and absorbs carbon, so properly managed forestry is actually a good thing!  And when you turn that wood into furniture - as opposed to letting it burn in wildfire or fall to the ground and decay - that carbon stays in the wood, and not in the air.

By already building, you are greener than you knew!  I celebrate you on this Earth Day!

But I also wanted to point out how we can be even greener when we build.  There are decisions we can make - and the more of us that make these decisions - the bigger the impact.


1. Buy Locally Grown Materials. 

It's just like supporting a local farmer's market for your produce.  Support your local lumber supply.  Choose materials that are readily available in your area.  And just because you are shopping at a big box store doesn't mean the lumber isn't local - the big box store is trying to reduce freighting lumber too.  

One of the reasons I work with PureBond Plywood is because it's North American made and they make great efforts to reduce shipping distances - and no, this post isn't sponsored by them.


2. Choose Faster Renewing Wood Species 

When you purchase wood, you have to cut down a tree (but let's not forget that every tree has a natural lifespan regardless).  You can choose a tree that grows back quickly, or a tree that takes hundreds of years to renew.  Douglas fir can be harvested in as little as 12 years, while teak can take up to 150 years.  

And if you just have to have a certain wood species, consider using veneered plywood for the bulk of the project with a solid wood face frame.  That way the bulk of the project is made of more sustainable materials, while the part you see is made of the wood grain you love.


3. Use and Support Reclaimed Materials. 

The best option for green building choice is of course to use materials that would otherwise be disposed of.  An old barn about to be torn down, crates from an orchid, your neighbors old deck - get creative and embrace using reclaimed materials whenever possible.  A word of caution though - make sure your reclaimed materials are safe, as old paint may contain lead and pallets may be treated with harsh chemicals. 


4. Choose Formaldehyde-Free Pressed Woods.

Yes, you can choose pressed wood products made with formaldehyde, or pressed wood products made with soy based adhesives.  Ask for formaldehyde free products to improve your home's indoor air quality when you select pressed wood products like hardwood plywoods.  My favorite is PureBond Plywood - it's beautiful, formaldehyde free, and comparable in cost to the alternative.

NOTE: I do work with PureBond Plywood, but this post is not sponsored or endorsed by them.

scrap wood vase tutorial

5. Don't Throw Out Scraps.  

In our shop, we use everything.  Anything wood scrap still big enough to cut, we save for future projects.  Too small to cut, we use for firestarter (of course wood is our main heat source up here in Alaska).  And the sawdust we spread in our chicken coop. 

I've seen amazing projects built from scraps - everything from wood vases to wood wall quilts!  If it's big enough to cut, you can use it in a project. Get creative and use up as much wood as you can!

milk paint spa bench brag post

6. Choose Organic or Earth Friendly Finishes. 

Did you know that you can seal wood with linseed oil?  Or that you can purchase no VOC paint or organic paint?  Did you know you can make your own paint from milk?  Or that natural plant based wax can be used as a beautiful top coat?  There are so many beautiful, durable options for a greener finish.  

train trundle finished with boiled linseed oil and made with PureBond Plywood

Also consider ooops paint - which might otherwise be thrown out - or stain, which takes much less product to finish.  

7. Support the Good Guys.  

If you find yourself buying the same materials over and over again, take a minute to research the company behind it.  Are they FSC Compliant?  Do they care about long-term forestry?  What are they doing to to help our environment?  One of the reasons why we shop a particular hardware store is because they carry Gorman Lumber - which is harvested in our neighboring Canada.  The wood is absolutely beautiful, and right there behind "what we make" and "what else we do" is "what we are doing for the environment."  

the bed we still sleep on

8. Do it Once, Do it Right. 

If we are going to put your time into making something, let's make sure we make something we want to keep.  Make your projects extra sturdy.  Take the time to sand them well.  Use glue for stronger joints.  Put in that extra effort to create a project you are proud of and want to keep forever.

And if in a few years, you find yourself wanting something different, repurpose that original project.  Bookshelves can become legs for a project desk, too small dining tables can be chopped down to make perfect coffee tables.  

outdoor lounge chair plans

9. Take Care of Your Furniture. 

Wood is a material that has a lifecycle.  That means it is designed to decay at some point.  By taking care of your furniture, you can make it last longer.  For outdoor furniture, keep up on painting or sealing it and store in winter months out of the elements.  The longer you can use something, the less materials you will use.  Remember, it's about Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle.

my friend Beckie built these tall bookshelves!

10. Encourage Your Friends and Family to Build. 

I'm just one person, and there's only so many pieces of furniture needed in my tiny house.  But if I can get my friends on board - or at least make furniture for them - I've 10 or 20 times greener  :)  

On this Earth Day, I challenge you to share with your friends and family why building can be a greener choice.

Happy Earth Day!

XO Ana

PS - Got any green building tips?  Share how you build green in the comments below.


Hi Ana, I'm new to your blog and this is my first post so hopefully I'm replying correctly! Thanks for a great post. Since reading your blog about a month ago and being inspired to build I have looked at all the furniture in my house in a new light. I was about to throw out an old plywood desk and drawers. I've now recycled them and am going to use the plywood in some of your projects.

I'm in Australia and hope we follow the path of the States and start producing formaldehyde free plywood soon.

I don't have a green build tip yet but since it's Earth Day I do have an organic gardening tip and it uses recycled egg shells. Sprinkle crushed egg shells around your veggie plants. It keeps the snails off (they don't like crawling over sharp shells) and fertilizes the garden at the same time.