A few days ago, I ran into a friend of mine, who specializes in copper and brass accessories and fixtures for homes. I asked if he had much work. He said the summer was slow, but business had picked up a bit this fall. What work he’s gotten has been remodeling. Lots of remodeling, he said. New construction is still very quiet.
To me, remodeling is a smart idea. It’s not a good time to sell, although it might be a great time to buy. Homeowners can get a better return on their investment if they do a little upgrading instead of relocating. And if you’re going to remodel, going green is the most cost effective, healthy and earth-friendly thing to do.
Green kitchen remodeling – where to start
Being the family meeting place, the kitchen is the busiest room of the house and the most energy intensive. The first place to start saving energy is with new appliances. A new refrigerator uses 75% less energy than one that is 10 or 20 years old. Energy Star refrigerators are 20% more efficient than federal standards. Technology is changing rapidly, and consumer demand is driving the need for more efficient appliances. New is frequently better, and the older your fridge, the more money you will save on your electric bill.
Some new energy efficient dishwashers use less water than washing by hand. They also have an energy saving or quick wash cycle that saves water and electricity. An air-dry option uses fans instead of heat for drying, again saving energy.
Also, there is nothing like natural daylight in a kitchen. Add a window or two to reduce your need for lighting during the day. If you have unpleasant views, consider skylights or tube lighting. Install CFL or LED light bulbs in fixtures to cut down on the heat thrown by incandescent bulbs.
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Make room for a handy recycling and composting center so it’s easy for your family to get involved in environmental issues. Kids would love a worm bin for compost, which can be used to improve your soil or act as mulch.
Green kitchen cabinets
You can make a big environmental difference with your choice of cabinets, too. Most cabinet bases are made of chipboard or plywood, which are put together with a formaldehyde binder or glue. Formaldehyde is a known carcinogen. To protect indoor air quality, cabinets should be formaldehyde free. Materials using agricultural waste, such as straw board or FSC-certified plywood, use renewable materials and no formaldehyde.
Sometimes you can find used cabinets at salvage yards, yard sales, flea markets and places like Habitat for Humanity. Other people remodel, then sell or donate their old supplies. I’ve done that with cabinets and plumbing supplies that were in great shape but of no use to me anymore. You can truly recycle that way, and with a little elbow grease, paint and imagination, your kitchen can be one-of-a-kind!
Doors and drawer fronts are solid wood. Sustainably harvested timber, bamboo, reclaimed wood or veneers are excellent choices. All paints, stains and sealers should be low- to zero- VOC finishes. Read out about the Environmental Certification Program from the Kitchen Cabinets Manufacturers Association.
Countertops can be creative, timeless and eco-friendly. One of my favorite looks is bits of recycled glass embedded in a base of non-toxic resin. It’s like a mosaic that can be monochromatic or multi-colored. It is easy to clean and durable, and best of all, it uses recycled glass.
Wood scraps from a lumber mill can be laminated together like a butcher block for a great work surface. This also keeps trash out of the landfill. Recycled materials have low embodied energy and do not off-gas toxic fumes. Recycled paper can be bound together with formaldehyde-free resin. Reclaimed wood and recycled aluminum are other sturdy, green and aesthetically pleasing choices.
Vinyl tile and linoleum floor covering
Vinyl linoleum is not the only choice for flooring anymore! There is now natural linoleum made of cork and linseed oil that does not off-gas. It is durable, comfortable and all natural. Cork flooring is another option, being made from bark. It is water resistant, sturdy and natural. Both are renewable and have no VOCs.
Increase your knowledge
Spend some time doing your homework. The USGBC offers green home tours every year, and you can ask builders and homeowners about the features of their homes. Home and garden shows have green building exhibits, too. Green building is becoming more and more mainstream, so information is easier to find than it was even five years ago!
Also, be sure to hire a contractor that understands green building. Don’t let anyone talk you out of going green, because that usually means they don’t know anything about it. As always, work within your budget and check your covenants and building codes.
Other than that, have fun redoing your kitchen, and enjoy a smaller carbon footprint, lower energy bills and healthy indoor air!