Buying flat pack furniture is an affordable and stylish way to furnish your home. But is it right for you and what are the environmental impacts?
We summarize the advantages, disadvantages, and sustainability features.
1. Affordable and Easy to Transport
- Flat pack furniture is affordable. Bespoke wood furniture requires costly labor and carpentry skills. In contrast, off the shelf furniture is mass produced by machines from inexpensive materials.
- Additionally, it is cheaper and easier to transport for the end-user because it is pre-packaged in a box.
2. Available in a Variety of Colors and Styles
- Flat pack furniture comes in a variety of designs, colors, and sizes. You are bound to find something that matches your style and taste.
- Furthermore, most manufacturers offer entire sets to help you furnish a room and keep a consistent look.
3. Lightweight and DIY Friendly
- Flat pack furniture, sometimes referred to as Medium Density Fibreboard ("MDF") furniture, is made of lightweight engineered wood, making it easier to shift around if you are redecorating and take with you if you move to a new location.
- Furthermore, it is easy to dismantle if you need to take it apart.
- Most importantly, the assembly doesn’t require any specialized knowledge. You can put it together yourself or pay someone to do it.
1. Lack of Distinction and Limited Customization
- Flat pack furniture is far from unique. You may find that your friend has the same bedroom set as you.
- Your choices comes with limitations. You must purchase what is available in the store without having a say about the design or the size.
- As a result, it is harder to find a piece that fits an unusually-shaped space or that matches your specific preferences.
2. Lack of Durability
- Flat pack furniture is not durable. It is made from cheap and lower quality wood. As a result, off the shelf furniture doesn’t last as long as that made from solid wood.
- Usually, the drawers cannot hold excess weight and the furniture tends to get damaged easily. Similarly, the engineered wood is not water resistant and can swell or break if liquid is spilled on it.
3. Quality Control Headaches
- Sometimes tools or parts from the kit are missing or damaged, causing headaches and extra time and effort.
Flat Pack Furniture Sustainability
1. Lack of Durability Leads to Quicker Replacement and Limits Secondhand Use
As mentioned earlier, MDF furniture is not built to last. This means that you buy an expendable product, which is likely to be replaced every few years, involving the use of new materials and the same manufacturing and transportation practices.
Moreover, it is harder to prevent wear and tear on flat pack furniture. And once a part gets broken, it is difficult to use it again.
2. Materials Can Be Eco-friendly, But it Depends on the Manufacturer
As mentioned above, off the shelf furniture is made from medium density fibreboard, that is comprised of inferior wood and off cuts from sawmills.
Some eco-friendly manufacturers use waste wood to create medium density fibreboard.
However, other manufacturers use a formaldehyde-based glue to bond the wood fibres together which is toxic and can be harmful to the environment.
“The final product is not that eco-friendly because a formaldehyde-based glue is often used to bond the wood fibres together. On the good side, efforts are made to produce SDF, which is made by using a less toxic type of glue, called MDI.” - Thomas / Flat Pack Mates
3. Large Factories Usually Have a Bigger Carbon Footprint
Although manufacturers try to use eco-friendly materials, their factories usually have higher emission levels than a small carpentry studio would. Nonetheless, they are improving.
For instance, IKEA is taking steps to drastically reduce their carbon footprint.
4. Transport Distance
Although flat pack furniture is easy to move, it is often transported in bulk to the end user who might be located far away from where the products are originally made. This makes the furniture piece less sustainable than locally produced hand-made furniture.
Flat-pack furniture is low cost and easily accessible, but it has some disadvantages. Its mass production process has an adverse effect on the environment. However, steps have been made towards creating more eco-friendly MDF materials from recycled wood and by using non-toxic adhesives.
We hope that manufacturers will keep making improvements and flat pack furniture sustainability will become the norm!