If products you’d like to add to your project aren’t readily available, schedule visits to showrooms or green home improvement expos to examine materials first-hand before making decisions. To help you plan, here are key products, ideas, and tips to put the green in your kitchen.
• Sustainable kitchen cabinets are made from wood and wood products certified by the Forest Stewardship Council to be produced using sustainable forest management practices. They feature formaldehyde-free glues and finishes with low volatile organic compounds that give off little or no toxic fumes. Check product literature closely to ensure the cabinets you choose meet these criteria.
When shopping for cabinets, ask if the cabinet boxes are built with wheat board or straw board. These products are made from agricultural waste, such as the chaff left over from farmers’ wheat crops. As a rule, they feature formaldehyde-free binders. They’re strong and rated to exceed the standards set by the American National Standards Institute for medium density particleboard—the material commonly used to make cabinet boxes.
• Green countertops offer variety but all share similar characteristics: recycled or sustainable content, low-toxicity binders, and eco-friendly manufacturing processes. In addition, they’re highly durable. Examples: Squak Mountain Stone is made from recycled paper, recycled glass, reclaimed fly ash, and cement. The finished countertop slabs resemble limestone and soapstone. Eco-top counters consist of renewable bamboo fiber, post-consumer recycled paper, and water-based resin glue. Vetrazzo makes countertops that are 85% recycled glass—almost all the glass comes from curbside recycling programs. Craft-Art includes a line of wood countertops made of reclaimed wood from older barns, warehouses, and commercial buildings.
• Eco-friendly flooring includes linoleum and cork. Both are made with renewable resources that make them sustainable choices. They’re good-looking and durable, but require periodic maintenance.
Linoleum is made from renewable, biodegradable materials including linseed oil and cork. It produces no harmful vapors and comes in many patterns and colors. Linoleum stands up well to traffic and offers some cushioning underfoot. It’s resistant to moisture but susceptible to staining, so some manufacturers add a coating to protect against spills and scratches. Without this protection, linoleum must be cleaned and polished every two years. Cost: $2 to $4 per sq.ft.; installation adds $5 to $7 per sq.ft.
Cork is a sustainable flooring product made from tree bark; the bark grows back and can be harvested repeatedly. Harvesting practices are carefully regulated to ensure future supplies, reducing environmental impact. Cork is waterproof and slightly soft underfoot, which makes it both moisture-resistant and comfortable. It’s made in 12x12-inch tiles and 1x3-foot planks, each with a distinctive grain pattern. The surface is slightly textured and slip-resistant.
Treat cork flooring with a sealant every 3 to 4 years to prevent scratches and stop moisture from penetrating seams between tiles. Natural wax and water-based polyurethane work well. Cost: $2-$6 per sq.ft.; installation, $5-$10 per sq.ft.
• Choosing Energy Star products reduces energy consumption and saves utility costs. Energy Star appliances are tested and rated to be the most energy-efficient models in any product category. In addition, some states and regional utility companies offer rebates for buying Energy Star appliances.
• Dishwashers go green when they feature an energy-saving or quick-wash cycle. These cycles operate for shorter periods of time, saving water and energy. Also, look for dishwashers that include an air-dry option, which dries dishes with circulation fans rather than energy-draining heating elements. Or, simply open up the dishwasher door when the wash cycle is complete and let dishes air dry.
Energy Star models are 25% more energy efficient than the federal standards for energy consumption. If you replace your pre-1994 dishwasher with an Energy Star model, you’ll save as much as $40 a year on energy costs.
• Buy a new refrigerator and you’ll save on energy costs. That’s because manufacturers are constantly improving technology and insulating techniques. In fact, today’s new models are 75% more energy efficient than those manufactured just 20 years ago, saving about $100 per year on energy costs. An Energy Star-rated model will save an additional $20-$30 per year.
Choose models featuring the freezer on top and use 10% to 25% less energy than a same-sized model with a side-by-side configuration.
• An under-the-counter water purifier cleans water of contaminants before it reaches the kitchen tap; it has about 10 times the filtering capacity of a faucet-mounted purifier. A model with a top-quality activated carbon filter will remove heavy metals, bacteria, and pesticides. In addition, it removes odors and bad tastes. Expect to pay $150-$200 for an activated charcoal purifier with a replaceable cartridge.
• Energy-efficient lighting includes fluorescent and compact fluorescent lamps that use 50% to 90% less energy than comparable incandescent lamps. In fact, according to EnergyStar.gov, a single compact fluorescent bulb will save $30-$40 during its expected lifespan of 10,000 hours over conventional incandescent bulbs of similar luminosity. However, consider the correct quality of light, such as an efficient halogen and LED lighting sources, for task areas.
• Being an active recycler is one way to ensure your kitchen is green. Most cabinet manufacturers offer options for lower cabinets that include pull-out recycling bins that keep contents organized and out of sight. In some instances, these bins are designed to be positioned conveniently beneath holes in countertops so that you can sweep food scraps into them. You can also retrofit existing cabinets with recycling bins—rotating lazy Susan-type recycling centers feature multiple bins and are designed to fit in lower corner cabinets.