Hurley's Health Tips
Green Tips for Remodeling Your Kitchen
by: Hal Dean and Rachel Simon
From the book Building A Home With My Husband: A Journey Through The Renovation of Love
Hal Dean is a LEED-accredited architect. His current position is as Project Manager in the Facilities Design and Construction Department at West Chester University.
Rachel Simon is the author of five books, including the bestselling memoir Riding The Bus With My Sister. Her new memoir is Building A Home With My Husband. Hal Dean is that husband, and together they live in the house they renovated, which is in Wilmington, Delaware.
Credit: Joe del Tufo
The greenest thing to do is to do nothing.
If you decide to do something, the mantra is reduce, reuse, recycle.
Think about a lot more than the cost you're paying for a product. To be green is to be conscious of the environmental impact a product has from cradle to grave. So try to use materials that already come to you with a high recycled content, and think about how they will be reused or recycled once you're done with them. Consider what's called the embodied energy of the product, which means the total energy involved in extraction of the materials, manufacturing, transportation, and installation, and try to choose products that have a low embodied energy. And remember that manufacturing affects both the workers in the factories and the people who live around the factories, so choose products that have as little negative impact on their lives as possible.
Consider the durability and manner of cleaning associated with any product. The less frequently something needs to be replaced and the less toxic the cleaning products required, the better the product is for the environment.
It would follow that you should avoid products that contribute toxins to your house. So look for materials that don't off-gas volatile organic compounds or anything else unhealthy like formaldehyde. These tend to be found in things like paint, particle board, and plywood.
If you use wood, such as for flooring or cabinets, look for wood from a Forest Stewardship Council Certified Source. Otherwise, the wood is likely to be sourced from a clear-cut forest, or a ravaged rain forest.
Insulate everything: walls, windows, doors, roof.
Wherever possible, design for natural light and ventilation.
Be aware of phantom loads of any electrical devices, like the blinking digital clock on the coffee machine. Look for opportunities to be able to turn these off.
Avoid plastic and other petroleum-derived products—recognizing that there are instances in which their benefits outweigh the negatives.
That brings up a very basic point: the choices of materials and systems involve trade-offs and compromise. Don't look for perfection.
Be aware of greenwashing. This is the now very common practice of advertising a product as green when it's no such thing. Just because the manufacturer claims something is green doesn't mean it is. In some cases, discovering the truth requires a lot of research. But if you can't do that, at least acquaint yourself with the guidelines that exist, such as Energy Star and Green Seal.
Common flooring products are: sheet vinyl, vinyl composition tile, tile, stone, cork, wood, and linoleum.
Stone and tile have high-embodied energy due to manufacturing, quarrying, and transportation. Sheet vinyl and vinyl composition tile have very high embodied energy because they're made with petroleum. Wood can be a good choice but only if it's obtained from a sustainably managed forest or a source of recycled wood. Cork is a great choice because it's harvested from trees that grow new cork; however, there is embodied energy as a result of transportation costs, and some cork flooring is compromised by certain binders or finishes. Linoleum is a great choice because it's not petroleum-based and it's made from rapidly renewable materials and doesn't off-gas.
We used linoleum.
Walls and Ceiling:
Use paint with no volatile organic compounds, low odor, and high light-reflectance value.
Countertops and Cabinets:
The greenest products available for countertops are those made with recycled glass such as Enviroglass, which comes in a wide variety of colors, looks like terrazzo, and is very durable; or paper-based products, such as Richstone, which is also very durable. A less expensive but still fairly green alternative is plastic laminate on formaldehyde-free substrate. This is what we did.
As for cabinets, the same plastic laminate on sustainable substrate is a very reasonable middle-of-the-range solution.
There are commercial cabinet makers marketing wood cabinets manufactured from Forest Stewardship Council Certified Wood.
If you have the money for a prominent green cabinet maker like Ned Kelly Cabinets, this might be your easiest green solution. Otherwise, expect to invest some time finding suitable materials and fabricators. We spent a lot of time on this aspect of the kitchen remodel.
Look for the Energy Star label.
Avoid features you don't really need that will only waste resources.
Select light fixtures with the most efficient lamps available, such as fluorescent T-8s or compact fluorescent lamps.
Give some thought to how you can make it possible to turn off appliances completely. For instance, we happened to have a space where we put a power strip that some of our smaller appliances are plugged into, and we turn it off when they're not in use.
Select faucets and dishwashers for their water saving features. For instance, we have a two-drawer dishwasher so we can do small loads. We also have a foot-controlled faucet, called at Tapmaster, to save water.
Compost if at all possible.
Some helpful websites:
Rachel Simon's website: