The kitchen is the heart of the home, so shouldn't it be the healthiest? Whether you rent or own, live large or small, there are a number of eco-friendly upgrades you can do &mdash use energy efficient appliances, create multi-functional workspaces, increase natural daylighting and introduce natural and nontoxic finishes. Check out our tips below to cook, eat, drink and entertain a little more green!
Location & Size
If you are building new or adding on, try to locate the kitchen on a non-south facing side of the building. This is beneficial for a number of reasons: if it's on the east and you have an eat-in kitchen you'll enjoy the warm rising sun in the morning , additionally you'll stay cooler in the kitchen while cooking by avoiding the hot south sun. If you're remodeling, design an efficient and hard working layout. If you are low on space create multi-functional zones such as a countertop that can also work as an office niche, build bookshelves on the sides of islands, and install an over-the-stove microwave to save countertop space and double as the exhaust hood.
If you are building a new kitchen, look first at what you already have. Consider repainting or refinishing your existing cabinets &mdash this could be a fresh coat of paint, new door & drawer fronts or even as simple as new handles and pulls. Next consider going second-hand and use salvaged or antique cabinets, this will not only keep these items from going from the landfill but older fixtures are typically higher in quality and will give your kitchen a totally unique look and character. If you must go new, make sure to get eco-friendly cabinets. This means looking for features such as no added urea-formaldehyde (an off-gassing carcinogen), FSC-certified or fast growing woods (such as Bamboo and Lyptus) and non-toxic and low-VOC glues, adhesives and finishes. Try to get the cabinets locally made whenever possible to even further reduce your carbon footprint (aim for no further than 500 miles away).
Countertops & Tile
We've covered a lot of green countertops and tile &mdash there's so many types available, choosing one really just depends on your taste and what style you're going for. Also look for remnants and scraps for shorter runs of countertop rather than buying a whole slab. If you're looking to save some money considering recovering your existing countertop with tile or a thin stone overlay.
Light & Ventilation
The best way to reduce power use is to often used workspaces near windows and under skylights for natural daylighting. If lights are needed, look for LED or fluorescent under cabinet strip lights and down lights, all of which should be individually switched to optimize control. Install an energy efficient exhaust hood above the stove that vents to the outside to remove fumes and increase fresh air. Typically aim for a fan that can remove 1-1.5 cubic feet of air per minute for every square foot of kitchen area, but this will also heavily depend on the type of stove and cooktop installed.
If you don't have a whole house water filter, make sure to filter the water at the tap, refrigerator, under the sink or with a pitcher to get clean water and avoid buying the plastic bottles. If your faucets aren't already low-flow, add on a faucet aerator to reduce unnecessary water use. Lastly, find out if your existing plumbing pipes have lead, if they do consider replacing them with lead-free materials such as PVC, or even better, copper.
It's really easy to get caught up in purchasing commercial quality appliances, but for most people it's not necessary and uses more energy than necessary. If you're replacing appliances make sure they have the Energy Star label and are right-sized for your home and family &mdash pick a smaller refrigerator if there aren't many people in your residence, and while it may seem that washing dishes by hand is efficient, using a dishwasher actually uses less energy and water. For stoves most people choose between gas or electric, both with their own pros and cons &mdash natural gas is a fossil fuel, while most of the electricity in the US comes from coal or nuclear plants. Many cooks prefer gas because it's easier to control temperatures and is hot immediately, but electric appliances can be less expensive and offer a smooth cooktop for easier cleaning. Another option is induction cooktops, which use very little energy, heat up immediately and are safe and cool to the touch. While they're more expensive than gas or electric, they're also available as one or two burner units, which can help keep costs low.
We'd generally recommend avoiding carpet and vinyl altogether, but particularly so in the kitchen. Use a hard surface instead that can be easily cleaned and maintained &mdash linoleum, hardwood, bamboo, cork and recycled content tile are all good sustainable kitchen floor options and are widely available in a number of colors and finishes.
The last thing anyone wants in their kitchen are bugs and pests &mdash prevent this by caulking and sealing all openings, including windows and doors, through wall vents and any other cracks and crevices. This will also help your indoor air quality and energy use by minimizing unwanted air loss.
Before tossing anything down the drain, disposal, recycle or trash, see if it can be composted! Even if you don't have use for compost, many other garden clubs, neighbors and even some municipalities will be happy to accept and use the stuff. Check out our many ideas for composting at home here.
Lastly, if you're remodeling, list your unwanted goods on our classifieds, Craigslist, or Freecycle or donate them to Habitat for Humanity or other re-use resources instead of sending them to the dump.
(Image: A Chef's Green & Serene Kitchen)