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Green Kitchens

Holly Emrick
Mountain House and Home

If the kitchen is the “heart” of your home, then what better place to start growing a green practice? Good habits such as recycling, using environmentally safe cleaning products, composting whenever possible and buying organic are a good start. But what about the actual structure of a kitchen ” how do we green it?

Doing all you can to maintain current products like cabinets and countertops would naturally be the best thing for the environment. But things do get outdated and worn.

Sometimes the need to remodel a kitchen comes from the need for more usable storage space or simply a better layout. Whenever possible, start with re-facing or painting cabinets (with a low VOC product) to freshen the look. When the cabinets are truly no longer sound, it’s time to look into replacing them. Always donate the used cabinetry to someone who can use them, perhaps in a garage or shop. If they are in great shape but just not in style, Habitat for Humanity or an organization like Eagle County’s RECON may be able to use them.

Then it’s time to shop.

Greener choices in cabinetry are becoming available but aren’t likely to be found at the home improvement centers. You can count on spending about 10-20 percent more on an eco-friendly product. What makes a cabinet green? Primarily what it is made of (including finishes), but also how the shop handles its emissions and how far it must be shipped to get to you. The closer the better.

Cabinets come in two styles: framed or frameless. The materials used to form the box itself are generally panel goods made of plywood, MDF (medium-density fiberboard) or particleboard. Traditionally all of these contain chemicals (mostly formaldehyde) which may give off gas for many months, leading to poor air quality and contributing to allergic reactions in sensitive individuals. Thankfully, there are other options such as wheatboard and sunflower hull board which contain fewer irritants. Currently available are particleboard (made from varying percentages of recycled content), plywood and MDF with no added formaldehyde (meaning the only formaldehyde is naturally occurring). These are good choices for creating a healthier environment.

Next are the doors. Choose species and woods that are certified sustainable, or opt for those made from reclaimed wood when possible.

As for countertops, there are an abundance of choices. New “green” products come on line every day. Again, look at content as well as embodied energy (how far was it shipped?). If you can’t shake the thought of stone, be comforted in the thought that it’s natural and will last a very long time.

Flooring choices are innumerable. Try to avoid products made of vinyl whenever possible, and stick with the natural stuff. Cork, bamboo, stone, tile or reclaimed woods are far better.

Lighting is very important. Natural daylight is best and may be a consideration in the site plan and location if doing new construction. If not, look into replacing bulbs with the new array of compact fluorescents. Always use dimmers if you have the option to install them.

Lastly, but perhaps most importantly, choose appliances that are Energy Star rated.

Appliances are one of the greatest energy guzzlers in a home. Get good ones.

Choose reasonably sized models and really think about the needs of your household rather than opting for the “bigger is better” mentality. And remember to have your non-functioning appliances recycled. They really do not belong in Dumpsters!

With a little patience and thought, everyone can build a greener kitchen. Think of it as a journey, and feel good about the choices you have made to create a wholesome and healthy heart for your home.

” Holly Emrick is the owner of Apropos Design and Roots Cabinetry in Summit County , CO. Her company is dedicated to finding environmentally sound and creative design solutions for residential and commercial applications. She can be reached at 970.513.7025 or Holly@rootscabinetry.com


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