Build Your Ultimate Green Kitchen

A few weeks ago I offered my thoughts on green kitchens on a budget.  Today, I want to focus on making your new kitchen as green as possible, without regard for cost.  Remember, often the greenest options is to keep your current kitchen; many choose to repaint their cabinets with non-VOC paint or to tackle DIY cabinet projects.  This article is for those building a whole new kitchen or are remodeling from the ground up.  It’s up to you to determine the balance between what is the most green and what is the most practical for your project.

The three categories that determine a product’s green-ness are health, sustainability, and energy.  Health takes into account the product’s offgassing of VOCs, or volatile organic compounds, especially urea-formaldehyde.  In order to even consider something as green, it must contain very low to no VOCs.  Sustainability looks at the life cycle of the materials used not just in the final product but in the manufacturing process as well.  Products that are made from recycled materials or renewable resources fall into this category, as well as products whose manufacturing process embraces sustainability.  Energy includes the water and energy usage of products such as plumbing fixtures and appliances, as well as the product’s embodied energy, which takes into account the energy used to produce and deliver the product.

Step 1: Design. If possible, design the kitchen with plenty of energy efficient windows or a skylight to maximize natural light and give you that important connection to the green outdoors (or the red bricks of the building next door.)  For indoor air quality, make sure your hood vents to the outside rather than recirculating the air.

Step 2:  Cabinets. We are in an in-between phase right now where the major cabinet manufacturers realize they need to go formaldehyde-free but are still a few years away from mass production.  Currently, formaldehyde-free cabinet choices are limited, and Neil Kelly Cabinets stands out as the leader.  They offer Forest Stewardship Council certified wood cabinets with low VOCs.  Midwesterners might choose to go with ultra low VOC wheatboard cabinets manufactured in Kansas by Koch Cabinets.

Step 3:  Countertops. Silestone offers several colors with recycled content, one as high as 70%, which makes the GREENGUARD certified countertop one of the greenest.  But IceStone recycled glass and concrete countertops, with their  Cradle-to-Cradle Certification, take the crown as  the greenest among an ever growing list of green countertops.  Not just limited to countertops, IceStone has earned points for LEED’s “innovation in design” credit.

Step 4:  Flooring. I’m not quite sold on bamboo, yet.  I do, however, like some of the cool patterns you can get with cork and linoleum.  But the green flooring that impresses me the most is reclaimed wood flooring by Terramai.  Offering a stunning mix of FSC certified wood from around the world, Terramai promotes conservation and sustainable building.  Not limited to flooring, Terramai’s reclaimed wood creates a mosaic of wood in a cool mix of colors.

Step 5:  Appliances. Because of the advances in energy efficiency in appliances, it is often better to replace your old energy wasting appliances, especially refrigerators, with new models.  Visit the ENERGY STAR website for appliance lists, which show energy savings by model.  For dishwashers, some of Bosch and Asko’s models are at least 140% more energy and water efficient than the federal standard.  Fisher & Paykel sells dish drawers that can save water and energy if you just use one for small loads.  (And yes, most energy saving dishwashers are more efficient than washing your dishes by hand.)  For the cutting edge on refrigerator energy efficiency, check out Sun Frost, whose refrigerators are by a large margin the most energy efficient on the market – and they’re ready for solar, wind, or standard power inputs.

Step 6:  Plumbing. Although the EPA’s WaterSense program doesn’t rate kitchen faucets, you can choose to install an aerator or go with a touchless faucet.  While stainless steel and cast iron sinks contain recycled material, I’ve become a fan of recycled content hammered copper sinks that over time can develop a natural patina that is, you guessed it, green.

Step 7:  Accessories. Recycled glass tile can make for a beautiful backsplash.  Instead of a trash compactor, stick one of these home composters from Sun Frost right outside your kitchen door.  Many of the products listed above can be used in creative and innovative ways.  IceStone can be used as a backsplash.  Terramai can be used as paneling.

Please offer your own thoughts on making your kitchen as green as possible below.

Related Posts:

Photo source:  RSI Kitchen & Bath.  Used with Permission.