The Home Building Industry's Technical Information Resource

Back to Standard View
Building SystemsHome Building TopicsDesign & Construction GuidesBest PracticesConstruction Methods
Adobe Acrobat Reader required for PDF documents

PDF documents require the free Adobe Reader.

All PDF documents open in a new browser window. Close the browser window to return to the site.

Tech Set 8: Green Kitchen Remodel


No wonder we call it the heart of the home. A well-designed, attractive kitchen gives a home life. All that liveliness, though, is probably the single biggest energy drain in your home.

Lighting, refrigeration, and cooking are responsible for 41.5 percent of a home's energy consumption, according to U.S. Department of Energy estimates. The kitchen accounts for the lion's share of it (all but 20 percent of the lighting, which serves other parts of the house). Add to that regular kitchen activities like water heating, plus space heating and cooling, and you begin to get the picture of how critical the kitchen really is.

So when you're engaged in new construction or remodeling, the kitchen presents a big opportunity to improve the home's energy performance. And that's just the beginning. Broadening the scope of a kitchen remodel to also include ecological benefits, accessibility, and occupant health considerations will provide for a more comfortable, affordable and safe home.

1 Kitchen Recycling Center
2 Eco-Friendly Flooring
3 Stained Concrete or Indigenous Stone Countertops
4 Air Admittance Valve
5 Wall Insulation
7 ENERGY STAR Task Lighting and Lighting Controls
8 ENERGY STAR Appliances
9 Universal Design Kitchen Cabinets
10 Low-VOC Paints and Finishes
11 Mold-Resistant Gypsum or Cement Board
12 Induction Cooktop

Details: Green Kitchen Remodel Tech Set

Kitchen Recycling Center

Kitchen Recycling Center Available pre-assembled or in cabinet retrofit kits, kitchen recycling centers take the mess out of managing your recyclables. These modified cabinets can accommodate any kitchen style and cabinet size, and are available in a full range of cabinet materials.

Eco-Friendly Flooring

Products manufactured from rapidly-renewing forests can provide the homeowner with a beautiful, affordable and durable floor -- and an environmentally responsible choice. Bamboo, cork, and eucalyptus flooring products are sustainable alternatives to slower growing hardwoods. These grasses and trees mature in roughly half of the time (or less!) that it takes hardwoods, grown in colder climates, to reach market size. Costs, finishes, and maintenance requirements vary among flooring types, so review manufacturers' installation instructions and warranties, as well as maintenance guidelines. Compare flooring options available.

Low Maintenance, Long-Lasting Countertops

Sturdy, simple to clean, and sanitary is the mantra for counters. It's important to use materials that are durable and water-resistant. It should come as no surprise that concrete and stone countertops are gaining popularity. Stained concrete uses non-toxic, natural pigments rather than surface-applied stains, while there is also the option of adding other recycled materials into the mixture. Many types of indigenous stone are available and can come from salvage and remnants, but make sure they are well sealed to prevent staining. Compare countertops options on the market.

Air Admittance Valves

Put fewer holes in the roof and have fewer callbacks for leaks with air admittance valves (AAVs). The pressure-activated, one-way mechanical valves are installed in plumbing drainlines in place of through-the-roof pipe venting. They operate with the discharge of wastewater, just like conventional plumbing vents. By eliminating piping and flashing, there is a net savings after the initial investment of $25 to $40. And they're durable.

Wall Insulation

Nothing can improve the comfort and energy efficiency of a kitchen more than plenty of insulation in the exterior walls. To add insulation to existing homes, it is common practice to blow fibrous insulation material -- fiberglass or natural materials like cellulose and mineral wool -- into enclosed wall, floor, and roof cavities. "Dense packing" the insulation inhibits air circulation within the cavities, thereby eliminating an important cause of condensation and moisture problems. It also helps create a tighter house by inhibiting air movement through the envelope.

