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
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.
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.
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