The current version of our kitchen in our new-to-us 1928 house has a Band-Aid solution going on — you can tell that they were going to get to the kitchen eventually, but they ran out of time, money or patience (renovations will do that to you). They put nice handles and hinges on the original cupboards and bought top of the line appliances. Somewhere along the way, someone ripped up the original linoleum flooring to expose and stain the beautiful original pine sub-floor. But they left the pantry in, which takes up about a third of the kitchen. There is also a significant functional problem, if you’re a cook like I am, which is that the kitchen has zero counter space, so prep work is a challenge at best. I often use the stove as a counter — not a particularly safe idea!
In the grand scheme of things, I suppose that not renovating is likely the greenest thing I can do. It would create no waste and use no new materials. It would also mean that I’d have to put up with a sub-standard set-up. Besides, renovating the kitchen means I will be employing local trades to make cabinets, refinish the floor, do the electrical and plumbing work, etc. We are putting money into the local economy and improving the value of our home (I can hear my husband’s eyes rolling).
Here are the areas I’m addressing:
1. Footprint and design: As I’ve mentioned in numerous posts, design is the most important part of any successful renovation. A thoughtful design will produce a functional space that will last well into the future. I spent a lot of time with my kitchen designer, making sure the design was what we needed. Surprisingly, the final design kept the layout similar to what it currently is, except that we added significant counter space by putting in an island, and more natural light by taking down the pantry and exposing a window. However, the sink, stove and fridge will all remain within a few feet of their current locations, which also keeps construction costs down too.
2. Waste generation (both during the renovation and once the kitchen is completed): My goal is to avoid landfill wherever possible. That involves recycling what can’t be reused, and finding homes for what can be reused.
3. Material Selection other than cabinets: I am looking to use materials that are as locally made as possible, from companies that have sustainability practices in place. My goal is to support local companies to support the local economy and keep transportation miles low. But I will also be choosing materials that have a significant amount of recycled material in them and/or can be recycled at end of life. All paints, sealants and adhesives will be low or zero VOC, and water and/or plant-based where possible.
4. Cabinet selection: admittedly, this is not easy. There are so many pros and cons to choosing the right type of kitchen cabinets it’s not even funny. Do you go with No Urea Formaldehyde Added Medium Density Fibreboard (NAUF MDF), local FSC (Forestry Stewardship Council Certified) solid wood, local FSC Plywood or engineered wood, wood alternatives such as wheat board, soy board or sugarcane board? What about metal? Or some combination thereof. You see what I mean? There are no real measuring sticks to choose something that is “better” than the next.
5. Lighting: The kitchen is probably the one area I can justify the expense of LED lighting. In the winter the lights are on all the time, especially when it also doubles as my office. All undermount lighting will be LED strips, and I will replace the overhead 50W halogen potlights with equivalent LED lights. To give you an example of the difference, I installed 8 LED potlights in the living room (formerly no overhead lighting at all). Each light uses 4 Watts of electricity — so 32 Watts altogether. If I had used halogen, it would have been 400 Watts, and the bulbs would have needed constant enough replacement.
6. Indoor Air Quality: this is an area to consider both during construction and after completion. We will get an overhead vent as I haven’t been impressed with the in-stove vent that came with the stove. For one thing, it sucks the gas flame towards it at the back of the stove, so I’m sure we’re even less efficient than a gas stove is already (only 40% of the energy produced by a gas stove ends up cooking the food). For another, it doesn’t even seem to capture the front burners. I should change out the gas stove as well, but I can’t get rid of such a good quality (Thermador) appliance. I will have to wait for it to wear out. I’ve also requested low and zero VOC adhesives and paints.
So, there you go, my adventure for the next….month (?). That’s wishful thinking, isn’t it?
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