Company launches green-built products for the health of it

TRAVERSE CITY – The line between green building and traditional building continues to fade as green building practices become more and more mainstream.

No one knows this better than Jim Anderson, a 35-year veteran of the building industry and CEO of Architectural Elements of Michigan.

Traverse City-based Architectural Elements designs and manufactures high quality cabinetry-but that is only part of the story. They also produce anything from stair systems and mantles to molding and even electric guitars, all out of their new 12,000 square-foot manufacturing facility on Robinson Road, just off M-72.

In January, Architectural Elements launched a new line of custom-built green-built products, called Spring Green Built. This new line features cabinetry and furniture made from materials that are friendly to the environment, the person building them and to the end user.

Though the green building movement is starting to really take off, the creation of the Spring Green Built line is not a matter of Anderson and his wife, Donna-an interior designer and owner of Architectural Elements-wanting to jump on the green bandwagon. It is derived, rather, from a sense of environmental responsibility.

"I've always followed the environmental movement," said Anderson. "I grew up a Boy Scout and learned, among other things, that you just don't waste things."

Anderson also knows, first-hand, the health hazards that come with traditional building materials. Early in his career as a professional builder, he became very chemically sensitive to the products used in construction-the paints, resins, wood products, finishes and adhesives, etc.

Take plywood, for example. Plywood is used in every facet of home construction, including cabinetry. Traditional plywood is made with formaldehyde and has been found to outgas it.

"It is a known carcinogen," said Anderson. "In California, in fact, they're in the legislative process of banning the use of formaldehyde (in building materials)."

Most finishes and adhesives contain volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which also outgas and adversely affect indoor air quality.

Architectural Engineering's new Spring Green Built line uses wood that is free of formaldehyde, made instead with resins from sources such as sea urchin, soy flour or coconut palm. Finish for the cabinetry and furniture is made using non-VOC paints, stains and sealants. And that's just scratching the surface in terms of how green and how healthy the line can be.

Customization is the name of the game with the Spring Green Built line. Architectural Engineering's design team works with the builder, architect and homeowner to define what materials are to be used from the many options that exist- allowing the homeowner to determine how green they want to be-and then custom designs and builds it from their Robinson Road facility. With the Spring Green Built Plus line-designed for those with severe sensitivity-Architectural Engineering will work with a homeowner's allergist to determine the best content for their cabinetry and finish carpentry needs.

"There are really a lot of options out there for someone wanting to build a green home," said Anderson. "It can be overwhelming if they were to go it alone."

Instead of traditional wood, for example, one could use bamboo, wheatboard, sunflower chaffs or sorgum as the source. Or, they could select Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified woods-wood that comes from sustainable forests and possesses a chain of custody that can be traced from harvesting to the end user, ensuring its quality.

Another possible building material option, used for countertops, tabletops and sinktops, is a product called shetkaSTONE. It's made from 100% recycled paper, plant or cloth fibers that is turned into a slurry and then turned into a hardened product.

These are but a few examples of what Architectural Engineering has to offer a homeowner seeking greener pastures. In the near future, they will also be introducing a line of children's furniture and outdoor cabinetry as part of the Spring Green Built line.

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