5 Great Ideas for Green Kitchens

When it comes to being green in the kitchen, you might think of adopting earth-friendly habits such as buying local and organic produce, setting up a compost or recycling bin, or using eco-friendly cleaning products. While all of these practices are commendable, you should also consider the configuration of your kitchen when embarking on a green kitchen renovation: the types of appliances you use and how they are arranged, the finishes you select and the quality of your lighting and air.

Green kitchens share these traits in common:

Energy-Saving Appliances
If you’ve been looking for an excuse to buy a new dishwasher or fridge, I might be able to help you out. Appliances that are over 10 years old use twice as much energy as their newer counterparts, such as those featuring the Energy Star label. Just don’t go crazy and buy the biggest, baddest appliance you can find. Smaller appliances not only save valuable counter space, but they also cut down on energy use. And of course, always properly dispose of or recycle your old appliances.

Now let’s consider the configuration of your appliances. When you remodel your kitchen, you plan for the perfect “triangle” arrangement of your fridge, sink and stove. Their locations also impact how efficiently they run. For example, don’t place the stove next to the fridge because it makes the fridge work that much harder.

Proper Ventilation
While we’re on the subject of stoves, make sure yours has a range hood or an exhaust fan to properly ventilate your kitchen and ensure good indoor air quality. Look for one that pulls about 100 cubic feet per minute. Also, don’t forget you can ventilate your kitchen naturally by simply opening a window or installing a ceiling fan.

Reduce Dependence on Light Fixtures
Windows have other sustainable benefits, too, such as reducing your reliance on electric lighting. Who doesn’t love a window above the sink? However, it’s not always so easy to add windows to your existing home, but there are a few ways you can maximize the natural light your kitchen currently receives.

Consider adding a skylight if you can’t penetrate the walls. Take down heavy drapes or blinds (unless, of course, direct sunlight is turning your kitchen into an inferno). Choose light-colored finishes, which reflect light instead of absorb it, so avoid that black granite counter top and dark wood cabinets if your kitchen lacks windows. Exchange your incandescent bulbs for CFLs, which burn whiter, helping you distinguish that carrot you’re chopping up from your finger. To better illuminate your counter, consider installing LED puck lights beneath or for ambient light, a string of LEDs above your cabinets.

Sustainable Materials and Finishes
There seems to be an ongoing debate about the best kitchen flooring material. Wood looks nice, but doesn’t withstand spills. Tile is practical, but it can look cold and clinical. A perfect compromise that is also environmentally friendly is cork flooring. Available in tiles and rolls, cork is very comfortable to stand on if you spend a lot of time at your kitchen counter. However, if you do choose to go with wood or tile, consider bamboo flooring or recycled glass tiles.

For your kitchen counters, choose tiles or composites that include mostly recycled materials. Instead of ripping out those old kitchen cabinets, consider ways you can revamp them rather than throw them away. And as always, choose low-VOC paints, caulks and adhesives for your kitchen renovation project.

Curb Your Water Enthusiasm
Not to harp on you for leaving the faucet running when you step away for a second, but you should at least install an aerator so you don’t waste as much water. An aerator is an inexpensive piece of hardware that attaches to the tip of your faucet and mixes air into the water stream. For the bargain price of $15 or less, you can save up to 500 gallons of water a year! An added bonus is that it cuts down on splashes (learn about more DIY green renovation projects for $50 or less).

I don’t know about you, but I hate washing dishes by hand. A study by the California Energy Commission makes a case for buying a dishwasher if you don’t have one: it uses 37 percent less water than doing the dishes by hand if you leave the water running, which most of us do. Technically you could save more water by filling the sink up when you do the dishes…but if you do invest in that brand new, energy-efficient dishwasher, make sure you choose one that allows you to turn off the heat drying option and that offers a shorter wash cycle for when it’s not completely full.

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