Archive for the ‘Appliances’ category

Greener Yet Stylish Ways to Renovate Your Kitchen

June 23rd, 2014

This is a guest post by Robert Kramer.

The modern kitchen is a very high-tech, power-hungry part of the household, but that doesn’t mean that it has to hurt the environment. As our homes improve and the world around us suffers, people are turning to greener solutions for modern living – from solar powered showers to composting – and things are no different in the kitchen. If you’re looking to renovate your kitchen then you don’t have to substitute style or function just to create a greener environment; this article will show you how to improve your kitchen and help the environment at the same time.

Counter Tops

Don’t worry, green countertops have nothing to do with color, but rather they indicate a product that has been created using sustainable materials and has been bound using non-toxic glues. A common misconception is that the standard of these are often on the poor side, that not only do they look cheap but they feel it as well. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Many of these products are painstakingly designed and made, ensuring that only the finest, sustainable materials have been used, and more often than not they are more durable than many of the standard countertops you can buy from your local DIY store.

A great example of this are the products produced by Green Building Supply, a company that specializes in creating highly durable and naturally beautiful countertops made from recycled glass, paper, wood and other materials.

A reclaimed and beautifully designed shelf made and sold by Squak Mountain Stone

A reclaimed and beautifully designed shelf made and sold by Squak Mountain Stone

Kitchen Sinks

Although selecting kitchen sinks of the right style is important, there are a number of options which offer sustainable use of materials.

Antique and rustic sinks are very much the “in” thing, so when selecting the design you can pick from a huge variety of refurbished sinks that suit this style. These are generally made from recycled materials, with everything from glass, ceramics and metals being used to craft the perfect environmentally friendly sink for your kitchen. Concrete sinks – from ceramic cement, which creates less carbon emissions than its age-old counterpart – are also becoming increasing popular and are easy to source, available to buy from companies such Just Manufacturing.

These aren’t just specialist manufacturers either, even the big manufacturers are following suit, and wherever you are in the world your local DIY will stock an assortment of eco-friendly cabinets, flooring, appliances, sinks and countertops. It is taking some of them longer to catch up than others, but the industry is moving at a very quick pace and many shops can provide the products that you need.

Cabinets

Green kitchen cabinets, just like countertops, are ones that have been created using sustainable and non environmentally toxic materials. Cabinets made with chipboard are commonly found in modern kitchens, but these are cheaply made and will need to be replaced or fixed (due to warping) on a regular basis. Chipboard is made using an industrial strength solvent that contains formaldehyde. This breaks down over time and is gradually released into the atmosphere, making these products as toxic as they are ineffective.

Low VOC Plywood (which stands for Volatile Organic Compound) provides a cleaner and stronger solution. As the name suggests, these materials release very small amounts of gas compared to chipboard and other woods, and they are also very durable.

Kitchen cabinets can be bought secondhand and refurbished, or they can be crafted by experts who specialize in turning old and recycled materials into new and exciting products.

Flooring

The flooring is one of the most important parts of a kitchen renovation and yet the one that many people overlook. You’re going to spend a lot of time traipsing across it and cleaning it, so you want something that looks good but is also highly durable. Linoleum is made from renewable sources and can provide a good addition to a green kitchen, but it can also be difficult to clean and require a lot of maintenance. It is prone to stains from spillages which can also warp the material, so any spilled liquids need to be mopped up quickly to prevent the linoleum from swelling.

Cork is another good choice, but it needs to be regularly treated to make sure that it stays in tip-top condition throughout the life of your kitchen. If it is not treated every few years then moisture and general wear and tear can destroy it.

floor

Treated and varnished cork floor.

Kitchen Appliances

Once the basics are done then you need to work on filling your kitchen with all of the essentials. All kitchen appliances will use a certain amount of energy, but these days you can choose from a huge number of energy efficient options.

You should always look out for the energy star rating when buying an appliance, this will tell you how much energy it consumes. The better the rating, the less energy it will use. A good rule of thumb to follow when buying new appliances for a green kitchen is that the newer they are, the more energy efficient they are likely to be. Older appliances use a lot of energy and create a hefty carbon footprint, but manufacturers are constantly devising new technologies and new ways to reduce the energy output.

appliances

A guide to the power in your home, courtesy of: http://sustain.indiana.edu/

The options are there for a completely green approach to your kitchen renovation.

