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Sample Project

Remodel Project: Kitchen

Kitchens Use Lots of Energy and Water, But a Green Kitchen Uses Less.

Design considerations can save resources

Green materials choices for cabinetry, countertops, finsihes, and flooring are all available, and replacing older energy-hogging appliances and fixtures with newer, more efficient models can significantly reduce utility bills. There are also opportunities for making plumbing runs shorter, which can reduce costs and make hot water delivery more efficient. And finally, keep in mind that a smaller kitchen will be greener than a gargantuan one.

Plan carefully for the busiest room in the house.

The easiest way to keep a kitchen remodel green is to keep its size reasonable. Most people use a kitchen for work space, food storage, entertaining, and dining. Take time to understand how you really use the kitchen and its adjacent spaces, and how you’d like that to change. Would an office hutch help control clutter? What about a prep sink in an island? How these wants and needs work together is how efficient space planning happens. Look at what’s working, and what’s not

What sort of problems result from the existing layout? Is there a bottleneck in traffic patterns? Is there too little countertop near the stove, fridge, or sink? Are the appliances too far from each other? What about comfort issues -- are the windows too cold to sit in front of? Are there cold spots and drafts along outside walls? Does the vent hood actually remove polluted air to the outside or is it vented into an attic or back into the room? Do the pipes leak? These fixes must be part of the renovation.

How does the kitchen remodel tie in to other projects you’ve got planned?

For example, the scope of a kitchen remodel might not include the insulation and air sealing the walls, roof, and foundation of the rest of the house, but if the building is extremely leaky, you’d be hard pressed to call any kitchen remodel green without addressing the energy-wasting problems first.

A better kitchen isn’t necessarily a bigger one

If you can refrain from adding more space to the kitchen, either with an addition or re-working interior space, you’ll spend less money and use fewer resources. Of course, adding in is always greener than adding on.

It’s often tempting to make a kitchen bigger and to add more bells and whistles— a second dishwasher, a larger refrigerator, a wine chiller, etc. These features should be carefully weighed against space requirements, energy use, and water use. Even more difficult may be decisions about storage—including countertop space for everyday appliances and concealed storage for small appliances and dry goods.

More About Kitchen Remodeling

Layout/Space Planning

Ventilate all fans to the outdoors.

Some older recirculating range hoods blow minimally filtered exhaust air right back into the kitchen--sometimes right at your forehead as you're standing at the stove! Another ventilation shortcut is to vent the fan into the attic or crawlspace above the kitchen. Make sure range hoods and other exhaust fans vent directly to the outside.

Windows and skylights in the kitchen

Windows and skylights can provide natural light, a connection with the out doors, warmth, and fresh air. But they also can overheat rooms in summer and cause leaks in walls and roofs. It’s common, especially in a kitchen, to fill a wall with windows, but it's a better idea to strategically place the right type of window or skylight for the best views, ventilation and energy performance.

Short and direct plumbing runs save a lot of energy and deliver hot water faster. Plumbing runs are best placed in interior rather than in exterior walls. Placing them in exterior walls makes a house harder to heat and cool, and increases the possibility of mold problems and frozen pipes.

Appliance location

Keep heating heat generating appliances—stoves, ovens, and dishwashers—away from refrigerators. Make sure there’s enough air space around all appliances to vent away ambient heat. It's also important to keep refrigerators out of the direct sunlight that comes through windows and skylights.

Lighting design

Good lighting design can improve kitchen function, appearance, and energy performance. Get the right mix of task and ambient lighting using energy efficient fixtures wherever possible. And keep recessed lights out of the ceiling if that ceiling is insulated -- these can lights are like energy tunnels.

Image Credits: Julia Jandrisits/REGREEN, Jonathan Leys, WoodMaster/REGREEN

Content By GBA

Adding without adding on

The owners of this 1,200-square-foot, 1948 house in Santa Cruz, California, had an overall plan: remodel their home in a way that would allow them to live out their lives in one place. Because of mold and moisture issues, they had already upgraded the house envelope. Next they wanted to design a kitchen that would last forever, add a guest bathroom, and create a private master bath. The clients were looking for a way to redesign within the existing space of their concrete masonry home and were sold on the idea of building green.

Borrow from the mudroom to add to the kitchen

The existing kitchen was tiny, poorly laid out, and poorly furnished, but it adjoined a large mudroom. Reconfiguring the floorplan to subdivide the mudroom allowed the designer to expand the kitchen and add a guest bathroom without an addition or significant relocation of walls. Because the owners wanted to grow old in the building, every effort was made to ensure accessibility in the open plan. And although this project did not include a photovoltaic or graywater system, the remodel did include prewiring for a future PV system and preplumbing for graywater.

Key Systems

  • HVAC
  • Kitchen range hood exhausted directly outdoors
  • Lighting
  • Ambient lighting: airtight, insulation-contact-rated, recessed fluorescent cans
  • Task lighting: under-cabinet fluorescent lights and over-table light fixtures made from 100% recycled cast aluminum
  • Meets California’s Title 24 requirements for lighting efficiency
  • Appliances
  • Energy-efficient dishwasher, clothes washer and dryer - beyond Energy Star minimum
  • High-efficiency water heater
  • Wall and Ceiling Finishes
  • Zero-VOC paint
  • Floors and Flooring Products
  • Natural linoleum flooring
  • Furniture and Fittings
  • Bamboo cabinetry with natural low-VOC finish and prefinished plywood bodies of FSC-certified maple with formaldehyde-free, soy-based adhesive
  • Cabinets with recycled plastic content
  • Concrete countertops with locally produced natural wax finish
  • Extra Features
  • Prewired for photovoltaic panels
  • Preplumbed for graywater system

Award winning green design

The clients wanted to go green all the way and made few compromises. The house is likely to achieve the first green building award in the City of Santa Cruz Green Building Program, meeting 133 to 135 of the 137 points available to this project (the program total for remodeling projects is 464). The designer’s one regret is the high-VOC finish on the hardwood floors throughout the house, which was the owners' one nongreen choice.

Team and Processes

Considering whether to hire a pro, the do-it-yourself homeowners were drawn to the unique materials in the Eco Interiors green showroom, and to Lydia Corser’s deep green approach. Lydia and contractor Rory Howland are Build It Green trained and certified.Their common green building background allowed them to easily form a team, recommending and implementing a wide range of green features that the clients would not have considered on their own.

  • Location: Santa Cruz, California
  • Homeowners: Laura Alderman and Gary Garcia
  • Interior Designer: Lydia Corser, Eco Interiors
  • General Contractor: Rory Howland, Howland Construction
  • Area affected: 250 square feet


The owners originally wanted to add a granny apartment to their garage, but the price estimate led them to a remodel instead. Ultimately, the remodel cost 30% to 60% more than they budgeted - about the cost of the new construction estimate. What drove the cost up was the additional work orders and add-ons, not the green features. Because the owners had decided to move out for the work, they took the opportunity to do additional upgrades on the house.

  • ASID