Six Guidelines for a Green Kitchen Update


Since we just introduced the Sawyer House on Thursday and it’s design features a lovely and sustainable kitchen update, today seemed like a good day for a run down of some of our favorite green kitchen remodel concepts.  The list below includes some of the main things we consider before starting a new kitchen update project:

1. Let there Be (Natural) Light

A natural way to improve both the energy efficiency and the experiential quality of your kitchen is to up the amount of natural light it gets.  By replacing older smaller windows with larger but more energy efficient ones you can get a two for one effect of reduced air and heat leakage with less power use in daylight.

Bringing in natural light instead of using powered fixtures does more than save electricity – it lifts your mood and keeps you healthy.  Studies have found that office workers who have access to natural light work more efficiently, sleep better and report a better quality of life.   The same is true of natural light in your home.  The light flooded kitchen below is our remodel of Melrose House, featured in Apartment Therapy.

melrose house natural light

2. Choose Energy Efficient Appliances

Any new appliance you bring into your kitchen should be Energy Star rated.   To focus on just one appliance, Energy Star refrigerators use 20% less energy than non-rated new models.  To see if you might need an appliance update, test the seal on your current fridge: Not sure if your fridge can pass the eco-friendly test? Shut the door on a dollar bill — if it slides out easily then it’s a sign the seal needs to be replaced some time soon.  Check out the  Energy Star website for more information on the possibilities.

3. Keep it Clean

As we just discussed last month in our post on VOCs in your home, the last thing you want to bring into your home with a kitchen remodel are a lot of nasty chemicals.  Make sure you choose low and no VOC paints, flooring materials and cabinetry which is not only better for the environment but for your lungs.

4. Reduce

Small is beautiful and keeping the footprint of a kitchen small (but not cramped) means not only that you have to take fewer steps to get from the fridge to the stove but that you need fewer square feet of nearly every type of material.  This can result in cost savings which you pocket or that you roll back into the project by selecting higher quality materials.  The kitchen shown below is on the extreme end of small, being situated in a one bed apartment in Flats Chicago’s new 5411 Winthrop building.

winthrop flats small kitchen

Since most of the work that moss does is remodeling existing spaces, we specialize in making the most of small existing kitchens, tweaking layouts, opening sight lines and filling them with natural light but not (typically) expanding them.  Preserving a right-sized spaces are one of the easiest and most sustainable decisions you can make.

5. Reuse

One of our favorite points in design is scoping out the existing space for possible interesting items to reuse.   An updated kitchen can feature a lot of items that are new-to-you rather than sitting on a shelf at a big box store.  Looking for items to reuse not only saves money and waste but will make your kitchen stand out from the crowd with antique or unusual fixtures that can’t be purchased from a warehouse.

At the upcoming Sawyer Street house we’re repurposing an existing swing door on the pantry as the new sliding barn-style door to close off the new powder room.  And we were thrilled at the Racine Loft to discover a set of three dramatic lamp shades sitting dusty and disused under closed off stairway which we turned into the centerpiece of the kitchen.  Finding interesting items, either on site, or elsewhere can be the lynchpin that pulls an entire design together.  We’ll have pictures of them in place soon but, for the moment, here’s a snap of the original found lamps!

DSC03286 copy

The best things to look for in this department are sinks and tubs (a new coat of enamel can do wonders), interesting lights and decorative items.  Reusing old faucets, plumbing appliances or toilets tends to result in inefficient energy and water use.  But don’t hesitate to think about alternate uses for beautiful old items – old pipes can turn into beautiful handles or shelf supports, for example.

The other side of this concept is making the existing materials in your remodel available for other people’s re-use.  If you’re replacing your cabinetry, taking out old windows or doors, or pulling up flooring, consider listing them on Craigslist or Freecycle or donating them to a salvage warehouse.  One kitchen’s trash really can be another’s treasure and you’ll have kept a big chunk of construction waste out of the local landfill!

6. Recycle (or Upcycle)

Salvaged and found objects don’t have to be useable  in their original form to be interesting.  At Begyle Brewing Company we salvaged wood from the site to make shelving for their tasting room display.  Wood is a great material for being shaved down, polished or painted up and given a new life as a finish material.  Moss specializes in giving new life to beautiful old wood and we’ve incorporated salvaged wood in our construction work, furniture design and even wall art.  The  Willow Springs Table, show below, is just one example of what can be done with reclaimed wood.  We regularly troll the Rebuilding Exchange warehouse for both materials and fixtures that have potential for new life.

willow springs table

There are also a number of commercially recycled products available for kitchens.  Consider recycled glass countertops, commercially salvaged and reused wood products or recycled tile before turning to first-use material choices in your sustainable kitchen remodel!

Check back soon for a parallel post on Sustainable BATHROOM Update ideas.  We’ll be also following up on this post with a par some more specific break downs of these ideas featuring Energy Star Appliances, Natural Light, Reuse and Recycling in construction.  

What is your favorite sustainable kitchen concept?  Let us know in the comments.