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Implementing the Green Kitchen Remodel Tech Set

1. Design and Specification

An organized approach to the layout, traffic patterns, and accessibility of a kitchen will allow it to be functional through many transitions in family size and use of the room. Some of the dimensions and design requirements necessary to provide universal access in a kitchen are available from Wright State University College of Engineering and Computer Science. A professional designer and the National Kitchen and Bath Association's (NKBA) website can also offer some guidelines.

The design should include adequate, convenient space for short-term storage of recyclables, trash, and compost. Eliminate unnecessary environmental burdens, like a garbage disposal, and install a good sink strainer basket. The disposal is an impediment to a person in a wheel chair accessing the sink. In addition, garbage disposals put excessive nutrients in wastewater and, hence, require additional treatment at the wastewater reclamation facility.

Maximize natural lighting and provide for task lighting. Sophisticated lighting controls can allow fixtures to perform several functions as task, safety, or mood lighting.

When windows are replaced or exterior walls are exposed, install windows with high performance glazing and add insulation. Keep plumbing and mechanical chases out of exterior walls and use spray foam and caulk to air seal all floor, wall, and ceiling penetrations.

Plan salvaged materials into the design. Examples include a vintage sink, island, or cabinet -- or even counter top and flooring materials. Keep construction debris out of the landfill and reuse studs, trim, and other materials when possible. Recycle whatever can't be reused. See Habitat for Humanity’s ReStores for a list of where used construction materials can be donated for resale. The proceeds are used to finance future Habit projects.

If a home was built more than 25 years ago, you need to learn how to identify and abate any lead or asbestos that may be disturbed during the remodeling job.

Always ventilate the range to the outside! Many builders and remodelers route the fan exhaust back to the kitchen, but that's one thing you don't want to recycle. Outside exhaust ventilation, particularly when natural gas is the energy source, will enhance indoor air quality and remove moisture.

2. Durable Products

Cabinets: Resurface or reface existing cabinets and use with other salvaged materials and fixtures. Cabinets that are made with particleboard or fiberboard are likely to contain urea formaldehyde and are not resistant to moisture. However, sealing these with low VOC paint or stain or laminating with a new surface will seal the substrates.

Agricultural fiber panels, like wheat- and strawboard, are made from plant stems and sustainable binders and are a good choice for areas that will not be subjected to wetting.

Some solid wood cabinet lines from both custom and larger, more mainstream manufacturers have low-VOC emissions. Laminates and thermo-foils can seal in VOCs contained in substrates, offering an indoor air quality solution to budget-constrained designs.

Counters: Sturdy, simple to clean, and sanitary is the mantra for counters. Use a durable, water-resistant material on backsplashes to keep the area clean and sanitary, as well. Keep seams in counter top surface material at least two feet away from the sink and out of heavily-used areas. See the different counter top materials on the market.

Flooring: Kitchen floors are subjected to heavy use and myriad conditions -- from scraping with furniture legs to frequent wetting and drying during everyday use. Wood, concrete, ceramic or porcelain tile, and linoleum are some of the more durable finishes frequently selected for kitchens. Compare the various floor materials and finishes available.

Faucets, Plumbing, and Fixtures: Comply with water flow maximum capacities that have been mandated by the EPA since 1994 -- 2.2 gpm for faucets. Vintage faucets can be installed and tested for EPA flow rate compliance by filling a bucket in one minute and measuring the contents. Aerators can be retrofitted onto some older faucets to reduce the flow rate.

Faucets can operate very well with flows lower than those mandated. And low-flow fixtures are available. Flow rate only affects fills, so filling pasta pots will take longer with lesser flow-rated equipment, but wetting or rinsing activity will not be affected.

Take advantage of the plumbing contractor's trip to the home for the kitchen remodel to offer upgrades of plumbing fixtures throughout the home -- toilets should flush with 1.6 gallons or less and showers should deliver 2.5 gpm or less. More sources and ideas for water-saving upgrades are contained in Tech Set #1, Resource Efficient Plumbing.

3. Energy- and Resource-Efficient Appliances

As ENERGY STAR® points out, there are two costs to every appliance - the cost to buy it and take it home, and the cost of the energy and water to run it. ENERGY STAR®-rated appliances use about 25 percent less energy than those manufactured before 1994. Compare the EnergyGuide information and water use of appliances before making any purchases.

In a new method of cooking, induction heat produces a magnetic field that reacts with the ferric content in stainless steel, cast iron, and enameled steel cookware, exciting the molecules and producing heat. The process is about 90 percent energy efficient as compared to gas and electric radiant, which are in the 50 to 60 percent efficiency range. Induction cook tops do not radiate heat so less heat is wasted and the food heats faster, cutting cooking time and saving energy. The range top does not heat up, either, so it is a safer way to cook. Induction cooking is new to the marketplace and currently retails at a premium.

Content updated on 9/29/2006

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Tech Set #8 - Green Kitchen Remodel
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