Today's green kitchen
by Pamela Portwood
When it comes to building or remodeling, designing a green kitchen is one of the most exciting home projects around. There are now so many green products on the market that just about every aspect of a kitchen, down to the cabinet hardware, can be sustainable.
Where to start? To save energy, select Energy Star appliances. Energy Star is a government certification system for energy-saving appliances.
Since refrigerators use up to 15 percent of a home's energy, going with an Energy Star model is a must. Side-by-side models are popular, but models with top or bottom freezer units use 7-13 percent less energy. Through-the-door water and ice dispensers are notorious for breaking down, but making it easy to grab a glass of water is a virtue for desert dwellers.
When it comes to choosing a range, the basic question is: gas or electric? Energy Star does not certify ovens or ranges, so weighing their advantages and disadvantages is tough. Gas ovens are more energy efficient than electric ovens although electric cook tops are more efficient than gas models. Not surprisingly, there are now combo gas and electric ranges. Whether you go with gas or electric, be sure to get a convection oven, which is more energy efficient than a non-convection oven.
At first, I loved the sleek look of my electric stove's black, ceramic top. It's easy to clean, too, but after a few boil overs, that sleek surface is now permanently spotty. On the other hand, combustion byproducts from gas, like carbon monoxide and nitrogen dioxide, are health hazards. Many homeowners, like me, end up making the gas vs. electric decision based on whether or not they have an existing gas line to their range.
Whatever range you have, using smaller appliances like crock-pots, fryers and toaster ovens will save energy. I've never used a solar oven, but I have friends who love them, and hybrid solar/electric ovens are now available.
To conserve water, be sure to add an inexpensive flow restrictor (aerator) to your kitchen tap. Although it sounds unlikely, running an Energy Star dishwasher uses less water than hand washing dishes.
When it comes to kitchen flooring, tile is a popular choice because it's economical, durable and easy to clean (except for that annoying grout). As a rapidly renewable material, cork is a good, green alternative to tile. Its cushiony feel makes cork more comfortable when standing. Linoleum, which was popular in the '50s and '60s, is back in great colors and without the toxic asbestos.
Selecting cabinetry that is healthy and eco-friendly is much like selecting green furniture.
If you want wood, go for sustainable wood that is certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). You can get a great look with rapidly renewable wood alternatives like wheat board and bamboo.
Whatever you choose, be sure the stains, glues and finishes are water based, so they won't off gas hazardous volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Energy-efficient LED lighting is an excellent choice for under-cabinet lighting.
I love green countertops. Recycled glass highlights everything from brilliantly colored terrazzo styles to more subtle solid surfaces. Recycled porcelain from toilets and sinks also create striking terrazzo looks.
Other green countertops use unexpected, natural materials like recycled paper, sunflower shells and sorghum straw. Solid sheets of recycled aluminum create striking countertops and cabinets while solid surfaces with aluminum shavings embedded in brilliantly colored resins are just fun.
Yes, these countertops can be expensive, but their prices are competitive with granite. When it comes to money and countertops, I love ShetkaStone's "Counterfit" line, which is made of shredded (retired) U.S. currency.
Article is reprinted courtesy of The New Southwest (formerly The Tucson Green Times).