Greening the Kitchen Remodel

Green remodeling has been in the news a great deal lately as much attention is being drawn to increasing energy prices and dwindling resources.

While green remodeling has been primarily a West Coast issue, driven by legislation in California, it is sure to quickly grow to national focus as more homeowners become aware and concerned. With kitchens being the major area of the home to undergo remodeling, it seemed appropriate to discuss how to apply green remodeling principles to these projects.

What is green remodeling?

When we think about green remodeling, what issues should come to mind? Remodeling with an emphasis toward indoor air quality, energy efficiency, resource conservation and combustion air safety are high on the priority list. There are many other issues we could discuss, but for the purpose of the kitchen remodel we will restrain our discussion to those listed.

Resource conservation:
When planning the demolition an existing kitchen, start by evaluating how much material can be recycled or reused either by you or a charitable organization. Cabinets, sinks and light fixtures are typical candidates for recycling.

The use of renewable resources or certified wood in the construction of the kitchen components, such as cabinets or floors, is a great way to conserve. Russ Snyder, CR of Williamsburg Fine Cabinetry, makes custom bamboo cabinets for kitchens. “Bamboo grows so quickly that some say ‘you can watch it grow,’ ” Snyder said. He also explained that bamboo is a durable wood; “it’s comparable to maple in form, function and cost,” he added.

When you are sourcing kitchen cabinets, try to locate products that are constructed using low or no VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds) and formaldehyde. These chemicals can contribute to Sick Building Syndrome.

Indoor Air Quality:
Consider IAQ from two aspects: the impact of the products as you install them and the effects of the product as your client uses them. Cabinets and some finishes used in the kitchen may off gas VOCs and Formaldehyde. If you chose cabinets constructed of plywood or MDF, reduce off-gassing by sealing the exposed surfaces of the cabinet. Another option but less effective is to unpack and allow cabinets to breathe for several weeks prior to installation.

The construction adhesives used in the kitchen are also a potential source of VOCs. Read the labels of the products you use. Henkle/OSI has developed a Green Series of adhesives that contain little or no VOCs.
The range hood fan is the one item that can have a negative impact on air quality after the project has long been completed. First, ensure that it vents to the outside. Next, be certain there is adequate makeup air available, particularly if it is a large fan (300 cfm or more). Failure to have adequate makeup air can cause back-drafting of other combustion appliances that could cause carbon monoxide poisoning.

Energy efficiency:
The kitchen is one of the largest consumers of energy within the home. As the cost of energy continues to rise, your clients will more often be asking you the question: “What can we do in this remodel to reduce my gas or electric bills.”

California’s Title 24 contains very stringent guidance concerning lighting in the kitchen. While I will not address the specifics of the Title 24 requirements, the following guidance can be followed. CFL (Compact Fluorescence Lights) consume about one-third of the energy for an equal number of lumens that an incandescent light does. CFLs now come in a variety of temperatures to suit your various needs and should be used whenever possible. Low voltage lighting does not mean energy saving. Some of the step-down transformers are very inefficient.

When discussing the selection of appliances, Energy Star should be considered the minimum standard. Your clients should be advised to select products that will meet their needs, not their egos. In some cases the client may just want the six-burner cooktop even though it is not the most efficient choice. Refrigerators present a similar challenge. Next to air conditioning, refrigerators represent the largest consumer of electricity in the home. Every effort should be made to ensure the client select the appropriately sized and the most efficient model available.

This represents a very high level look at greening the kitchen remodel. NARI will be conducting Green Education Programs that will be addressing these and other issues in much greater detail. Keep a look out at and in your e-mail box for availability announcements.