So your bedroom has an unconventional shape and you haven’t been able to find the perfect bookshelf for your room. You then consider getting them tailor-made and have found a nice furniture factory in mainland China.
One of the questions the factory will ask you is which material you prefer your bookshelf to be made with, E0 or E1. Now if you don’t know what E0 and E1 mean, read on!
Decoman’s chief renovation consultant has interviewed our Deco X partner, a Dongguan furniture manufacturer, to talk about the things you have to know when choosing materials for your tailor-made furniture.
Two types of mainstream engineered wood
In Hong Kong, tailor-made furniture is mostly manufactured in mainland China. Laminated plywood and fibreboard are the two widely-used materials between which non-professional people seldom make a distinction.
This material is categorised as E1 or E0 according to its level of formaldehyde release. To put it simply, plywood is a type of engineered wood made of pressurised layers of wood, usually poplar or fir. A layer of melamine (resin adhesive) is applied to the surfaces of the plywood to make laminated plywood.
First of all, the manufacture of laminated plywood has to comply with strict safety standards. Consumers can rest assured that laminated plywood is safe for domestic use.
Sometimes natural minerals and natural fibres are used in the production of laminated plywood, and these materials do not contain organic chemicals like formaldehyde and methyl benzene.
Because the layers of melamine veneer already serve decorative purposes, giving colour and texture to the wooden board, for laminated plywood, extra paint coatings are not necessary. This renders laminated plywood more environmentally friendly than other engineered wood.
In the past, laminated plywood was called ‘melamine board’ in mainland China. Due to the infant formula contamination scandal, this material was renamed ‘eco board’ in Chinese. Since it does not require extra paint coatings, it is also called ‘paint-free board’.
When the laminated plywood arrives at the furniture factory, specialised machines are employed to cut up the boards before they can be assembled into desks and shelves.
Fibreboard is processed and compressed woodchips and plant fibres. Although this material is less waterproof than laminated plywood, it is flexible, strong and suitable for post-production processing.
Urea-formaldehyde and other suitable adhesives are added in the production of fibreboard. The products will be sorted into categories according to their different densities: high density and medium density.
Both high density fibreboard (HDF) and medium density fibreboard (MDF) have a high impact strength, which means they don’t fracture easily under high-impact blows.
However, since China’s fibreboard production standards are different from international ones, Chinese furniture factories tend to use laminated plywood, instead of fibreboards, to make furniture for export.
Fibreboard formaldehyde content still under question
Because of its formaldehyde and VOC content, the use of fibreboard was once banned in European countries like Germany and the UK.
The factory owner tells us in the interview that laminate plywood is a more environmentally friendly option among the two, since it does not require the application of paint which might very well contain large amounts of VOCs itself.
Should I buy E0 or E1 materials?
Laminated plywood manufacturers in mainland China are raw material providers who have years of experiences in the woodwork industry. Furniture factories restock from these providers and employ workers to turn the raw materials into tailor-made furniture.
The laminated plywood manufacturer we cooperate with for Deco X complies with the safety standards. Their wood products satisfy the E1 requirements, some even the E0 requirements.
In producing various types of wooden materials, glue is almost always used. Therefore, the manufactured materials always contain traces of formaldehyde.
At a limited concentration, the formaldehyde should not cause harm to the human body. Under China’s standards, all indoor wooden materials have to at least be qualified as E1 materials.
About the safety standards
E1 materials’ formaldehyde release has to be below 0.9mg/L, which is identical to the purity level of drinking water. This means that the E1 standard is set at human’s level of edibility.
Remember to purchase laminate plywood from trustworthy manufacturers, since this material will contain some amount of formaldehyde. Concentration level is the key.
The most noteworthy merit of laminate plywood, really, is that it requires no post-production painting. If you order your tailor-made furniture to be painted, the resulting formaldehyde level must exceed safety limits.
*E0, E1 and E2 are safety standards stipulated by International Composite Board Emission Standards (ICBES). The E2 category was eliminated in the updated version of safety standards.
Safety standards at the moment
In May 2018, a new formaldehyde testing method, the 1m3 Climate Chamber method, is introduced.
Under the updated standards, the numerical value of E1 level formaldehyde release is 0.124mg/ m3. E0 material reaches the highest safety level stipulated in Europe.
Since E0 materials are the safest and more environmentally-friendly export products, they will be comparatively pricey (20% more expensive than E1 materials).
For consumers who are concerned with both safety and cost, E0 or E1 is still a debatable question.