Its not just specialist manufacturers supporting the movement, even the big manufacturers are following suit. Although a movement like this takes time to filter through, wherever you are in the world your local DIY will likely stock an assortment of eco-friendly cabinets, flooring, appliances, sinks and countertops.

To a greener, susustainable home!

Post written by Robert Jacob an interior renovation enthusiast who loves to blog about tips and ideas.

An Introduction to Induction Cooktops

October 25th, 2011

The latest in energy efficient stove tops uses induction heating to warm and cook food. Food and liquids are heated significantly faster than with either a traditional electric stove or natural gas. But I’ve always had a few reservations with induction heating — although I’m becoming more convinced of its value all the time. My first reservation is that I hate cleaning a smooth cooktop surface. It seems to take three times as long as a traditional electric surface. We had a smooth cooktop two houses ago, and I cursed every time pasta water or mashed potato water boiled over onto the surface because it would cook right on and take me hours to get off (okay, I might be exaggerating a little). My other reservation is that it’s not gas. I love cooking with gas.

But now I find out that gas is highly inefficient when it comes to heating the pan and food. The majority of the heat is wasted — only 40% of the heat from gas actually makes it to the pan the other 60% ends up heating your kitchen. This is certainly not good in the middle of summer when the last thing you want is to add more heat to your home! With induction cooking 84-94% of the heat being transferred to the food and not to the kitchen, which means your food heats that much faster too. Secondly, cleaning the cooktop isn’t the chore it is with a traditional smooth cooktop because it never gets baked on to the cooktop surface. Because the majority of the heat is transferred directly to the cookware, the surface of the stove never gets more than warm. Therefore, any food that boils over doesn’t cook on to the surface which means cleaning it involves a wipe and that’s about it. It also means it’s a safer surface with young children around.

IKEA has developed a great video on how induction cooking works:

Cookware: Yes, you need to use a certain type of cookware with induction cooktops. Because the induction heating is generated with magnets, only steel cookware will transfer the heat. Amir Girgis, Director of Sales and Marketing at Integrated Appliances explains some of the reservations of induction cooking, as well as the best induction cookware to go with your cooktop.

1. Don’t buy a cheap induction cooktop!!! As we all know you get what you pay for, but with induction, a cheap cooktop means low wattage coils, which will not give you the benefits of the technology…mainly power.

2. People shouldn’t be concerned about the cookware issue. Today, you can find induction compatible cookware almost everywhere…even Walmart. The hum that Deborah refers to really addresses the inefficiency of the cookware. The hum is the audible “waste” of power that the cookware is not absorbing from the induction coil. Usually it is louder at higher power settings. One way to solve this is to research online for cookware with a “Class Induction” rating. This is the standard for induction quality cookware and was created by induction manufacturers in conjunction with cookware manufacturers, so that consumers could get all the power from the coil. It is a European standard which was quickly adopted by the cookware companies because of the success of induction in Europe. For testing purposes, keep a kitchen magnet with you when shopping. If the magnet sticks to the bottom of the pan, then it will work on induction.

3. To make everyone’s life easier…here is my Top “5” list of induction cookware:
Demeyere – from Belgium. Built specifically for induction. Class Induction rated. Viking cookware is made by them.
All-Clad Stainless Collection – the American standard.
Sitram – France
Mauviel – the standard for copper cookware also makes a line called “Inducinox”…good quality.
All Cast Iron cookware…Le Creuset, Lodge..whatever. If it doesn’t have asmooth bottom go and buy a silicon pad to put underneath to prevent it from scratching the glass.

Amir’s top 3 induction cooktop brands for quality and performance are:

 Cost: Induction cooktops aren’t cheap but they are becoming more widely available. You don’t want to skimp on buying a low-end cooktop, as Amir points out above, because then you won’t be satisfied with the result. Another point to note is that induction cooktops run on 220volts, so make sure your kitchen is wired properly, and take any electrical changes into account when calculating your budget.

For more information on Induction cooktops, contact Amir at Integrated Appliances in Toronto.

Induction cooktops are sold at kitchen and department stores across North America.

What to Consider When Purchasing New (Green) Appliances

September 30th, 2011

Buying new appliances can be a pretty overwhelming task, even if you’re just buying a replacement for one that’s finally konked out. And if you’re buying a suite of new appliances as part of an overall kitchen/laundry room renovation, they will represent a significant expense. While there are so many options and levels of quality available that you could do your research for days or weeks before you really know what you want. Consider on top of the myriad of  features available, that you also want to buy the most energy and water-efficient appliances you can afford.

