Remodeling Your Kitchen: Why Go Green?

The kitchen is the most energy-intensive room in the house. Oversized and energy-inefficient appliances are the number-one problem with conventional kitchen remodels.

What's the most important environmental problem with a conventional kitchen remodel?

Energy consumption, followed very closely by bad lighting and bad ventilation. The kitchen is the most energy-intensive room in the house. Oversized and energy-inefficient appliances are the number-one problem with conventional kitchen remodels. Do we really need refrigerators that can store 12 different bottles of barbecue sauce, eight different salad dressings, 14 containers of leftovers, etc.? And how big do we really need that microwave to be? Are we using it to defrost 30-pound turkeys (a bad idea), or simply to reheat small containers of leftovers? Bigger is definitely not better in this area. Green Home Guide's "10 Ways to Make Your Kitchen More Resource Efficient" offers suggestions on right-sizing your appliances, as well as other tips to save energy and money in your kitchen remodel.

What environmental problems are associated with using a conventional kitchen?

Many: use of too much energy as the result of poor appliance choices; overconsumption of water due to incorrectly sized dishwashers; chemical sensitization due to overexposure to emissions from cabinetry, insulation, and flooring products containing formaldehyde; overconsumption of energy due to poor natural lighting and ventilation; poor air quality due to inadequate ventilation; excessive use of environmentally degrading cleaning products (i.e., chlorine bleach, ammonia) because of high-maintenance surfaces and floors; and generation of too much garbage because of lack of space for storage of recyclables and compostables.

What are the health benefits of the green remodeling process, and of using a green kitchen?

First of all, we must consider the positive mental health benefits of having a brighter, better-ventilated work space. That’s very, very important. As for the physical health benefits, the green remodeling process—and more importantly, the ongoing use of a green kitchen—brings us less or no exposure to toxic chemicals (such as finishes, paints, cleaning products, etc.), lower injury rates (because appliances are smaller and materials safer), and perhaps a little more exercise as we deliver the recyclables, compostables, and waste materials to their appropriate receptacles.

Is there scientific evidence for these health benefits?

Yes, though this is a subject area that more resources should definitely be applied to. As a start, check out Green Building Costs and Financial Benefits, a report from the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative. It’s a great starting point for the scientific and financial evidence supporting green buildings, in particular the “Productivity and Health” section.

How does the green approach affect maintenance and operating costs?

Money can be saved upfront by installing smaller appliances, buying less stuff, and seeking out salvaged materials. Operating and maintenance costs are reduced by using energy-efficient devices (refrigerator, freezer, dishwasher, microwave), by being able to clean surfaces and floors with soap and water rather than special chemical formulations, and by using natural daylight and ventilation instead of artificial lighting and mechanical ventilation.

What are some of your favorite innovations or design ideas for a green kitchen?

Lots of operable windows for natural daylight and free ventilation; a receptacle for compostable materials very near the work prep area; easy access to and sufficient room for recyclables storage in the kitchen; a dish-drawer dishwasher, which is great for smaller loads; a small, energy-efficient refrigerator/freezer; hardwood floors, which are easier to stand on than stone or tile, have no grout to clean, and mop up easily with soap and water; a place to grow herbs; storage designs that are sufficient and easy to use, but don’t encourage you to become a pack rat; and a cold box, which keeps fruits and veggies such as apples and potatoes fresh without requiring refrigeration.