Whether you’re building a new kitchen from scratch or just updating your old one, there are a lot of opportunities to choose environmentally friendly fixtures and appliances that will reduce your demands for resources and make your kitchen a healthier place to prepare food. This guide to green kitchens will help you determine what eco-friendly options exist for major kitchen components like cabinets, countertops, appliances, faucets, flooring, lighting and finishes.
Cabinets: Bamboo and Reclaimed Wood
Avoid purchasing new kitchen cabinets that are made from materials like unsustainably harvested wood, laminates, or anything that has been treated with finishes that can off-gas toxic chemicals into your kitchen. Two ideal eco-friendly choices for kitchen cabinets include reclaimed wood, and bamboo. Reclaimed cabinets can be found at architectural salvage shops and Habitat for Humanity stores. If you’re handy, you could also use wood reclaimed from other sources, like barns, ships or even pallets, to build your own.
Bamboo cabinets are durable, strong and have a high-end look. As an extremely fast-growing grass that can shoot up to five feet tall in a single day, bamboo is a highly renewable material.
Countertops: Recycled Materials and Composites
Common countertop materials like granite and laminates are not the best choice for environmentally friendly kitchens. Instead, look for materials like bamboo, recycled stainless steel, recycled plastics, recycled glass and eco-friendly composites. PaperStone is made from 100% post-consumer paper waste compressed into a solid block or sheet, and then protected with natural resin. There are many different types of recycled plastic countertops including LineUp by 3Form, which is made from post-consumer plastic bottles. Recycled glass is yet another green and beautiful choice, giving you lots of opportunities for color customization. Bits of recycled glass are typically mixed with a durable material. For example, IceStone is made from recycled glass and concrete, while EnviroGlas is mixed with porcelain.
Appliances: Energy Star Conserves Resources
When choosing appliances for your kitchen, look for Energy Star models that conserve resources like electricity and water. Not only will these appliances cut back on your energy consumption, they’ll also save you money over time. Energy Star refrigerators use at least 20% less energy than models not labeled with the Energy Star logo, and can cut energy bills by $165 over the lifetime of the fridge. And new water-saving dishwashers are giving us some new insight on whether hand washing or using a dishwasher is better for the environment, including the Bosch 800 Plus, which uses as little as 1.5 gallons of water per cycle – 70% less than average.
Induction cooktops are a great way to save both energy and time. Energy is transferred in a much more efficient manner than with a gas flame or electrical element, heating food more quickly. Some models, like the Smeg, can save up to 85% more energy than a conventional electric cooktop.
Faucets: Low-Flow is the Best Way to Go
Faucets that let you control the volume of the water, or make it super easy to turn them on and off, can help conserve a whole lot of water in the kitchen. The SmartTouch by Brizo can be turned on simply by tapping anywhere on the faucet once, and turned off by tapping it twice, so you’ll be much less likely to keep the water running in between rinses. This design also allows you to operate the faucet without contaminating the knobs with dirty hands.
Another great choice for conserving water is the simple addition of an aerator to any faucet. Cheap and quick to install, aerators can reduce water flow to 1.5 gallons per minute without affecting performance.
Flooring: FSC-Certified, Bamboo and Recycled Glass Tile
When it comes to kitchen flooring, you need something that’s durable, water-resistant, and preferably non-slip. FSC-certified hardwood, which has come from sustainably managed forests, is a popular choice, as is sustainable bamboo (look for manufacturers that don’t add formaldehyde to their products, like EcoTimber and Teragren.) Cork is another great choice as an easy-to-clean, renewable material that is also naturally mold resistant. And though linoleum doesn’t sound green at all, real linoleum – that is, the material made from linseed oil – is all-natural.
Perhaps one of the most beautiful choices for a green kitchen floor is recycled tile. Recycled glass tiles are available in virtually every color and finish you can think of, and you can mix-and-match different styles to create a totally custom look. It’s also a great choice for a backsplash.
Lighting: LEDs and Reclaimed Fixtures
If you’re building a new kitchen or completely remodeling your current kitchen, consider the best lighting source of all: natural daylight. Large windows or skylights can make a kitchen feel so much more welcoming and eliminate the need to use additional lighting at all during the day. For nighttime lighting, a combination of LEDs and compact fluorescent lighting (CFLs) will cover your needs without using a lot of energy. LEDs are ideal for under-cabinet lighting and accent lights. For fixtures, look for recycled glass, or consider making your own recycled and reclaimed lighting using unexpected materials like mason jars or blenders.
Non-Toxic Paint, Adhesives & Finishes
Environmentally safe adhesives are important for installing kitchen cabinets, countertops and other elements of an eco-friendly kitchen. Look for low- or no-VOC products like EcoBond, which is not only zero-VOC but also meets the stringent requirements of California’s Prop 65, which limits carcinogenic substances. EcoBond is free of substances like urethane, but performs just as well as conventional adhesives. Non-toxic paint has become much more common, readily available in most home improvement stores. One of the most eco-friendly paints of them all is milk paint, a non-toxic water-based paint made from milk and lime. TimberSoy is a sustainable, bio-based, eco-friendly wood stain.