Clara Puskas, Green Kitchen Designer and Chair of the Green Committee for the National Kitchen and Bath Association Ontario Chapter, points out that you have to remember that there are two costs associated with any appliance: its upfront cost (purchase and shipping) and its running and maintenance cost. When you buy a cheap appliance, that is, one that’s cheaply made and not energy efficient, it will have a shorter lifespan, cost more to run, and won’t perform as well as its mid-level and top-level brands and you will end up having to replace the replacement sooner.

So, what are the elements and points to consider when purchasing a new appliance? For Clara, some of the main factors to consider are as much design-related as energy related.

  • Keep refrigerators out of direct sunlight and away from heat generating appliances such as stoves and dishwashers. Excess heat added makes refrigerator motors work harder and use more electricity.
  • In small households in particular, consider getting a two-drawer dishwasher instead of one large dishwasher. No t only is it more efficient, because small loads can be cleaned, but also, in small households, one drawer can store clean dishes and one drawer can store dirty ones, saving cupboard space.
  • Make sure appliances are installed properly to maximize energy efficiency and functionality.
  • When searching for new appliances, consider the two price tags: the purchase price and running and maintenance costs. Appliances have Energuide ratings and average costs per year right on their tags and will have the comparison with the average comsumption for the category.
  • Look at your preferred appliances’ energy efficiency ratings and buy the one with the best rating. (The Office of Energy Efficiency has a webpage that explains how to read an Energuide label. )

When looking for new appliances consider that an Energy Star qualified one has to have the minimum rating — but many more than exceed it:

Dishwashers: Must consume no more than 492kWh/year. (A standard dishwasher consumes 592 kWh/year.)

Refrigerators: Must consume no more than 540 kWh/year. (A standard refrigerator consumes 540 kWh/year.)

Clothes Washers: Must consume no more than 299 kWh/year (front or top loading). (A standard washer consumes 799 kWh/year.)

Clothes Dryers: Must consume no more than 896 kWh/year. (A standard dryer consumes 916 kWh/year.)

Note: Energy Star certification is not available for ranges or freezer chests. Average annual consumption for these items are:

Freezer chests: 368 kWh/year

Ranges: Self-cleaning: 735 kWh/year, Non self-cleaning: 784 kWh/year. I wonder why the non self-cleaning oven uses more electricity than the self-cleaning? Any ideas?

For more information on Energy Star qualified products, visit the Office of Energy Efficiency’s website.

Although these are the Energy Star qualifications, there are vast differences in appliances’ energy consumption depending on the model and the manufacturer. For superior energy efficiency, European appliances have been sipping energy for years. Three of the reasons, I believe, they’ve been slow to catch on in the North American market are: they have been smaller and significantly more expensive, and the availability of qualified repairmen in the event that they break down. While European appliances are now being made for North American kitchens, there is still a price premium.  If you’re interested in purchasing European appliances, check out Euro-Line Appliances in Oakville, ON or Integrated Appliances in Rexdale. The companies deal exclusively in European appliances and also have the repair service in case an appliance needs attention.

Clara Puskas is the owner of XL Kitchen Design Studio, as well as Chair of the Green Committee for the National Kitchen and Bath Association, Ontario Chapter.

To reach Clara:
Email: clara.xlstudio@gmail.com
Phone: 416-820-1605
Website: www.xlkitchens.com

Vicky Sanderson Shares Her Green Christmas Ideas with Us.

December 7th, 2010

Vicky Sanderson is a small appliance expert; she tries out all kinds of appliances and gadgets and tells us whether or not they’re a worthwhile investment. If you follow her blog, On the House, or read her Saturday column in The Star, or catch her on various TV programs such as Canada AM, Steven and Chris, or Breakfast Television, you know that she has great, practical advice not only about what appliances are worthwhile and which ones aren’t, but she also shares decorating tips and always does it with her dry sense of humour!

Like many of us, Vicky is concerned about buying things you don’t need or won’t use just for the sake of buying things, which, of course, can be a real problem around the holiday season. So she’s very kindly consented to sharing some of her green Christmas tips and gift suggestions for our readers. If you’d like to follow Vicky’s blog, here is a link to it. Be sure to read the Iceberg Vodka post, not only will you get a great holiday drink recipe, you’ll also read about “other uses for vodka,” like cleaning windows and jewelry…really.

