Going Green with Kitchen Remodels

Kitchens are an excellent candidate if you’re looking to “green” a project. For starters, kitchen remodels tend to be large undertakings, and since the greenest remodeling project is one that starts from the ground up, they provide homeowners with the opportunity to incorporate a wide range of green alternatives into the overall design. On a more micro-level, even if you’re just upgrading your countertops, cabinets, appliances, or plumbing, the kitchen is a great place to take smaller steps to increase energy efficiency, create a safer, healthier home environment, and to create a more comfortable space— all of which are cornerstones of green remodeling and design.

Calculating the True Value of Going Green

  • While cost is first in the mind of most homeowners, it’s difficult to place a specific cost on green remodeling in the kitchen. The level of green each homeowner is willing to commit to varies, as does the scope of each individual kitchen remodel. What we can tell you is this:
  • Green remodeling doesn’t necessarily mean more expensive materials. Most green building materials are cost-competitive with traditional ones, and many actually cost less than non-green alternatives.
  • Green building focuses on creating low-maintenance, long lasting kitchens, so you’ll pay less for repairs and replacements over the life of your addition.
  • Green remodeling is guaranteed to reduce energy costs in the kitchen, now and in the long term. Those energy savings will help to offset any higher initial costs over time.
  • The true value of a green kitchen isn’t always best measured in dollars and cents.

This last point is an important one. It’s what green remodeling expert David Johnston refers to as “avoiding the payback trap.” Green remodeling doesn’t just mean adopting an energy-efficient design that will pay for itself over time. It also places an emphasis on creating healthier indoor living areas, on utilizing long lasting, high quality, low maintenance building materials and practices, and on committing at every turn to environmental responsibility. While it’s hard to assign a specific dollar amount to such things, few homeowners can deny the high value of healthier families, time saved by eliminating regular maintenance chores and repairs, and the peace of mind that comes with knowing that you’ve done everything you can to pass a better world onto your children and grandchildren. That said, it’s easy to see what Johnston’s getting at when he

Green Tips for Increasing Energy Efficiency in the Kitchen

  • A green kitchen remodel strives to increase energy efficiency at every turn, from taking advantage of passive solar heating to installing energy- efficient appliances to identifying all possible sources of energy loss in a remodeling project. With energy costs on the rise, green remodeling translates into big energy savings as long as you own your home.
  • Purchase energy-efficient appliances. Replacing your old appliances with ENERGY STAR-rated models can reduce the cost of running your appliances by more than 30 percent. A new refrigerator alone can save enough energy to light your home for three months, and a new dishwasher will save you up to $30 a year on your energy bills.
  • Insulate hot water pipes. Doing so prevents heat loss as hot water runs from your hot water heater to your faucet, reducing the demands placed on your hot water heater.
  • Install low-flow water faucets to reduce water usage. They can reduce water usage at these faucets by 60 percent.
  • Install an “on-demand” hot water circulation pump. These pumps send hot water to fixtures throughout your home in seconds, so you won’t waste water resources waiting for the hot water to arrive. They also allow your hot water heater to operate more efficiently, reducing energy costs.
  • Install low-e, multiple paned windows with wood or vinyl frames. They are one of the single most beneficial ways to increase the energy efficiency in the kitchen. Installing them throughout your home can reduce heating and cooling costs by as much as 30 percent.
  • Install window awnings and plant deciduous trees outside. East and West facing windows. Both create shade and prevent solar heat gain during summer months so you can run your AC less.
  • Orient windows with sunlight and natural breezes in mind. It’s the best way to take advantage of passive solar heating from sunlight in the winter, and to make the most of cool, natural breezes during the summer months.
  • Use compact fluorescent light bulbs. They use 75 percent less energy than incandescent bulbs, and last 10 times as long.
  • Install large windows, skylights, solar tubes, light shelves, and clerestory windows. All make the most of natural lighting during the day, reducing the need for artificial lighting in your kitchen.
  • Install radiant floor heating. Radiant floor heating increases energy efficiency, creates more comfortable and consistent heat, eliminates airborne particulates associated with forced air heating, and can provide heat for a basement area below, as well as the kitchen above.
  • Install task lighting. Task specific lighting over cooking, food prep, and dining areas allows you to light up smaller spaces as needed instead of the entire kitchen. Wiring task lighting separate switches will help you conserve energy even further.

Green Remodeling Tips for a Healthier Kitchen

Volatile organic compounds, formaldehyde, vinyl chloride fumes, and toxic mold might read like the beginning of a toxicology report, but it’s actually a list of chemicals, additives, and byproducts commonly associated with traditional building materials used in kitchen remodels. Green building seeks to reduce the presence of these toxic chemicals and byproducts as much as possible, making your new kitchen healthier for everyone that resides under your roof.

