The kitchen is the heart of any home. The average American spends three to five hours a day in the kitchen – preparing food, eating, hanging out, entertaining, standing in front of the fridge (with the door closed, of course) trying to figure out what to make for dinner. For our readers who have been inspired by our Green Home 101 series and are interested in doing some serious “greenovating” starting in the kitchen, we’ve gathered a few useful tips to consider. Your goals should include extremely efficient appliances, low-VOC and healthy finishes, and surfaces that are durable, easy to clean, and of course, aesthetically pleasing.
Your starting point should of course be energy-efficient and water-saving appliances. As we’ve mentioned in past articles, wasting energy and water is tantamount to throwing your money (and your dreams of a green kitchen) down the drain. As of 2001, the fridge in the average American kitchen was using 1,239 kilowatt-hours a year. Since then new energy-efficient fridges are replacing old ones at rate of about 10 million a year, and scientists estimate that the average American kitchen fridge will use 476 kilowatt-hours a year. Not great, but not terrible. If you’re in the market for a new, energy star refrigerator, you’ve got many options. Kenmore is a great domestic choice, highly rated by Consumer Reports and available widely. Even better is Bosch for state-of-the-art fridges with unparalleled European efficiency.
Since washing your dishes by hand actually uses more water, feel free to install a dishwasher in your new kitchen, just make sure it’s a water-efficient model. Again, Bosch is a great resource. Their Evolution and Integra series dishwashers and Nexxt series full size washing machines with special load sensors are both extremely efficient and quiet. Don’t forget to install water-saving faucets as well. For cooking, consider a state-of-the-art induction heated stoves and ovens from companies like Bosch, Kuppersbusch or Wolf which are much more efficient than gas or electric versions, delivering 90% of their energy to the heating of the pan. For those of you with kids, it also happens to be safer – no burning coils, no residual heat. And if you really want to take the concept of efficiency to the max, consider a home composter such as Naturemill’s range of products, which recycle food and paper waste to make fertilizer for your garden (or potted balcony plants).
There are several ways to dress up your kitchen. The least expensive green option is to give your dull old cabinets a new coat of non-VOC paint and some cool new vintage hardware. Look online for unique finds, or go to a vintage hardware store. If you’re in the market to make a bigger change, look for the right materials.If you must have wood cabinets, then at least look for salvaged or reclaimed or FSC-certified wood. If you’re adventurous, you can always try metal. Metal cabinets are clean and non-toxic and there are products out there made from recycled aluminum. You can also find great cabinetry made from recycled paper, end grain bamboo, or even wheatboard (a compressed strawboard made without formaldehyde binders).
There are several great companies out there with lovely products, but be ready to pay the price. Bazzeo is nice because they’re located here in the US so your kitchen wouldn’t have to travel as far. Valcucine is also a great resource, as is Veneta Cucine for their matte Extra Avant Bamboo line. If you do intend on “greenovating” your kitchen to this extent, try to hook up with a good, local deconstruction service that can recycle your old cabinets rather than sending them to the landfill.
Choosing the perfect sustainable countertop for your kitchen can be fun since there is now a much greater range of sustainable products from which to choose. If you like color, you can go with recycled glass tile (like Blazestone) made form post-industrial and post-consumer waste glass without any additional oxides or colorants. You’ll get a lovely dappled variation made from various millings of consumer bottles. If you prefer a smooth surface, you can choose EnviroSLAB, a recycled glass and porcelain terrazzo product. The binder is customizable (ie – choose your exact color) and it’s available in an affordable price range.
If you prefer something a bit more elegant and minimalist, there’s always Paperstone. Made from 100% post-consumer recycled waste paper using a water-based petroleum-free resin system, these countertops come in seven different colors and are FSC-certified. For those of you who love the look of stone, Squak Mountain offers a great new eco-surface that is made out of fibrous cement. This faux stone is made from recycled paper, glass, coal, flyash and cement and is handcast then cut into slabs as an alternative to quarried stone. It resembles soapstone or limestone once installed.
Flooring is another important element to consider when “greenovating” your kitchen. For the cucina, you’ll want to think about sustainability, durability, and comfort. Cork is one of our top choices – it’s fire and water resistant, absorbs heat and sound, and is soft underfoot. Natural Cork offers flooring in a variety of colors and variations, both in long planks or wide tiles. Another fun option is rubber flooring. Professional chefs have long used rubber in their kitchens due to its phenomenal durability and simple upkeep. It comes in a veritable rainbow of colors, in sheets or tiles, and in many cases, such as in RB Rubber’s lines, it is made from recycled tires. Bamboo is another good option, and surprisingly, good old fashioned linoleum is enjoying a comeback. Made from natural materials such as linseed oil, rosin, and wood flour, it’s durable, soft to stand on, and easy to clean.
Wallpaper by Mod Green Pod
Lastly, have fun with your finishes. There are tons of companies out there that offer low- or non- VOC paints, stains and finishes. Take your pick of hue, then add a bit of bold color or pattern with eco-friendly wallpapers from Mod Green Pod or Beearo’s eco-friendly wood veneer decals or Blik‘s removeable and re-usable decals.
“Bosch is committed to preserving the environment through innovative approaches to the products we manufacture, as well as the partnerships we form with key leaders in sustainable construction and design. Sustainability, responsibility and continuous improvement are the tenets of our company and are shared by our partners across the United States.
Bosch practices low-impact manufacturing processes while designing the most efficient machines on the market. In fact, we introduced a global integrated management system for environmental issues that makes certain we maintain our high standards for environmental responsibility wherever our operations take us.
Bosch regards innovation as something more than exceptional product quality, functionality and design. Not only our technical developments, but also our commitment to society has an effect on the world of tomorrow.”
+ Bosch Green Thinking Resource Center
Lacking the skills or the patience to be a designer herself, Haily Zaki is a PR maven, freelance writer and secret agent in Los Angeles who contents herself by promoting, writing about, and surrounding herself with great design. Besides running Secret Agent PR and working with some of the best architecture and design brands in LA, Haily is a contributing writer for The Architect’s Newspaper, the Epoch Times, and any other publication that likes her stories. She’s also an organizer of de LaB (design east of La Brea) – part design lab, part social experiment for creative professionals who work, live or play on the Eastside of Los Angeles. She was first turned onto the idea of sustainable living when she worked with the Mapuche people in Southern Chile and hopes one day to move to the end of the earth to live in a green prefab pod writing torrid romance novels. For now, she focuses her energy on communicating through the media, training herself to be a good, green consumer, and not killing her tomato plants.