Green Christmas Tips and Gift Ideas — By Vicky Sanderson

Vicky Sanderson

Those of you trying to live lightly on the planet can be forgiven for feeling slightly conflicted at Christmas. You want to partake in the fun of gift-giving, but there’s also a strong desire not to offer presents that will become part of the waste stream by Easter. One solution is to offer practical gifts that will get lots of use, some of which can even contribute to a greener lifestyle. Here are a few ideas to consider.

There’s been lots of attention given recently to the idea of eating locally, and not wasting food, which should be valued as the precious resource that it is. There’s also been a surge of interest in eating less meat and more grains and vegetables. For some, juicing has become part of that switch.

Breville Juicer

Both veteran and neophyte juicers will appreciate Breville’s new Juice Fountain Plus  www.breville.ca , because it will help them turn such locally-grown produce as beets, cucumber, apples, celery, and carrots into healthful juices that can contribute to a diet that’s respectful of the earth’s seasons and cycles.

At about $180, this easy-to-clean juicer is a great addition to the eco-conscious kitchen.  Another way it can help; instead of throwing out the pulp from, for example, apples, add it to muffin recipes to bump up the fibre content. And use the leftover shreddings from carrots and other veg for additive-free stocks or healthy salads.

I’m convinced that one of the reasons we’ve become a throw-away society is that we no longer understand how stuff works, or how to fix it. So when the car/bike/barbeque goes on the fritz, we’re all too likely to simply think it’s time to buy a new one. You can help reverse that trend by making a commitment to learning how to repair, rather than replace, things that break.

Stanley Mechanic Kit

One way to start? Pledge to make 2011 the year you and your family learn how to do simple car and bike repairs and maintenance.  That will be easier if someone gets a Stanley FatMax Mechanics Tool Set www.stanleytools.com for Christmas. The tools in this 142-piece socket set are made from forged chrome. That means they’re both rust and corrosion resistant. Beginner mechanics will find the markings are easy to read because they’re laser-etched on each of the tools, which are designed to deliver good torque with less slippage.  Best of all, while the set normally sells for about $200, it’s on sale now at Canadian Tire www.CanadianTire.ca for $99.

Boulclair Reindeer

While it’s always fun to decorate the home for the holidays, you needn’t go out and re-invent the wheel every year. If you want to switch up your holiday colour scheme, refresh old ornaments by giving them a coat of spray paint. Go for an unexpected colour combination, such as aqua and silver, or black and fuchsia, which are very trendy this year. Then fill in your holiday look with one or two small accessories from a stylish but affordable retailer such as Bouclair www.bouclair.ca, whose offering this year includes adorable reindeer with feathery ruffs that come in several shades, including fuchsia and aqua, and cost just $7 each.  If there’s a decorista on your shopping list, consider presenting her with a great –looking lamp from Bouclair. I love the table lamps with clear acrylic bases and linen-like shades that start at about $32. Make the gift greener by adding one of Philips’ new LED bulbs, which last up to 25,000 hours — or as much as 25 times longer — than traditional incandescent bulbs. While you’re at it, treat yourself to something from this line, which includes everything from the traditionally-shaped bulb, to indoor floods — for recessed and track lighting — to decorative candles and vanity globes.

And here’s hoping for a green Christmas — with lots of snow, of course!

NatureMill — Giving you Fresh Compost in Two Weeks

June 2nd, 2010

NatureMill Composters

A friend of mine is redoing her kitchen and instead of installing an in-sink garbage disposal, she decided to use the NatureMill composter to help her dispose of food waste. I hadn’t heard of the NatureMill but it sounded interesting so I contacted the company to ask them a few questions about it and whether there were any dealers in Canada. They asked if they could send me one to try out.

NatureMill with compost

NatureMill with compost

Being able to test out the NatureMill was a great opportunity, and while I was a little skeptical given my lack of success with traditional composting in the past, the machine produces wonderful fresh compost without a lot of work. I have been testing the NatureMill Pro XE for about three weeks. The Pro XE is the heavy duty version of the NatureMill Plus XE. It accepts more waste, has a foot pedal so you don’t need to fiddle with the lid while scraping plates into it, it has a “vacation setting” that powers it down for when you’re away, a “heavy duty” setting that you can use when you’re adding more waste than usual, and a lifetime filter.

How to use: Adding food to the composter isn’t difficult but it takes some effort. All pieces should be no more than 4″ in length and anything fibrous, like banana skins should be even small for faster breaking down. While the system accepts meat and fish, it doesn’t accept bones, hard fruit pits and stones or corn cobs.