ENERGY STAR qualified windowsENERGY STAR Windows, Doors and Skylights

Well-designed windows and skylights can lighten the feel of a kitchen. ENERGY STAR qualified products lighten the burden of energy bills, as well. In all regions of the country, homeowners can find greater comfort and significant savings -- ranging from $110 to $400 a year -- by replacing single-panes with ENERGY STAR qualified windows. Compared to conventional products, ENERGY STAR qualified windows, doors and skylights use low-e glass with solar shading, which increases the room's comfort, protects items from sun damage, and reduces condensation on windows. You can choose impact-resistance windows for greater safety in areas prone to high winds and flying debris.

ENERGY STAR Task Lighting and Lighting Controls

Automatic lighting controls, common in commercial buildings, are now available in a variety of options for residences. These range from a simple outdoor light fixture with a built-in photosensor to whole-house programmable controls that activate lights based on your life, whether you are on vacation or hosting a party. Besides convenience to homeowners, these controls can save energy and improve safety. Many controls, like dimmer switches and motion detectors, can be retrofitted into standard electrical switch boxes. The cost of a control can often be offset by the first year's energy savings.

ENERGY STAR Appliances ENERGY STAR qualified appliances

When buying a refrigerator, dishwasher or vent fan for your kitchen renovation, remember that it will have two price tags: what you pay to take it home and what you pay for the energy and water it uses. ENERGY STAR qualified appliances incorporate advanced technologies that use 10 to 50 percent less energy and water than standard models. The money you save on your utility bills can more than make up for the cost of a slightly more expensive but more efficient ENERGY STAR model.

Universal Design Kitchen Cabinets

By incorporating universal design into kitchens, you can give your homes a competitive edge by meeting the increasing demand for accessibility, and there are a wide variety of cabinets and accessories available. It should appeal to many homebuyers, and add value to a home. If you are resurfacing existing cabinets, sealing these with low VOC paint or stain or laminating with a new surface will seal the substrates. Cabinets that are made with particleboard or fiberboard are likely to contain urea formaldehyde and are not resistant to moisture.

Low-VOC Paints and Finishes

Many conventional paints and finishes contain high levels of VOCs (volatile organic compounds) that produce potentially harmful gasses when applied. The VOCs diminish air quality, and may be detrimental to your health. Today, low- and no-VOC paints are available almost anywhere. They release no or minimal VOC pollutants, and are virtually odor free. This improves the indoor air quality of the home, making it particularly safer for people with chemical sensitivity. Also, latex paints use water as their solvent and carrier, allowing both easier cleanup and generally lower toxicity.

Mold-Resistant Gypsum or Cement Board

Mold growth requires moisture and a food source. Therefore, some gypsum board manufacturers have developed products with paperless coatings and gypsum cores that will not absorb moisture as easily as typical gypsum board. To reduce the risk of mold growth that paper facings can provide, a number of manufacturers chemically treat the paper on both sides of the gypsum board, while others eliminate the paper entirely and replace it with a gypsum-cellulose combination. The result is a mold-resistant wall panel that helps maintain good indoor air quality, while reducing the probability of costly replacement or remediation -- and even litigation.

Induction Cooktop Induction Cooktop

It may seem like magic, but its really just magnetic. Magnetic induction cooking uses electricity to produce a magnetic field that causes molecular movement in cookware. The movement produces heat that warms the pot, and then, the pot's contents. That's right, cooking without a burner. The cookware gets hot but not the stovetop, so it's safer, too. Cookware made from steel, iron, nickel or various alloys magnetizes easily, making a radically new cooking method appear to be quite ordinary from a cook's point of view; just faster, using less energy, and with more precision. Induction units are available in traditional sizes, so they can be fit into custom kitchens with the same ease as traditional electric cooktops.

Back to top

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

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.

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.

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.

Back to top

Code Considerations

Structural rework and plumbing, HVAC, and electrical delivery systems that are being relocated are the primary focus of codes for a kitchen remodeling project. Plan reviewers and inspectors will require that the room be brought up to current standards in all areas affected by the remodel.

Back to top

Additional Resources

Back to top