  • Install high-efficiency ovens and stoves. Purchasing a gas stove with high combustion efficiency will help reduce the level of harmful exhaust and unburned gasses that are leaked into your home when cooking.
  • Avoid particleboard and medium density fiberboard (MDF). These products, commonly used in countertops and cabinets, off-gas urea formaldehyde, a known carcinogen. If you do use MDF or particle board in your kitchen, be sure to seal exposed areas with several coats of a low- or no-VOC paint or sealer.
  • Purchase custom cabinetry. Custom cabinetry isn’t cheap, but solid wood cabinets eliminate the health risks associated with cheaper cabinets made of MDF or particleboard.
  • Purchase solid slab countertops. Solid stone, concrete, and engineered stone countertops release almost no airborne toxins into your kitchen. They’re also virtually maintenance-free, and easier to keep clean than most other materials, which is a big plus when you consider that hard-to-clean countertops are a prime breeding ground for harmful, food-related bacteria.
  • Install a whole house water filtration system, or local filters on water faucets. Be sure to check into your local water quality ratings first, however, as that will determine which type of filter will be most beneficial to you.
  • Good ventilation is one of the most important aspects of a green kitchen. Not only does adequate ventilation remove cooking odors and harmful combustion gases, but it also whisks away moisture created by cooking, which is a primary source of mold problems in kitchen areas.
  • Install windows in your kitchen. The most energy-efficient ventilation system is an open window in good weather.
  • Install a range hood vented to the outdoors. During cooler months, the best way to ventilate your kitchen is by installing a range hood. Be sure that it vents to the outdoors, and look for a fan with a sone level of 4.5 or below to ensure quiet operation.
  • Avoid vinyl flooring. It has a short lifespan, traps moisture (which can lead to delamination, mold growth, and rot), and emits vinyl chloride fumes, a proven carcinogen.

Comfort, Quality, Durability, and Green Kitchens

Going green doesn’t mean settling for lower quality, or sacrificing looks and comfort for environmentally friendly products. In fact, the opposite is usually the case. Green remodeling requires contractors to pay closer attention to their building practices; green products utilize the most cutting edge technology and design features; and green building focuses on materials that are long lasting and durable, since the best materials from a green standpoint are often the best building materials, period. Here’s some green kitchen remodeling strategies of Johnston’s that will result in a more comfortable, higher quality, and longer lasting kitchen every time.

  • Install adequate insulation. Adequate insulation leads to more consistent indoor temperatures, more comfortable kitchens, and since insulation helps reduce noise pollution, it makes for quieter kitchens, as well.
  • Make the most of natural lighting. The more natural lighting you can bring in, the more comfortable, inviting, and enjoyable you kitchen is going to be. Do whatever you can to increase natural lighting in your kitchen remodel.
  • Green flooring is the best flooring. Bamboo, cork, recycled content ceramic tile, stone flooring tile, and FSC-certified engineered wood flooring are not only some of the best looking flooring materials on the market, but they’re some of the lowest maintenance floors you can purchase, as well.
  • Solid slab countertops aren’t just healthy. Solid stone countertops such as granite and marble are the cream of the crop when it comes to countertop materials. And engineered stone and decorative concrete countertops aren’t what you’d call second rate, either.
  • You can’t beat custom cabinetry. In the world of kitchen cabinets, there isn’t a product that comes close to custom cabinetry in quality, looks, function, or design.

Green Kitchens and Environmental Responsibility

The verdict is out. Our current way of doing things is detrimental to the environment, and traditional construction practices are no exception. Green building reduces our impact on the environment through energy conservation, creating less waste, and utilizing materials and building practices that don’t tax dwindling natural resources. Our children and grandchildren will have to deal with the world we leave them. Going green is just one step we can take to make things better, rather than worse, for future generations. Here’s a list of things to consider that will help ensure environmental responsibility is a cornerstone of your new kitchen remodel.

Use recycled building materials. Old lumber, trim, and door and window casings can all be reused if removed carefully. And if you’re willing to be flexible when it comes to design, perfectly good sinks, cabinet hardware, and ceramic and stone tile, for example, can all be purchased from retailers who specialize in reclaiming and recycling old building materials.

Use materials manufactured with recycled content. Whether you install cellulose insulation made from recycled paper and cardboard, or opt for recycled content ceramic tiles, choosing building materials that incorporate recycled content helps to reduce the amount of waste that ends up in landfills and reduces overall energy consumption since these products require less energy to manufacture.

Use Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified wood. From flooring to framing materials, using only FSC-certified wood ensures that the lumber used in your kitchen remodel has been harvested in a responsible and sustainable manner. • Use indigenous stone from local quarries. Doing so reduces the amount of labor, time, and fossil fuels required to deliver the stone to your job site. You’ll save on material and labor costs as a result, and it’s better for the environment by reducing fossil fuel consumption.

Recycle construction and job site waste. A large percentage of the construction waste currently sent to landfills can be reused in future green remodeling projects. Old ceramic tiles can be ground up and used to make concrete, for example, and that ’70s-era sink that you think is hideous might be exactly what a homeowner across town has been looking for all along.

So….Are You Ready to Go Green? Going green with your kitchen remodel is a smart move from just about every angle. It will reduce energy costs, create healthier indoor environments, and the final product is a more comfortable, higher quality kitchen area. And, of course, it’s also a good choice for the environment.