What’s the best recipe for a green kitchen? Blend an efficient layout, water- and energy-saving appliances, beautiful finishes that stand up to everyday use without adding VOCs, and waste management systems designed to reduce and reuse!
Whether you’re planning a complete kitchen overhaul or a partial redesign, it’s not hard to make the heart of your home healthier and much more sustainable.
New appliance technologies help you do more with less—a great help for tighter household budgets, especially when it comes to utility bills. Refrigerators now operate on less energy than it takes to power a 75-watt light bulb, dishwashers deep-clean with less water, and even the laundry appliances around the corner can reduce get the job done while using less electricity and water.
Once again, allow the Energy Star to be your guide to efficient solutions as you select kitchen upgrades. Detailed Energy Star labeling provides energy-consumption info, and you can also reap rewards through the local utility rebates and tax credits that may accompany some purchases. Here’s a preview of green appliance benefits.
If you thought you were doing the earth and yourself a favor by hand washing dishes, you thought wrong: An Energy-Star-labeled dishwasher saves nearly 5,000 gallons of water and more than $40 a year over washing the old-fashioned way. As you review dishwashers, pay attention to each model’s capacity and cycle options to select the right washer for your typical dirty-dish volume. Also remember to run full loads for better efficiency and to select the no-heat drying option for good results on less energy.
Better insulation and more efficient compressors help today’s refrigerators keep food fresh for less. An Energy Star fridge uses 20 percent less electricity than other models and trims $165 from your energy bills over its lifetime. Still, the larger the refrigerator, the more energy consumed, so try to make a purchase in the range of 16 to 20 cubic feet. Refrigerators with bottom-mount or side-by-side freezers use 10 to 25 percent more energy than top-mounted models, and fancy extras like ice-makers and through-the-door dispensers both cost more and eat up energy.
If you must have extra food storage, choose wisely. Energy Star freezers use 10 percent less electricity and trim around $70 from annual energy costs, and a chest freezer is an especially good choice since it allows less cold air to escape every time it’s opened. Get a freezer with manual defrost to save even more energy, defrost it regularly, keep the temperature at 0 degrees Fahrenheit, maintain door seals, and leave a few inches between the freezer and neighboring surfaces for proper air circulation around the unit.
If your family is like most, you’re running 400 loads of laundry every year, which can exhaust both you and your utility budget. A more efficient washer saves the day, cutting energy costs by about a third and water costs by over half for around $135 a year in overall utility savings.
When selecting an Energy Star clothes washer to purchase, consider your household’s typical laundry loads for additional efficiency, and look for both a high Modified Energy Factor (MEF) and low Water Factor (WF) to get the most out of less. Front-loading washers use less water than top-loaders with central agitators, and high spin speeds extract more water from clothes for less dryer time.
Speaking of dryers, they aren’t currently rated by Energy Star (not much variance in energy use among models), but you can reduce their energy consumption by using the moisture sensor option to avoid over-drying loads, and cleaning the lint filter regularly for improved air circulation and safety.
It’s worth mentioning that some of these high-efficiency appliances require high-efficiency detergents, often in smaller doses than you’ve used before. This may seem like just another marketing ploy, but such products really help a machine do its best work. Get the results and savings you expect by following manufacturer instructions for installation and operation to the letter. The savings you earn in return will be well worth the adjustment.
Outfitting a kitchen or laundry space can get expensive, and it’s always wise to assess wants against needs as you construct a project budget. But how do you know which purchases to skip, which to make and what to repair for the present? Check out our Appliance Repair vs. Replace chart for side-by-side cost and age comparisons for most major appliances before calling a repair pro or visiting the appliance showroom.
Changing up kitchen countertops is an affordable way to update while bringing a touch of green to the scene. Just make sure you understand what makes a material sustainable and safe for home air quality and food preparation. Even if countertop material is made from recycled or renewable materials, other factors like manufacturing processes, shipping distance, contaminants and installation adhesives impact the green quotient. You may, for instance, like the idea of traditional butcher block surfaces made from reclaimed wood, but inherent problems of naturally occurring formaldehyde off-gassing and the tendency to harbor dangerous bacterias can make this option more troublesome than sustainable.
In spite of varying pros and cons, there are several sustainable countertop materials to choose from, and they provide color, style and soothing peace of mind in the right applications.
Check out these choices for your kitchen escape:
In solid or tile formats, natural stone is a beautiful, durable option. However, it’s not a renewable material, and the mining and transport processes impact land, water and air quality. If you must choose stone, go for a selection as local and close-to-the-surface as possible, and properly seal it to repel germs and stains.
Long a popular countertop material, solid surfacing is now found in formulations using recycled plastics. What’s more, it’s easy to keep clean and beautiful, and is simple to customize.
Concrete does involve environmental impacts through transport and the mixing of its ingredients of cement, aggregate and water. Otherwise, there’s no off-gassing beyond the sealant that improves concrete’s durability, and it can even have a second life as slab or aggregate. Concrete countertop installation does involve dust, which can be a health concern if not properly managed.
Another longtime countertop choice is laminate, which can be made from recycled plastic and installed with formaldehyde-free substrate and nontoxic glues (mechanical fasteners are also an option). Laminate is also stain-resistant and easy to clean.
The clay that often becomes tile is a finite natural resource, so look for formulations that incorporate recycled post-consumer content and are locally sourced for a lighter carbon footprint. If you steer clear of imported tiles that may have radioactive or lead-based glazes, you can expect a low-to-no VOC countertop that actually supports indoor air quality.
Glass tile finds its best application in backsplashes and countertop detailing, and can contain up to 100 percent recycled content (some manufacturers’ processes also involve less energy than conventional melting). Like ceramic tile, glass tile contributes to good indoor air quality and can later be recycled into another tile product.
Stylish, statement-making terrazzo is an aggregate of stone and glass chips, available in formulations that use non-VOC-emitting binders. It’s durable, stain-resistant, and available in tile or slab form.
A tough and easy-to-clean selection, stainless steel countertops can be made from salvaged metal or a composition of recycled content. Installation is done with mechanical fasteners rather than chemical-laden adhesives, and your stainless steel countertop can be reused for something else down the line.
Most of us, with the help of our local waste management companies, have already jumped on the household recycling bandwagon. Kitchen improvements give you the opportunity to further refine the process, making use of available space and helpful sorting solutions to integrate recycling into your family routine.
If you hope to be in your home for a many years to come, tap into universal design principals in your kitchen upgrade. Subtle but smart adjustments keep a space accessible for a range of ages and abilities, which is especially important as today’s homeowners plan to age in place. Semi-open floor plans make it easy to maneuver, varied countertop heights allow you to work while standing or sitting, and easy-grip handles and drawer pulls speed up access to kitchen accoutrements. Add non-slip flooring, the right amounts of lighting, and organizing inserts for cabinets, and you’ll have a kitchen to enjoy through every phase of life!