Green Building Community

Please help my Mother-In-Law with a simple Intro to MDF products :)

Allison Friedman MA, United States 0 Ratings 99 Discussions 131 Group posts

Posted by: Allison Friedman // Rate It Green Admin

My mother-in-law is building a new home, and she wants an introduction to the difference between MDF and "real wood." I'd like to get her information from someone who is an expert in this area. Can you help - thanks in advance!

Specifically, I'd like to explain to her what to look out for and even what VOCs are and why everyone should care. But also, are there different types of MDF and do some have lower VOCs - how does she tell them apart? What questions should she ask a builder?

I want to help my In-Laws understand that green building is just smart building generally, but here I want to focus them on air quality and also about being efficient with materials. If they ask better questions and are more informed, they will make better choices.

a.harris Minneapolis, MN, united-states 0 Ratings 0 Discussions 0 Group posts


Great question!

Medium-density fibreboard (MDF) is an engineered wood product made by breaking down hardwood or softwood residuals into wood fibers, combining it with wax and a resin binder, and forming panels by applying high temperature and pressure. It is stronger and more dense than particleboard, but can be used in similar building applications.

No matter what type of wood (or wood products) you use in your building projects, they come in an FSC certified version. When you choose FSC-certified wood products for use in your building project, you have a positive impact on the world's forests. FSC is the only certification that protects rare, threatened and endangered species, high conservation value forests, old growth, the rights of indigenous communities and so much more.

You can seek bids on FSC-certified materials through FSC's product inquiry form:

msigmon22 w, MA, united-states 0 Ratings 0 Discussions 0 Group posts


I would be happy to speak on the benefits of using an FSC certified wood product. VOC's are "Volatile Organic Compounds," that can include variations of formaldehyde, which has been thought to have detrimental effects to the human body when exposed for periods of time. Many manufacturers are now producing their panel products with no-added urea formaldehyde, commonly seen as "NAUF" on paperwork. The resins and adhesives in panel products are where this change has taken place. To my knowledge, wood products will always have formaldehyde in them, as it is a natural organic compound...

In terms of green building, as my friend Amelia stated below, any time you choose to purchase an FSC certified product, you, as a consumer, are helping to drive market changes that are much needed by our planet! As your mother in law goes through this process, she should have her builder contact whomever the supplier may be, to give submittal information on products, and in terms of application - what products fit where.

Thanks for your interest and I'm always available to be contacted!

Brice Conway, MA, united-states 0 Ratings 0 Discussions 0 Group posts

Brice // Certified Sustainable Designer and pioneer of new products and technologies for the built environment.

MDF is being used in furniture, cabinets and trim. It is an inexpensive alternative to real wood. It does have glues and other chemicals that will off gas, as would the rugs and carpets. The builder will be using OSB(Oriented Strand Board) for sheathing instead of plywood. Any VOCs would have off-gassed by the time it got to your product and was installed. I would be more concerned with the VOC and stuff off-gassing from the carpets,furniture, cabinets, trim and anything else that would be using MDF and similar board products. I hope this helps.

Allison Friedman Weston, MA, united-states 0 Ratings 99 Discussions 131 Group posts

Allison Friedman // Rate It Green Admin

So if a person is choosing between solid wood and MDF cabinetry, the VOCs are a concern, right? I think an issue is that the MDF is less expensive and therefore appealing to many clients and builders. It's also lighter and therefore easier to handle? That's a guess. We once paid for eco-friendly MDF in a closet, but first when it smelled they said oops, they forgot the eco product and so they redid it. The eco version smelled less, but it still smelled some. We have also once had to return a really smelly rug. You raise a good point. This was from a well known online retailer, and it just was overpowering. I was happy to see some rug and carpet certifications come out, but you have to know what is being covered by the certification, and also people don't know to ask for this. And then, if it costs more, they will not always make the IAQ advantageous choice.

On: 05/13/2015 Brice wrote:

MDF is being used in furniture, cabinets and trim. It is an inexpensive alternative to real wood. It does have glues and other chemicals that will off gas, as would the rugs and carpets. The builder will be using OSB(Oriented Strand Board) for sheat…


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