Add the food waste to the composter in a specific ratio of five parts “green” waste (fruit and veggie waste) to one part “brown” waste. Brown is defined as carbohydrates, such as pasta, bread, coffee grounds, pet waste and biodegradable litter, as well as sawdust and sawdust pellets (a box arrives with your system). You also need to add some baking soda to help control the acidity and smell.

When the upper bin is almost full and the food is unrecognizeable brown mush it’s ready to be transferred to the tray in the bottom of the bin. There you have fresh compost ready for use on your outdoor plants. For indoor use, it needs to be cured for several weeks to several months.

NatureMill Compost

NatureMill Compost

 The Pros:

The NatureMill is an accelerated composter. It keeps the temperature even and every four hours two mixers churn the contents to make sure they’re properly mixed and the compost is ready in about two weeks.

It is suitable to keep outdoors as it is made of styrofoam, which also acts as a bit of an insulator in the winter. While the system will work in the winter, because of the outdoor cold, waste will take slightly longer to break down. It can also be kept indoors.

It uses very little electricity, about 5 kwh of electricity/month, has a charcoal air filter to filter out decomposing waste smell, and a 1 to 3 year warranty depending on the model, while producing a constant supply of compost for your garden.

It produces fresh compost every two weeks which is incredibly powerful (not odour-wise, but garden-wise). FRESH compost, as opposed to “cured” compost, cannot be mixed in with soil. It is so strong that it only needs to be spread in a thin layer on top of the soil for it to be effective. In fact, one full container of compost will cover up to 10-40 square feet, and is only needed as an additive about once to four times per year. This leads me to a few “cons.”

The Cons:

Volume: What the heck am I supposed to do with all this compost? In the house we live in now, we have no backyard to speak of. Once I’ve used one bin full of compost (that our family easily produces in two weeks), I have to come up with other uses for this compost — in theory, 20-25 bins per year. They suggest that you lay it out and cure it which can take several months, before it is ready to use as a mixer with soil. We don’t have the space to do that and I doubt any apartment dwellers would either. I suppose if you have a community garden or a garden club or avid gardening neighbours, they would be more than happy to take it, but it might involve some reasearch.

The sound: the “gentle whirring and clicking sounds” that the composter make are fairly significant, even if they are only every four hours. It also maintains a constant light hum which you do get used to. To be honest, we have enough noise in the kitchen as it is homework central, computer central and a very noisy kitchen fan.  I am happy with it outside my back door, or if I kept it indoors I’d put it in the basement.

The smell: It takes a few kicks at the can to get the balance of green and brown right, along with baking soda, so for the first few days the smell was significant whenever we opened the lid to add something. However, once I figured out the balance of sawdust pellets and baking soda to green, the smell subsided. Another note is that we have a family of racoons living in our backyard, and I was sure that they’d smell it and plunder the NatureMill over night, but they have yet to notice it — another sign that we must be doing something right.

Sawdust Pellets:If you can’t supply enough “brown” compost, NatureMill has sawdust pellets, but they will only ship them within the US. If you live outside the US, they suggest you find them at your local hardware store.

Green bin programs: Here in Toronto, we have a green bin program in which 510,000 homes participate and is currenly being rolled out to apartments and condos . The green bin program takes our “green” waste (fruit, veggies, etc.) and  “brown” waste (leaves, grass clippings, other food leftovers,  pet waste and diapers) and turns it into electricity and compost. If you have access to a green bin program, it is the best system to use for disposing of your food and pet waste.  It diverts approximately 30% of all waste from landfill as well preventing methane gas production, which is even a more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide.

But not all communities have access to a green bin program, and given that 30% of all waste is food waste, the Nature Mill can put a significant dent into waste diversion.

Overall: If you’re an avid gardener and want to control what’s going in to your compost, or if you use enough compost in a year that you can absorb the amount you generate, this really is a top quality system. Also, if you are concerned about how much food and pet waste goes into landfill, NatureMill provides an excellent way to help you divert it from landfill. Finally, my landscaper was very interested in the NatureMill because it would allow her to cure her own compost to use to promote seed growth indoors in the winter.

 

For more information on NatureMill, visit their website: http://naturemill.com/plus.html

Dealers: For a list of dealers see their website. If you live outside the US you can buy direct from NatureMill. email them at international@naturemill.com

Cost: the NatureMill Plus XE is $299US

The NatureMill Pro XE is $399US.

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