Archive for the ‘Cabinetry’ category

How to Tell if You’re Working With A Green Kitchen Designer

June 15th, 2011

Kitchen renovations tend to be a first priority when it comes to renovating older homes. There are many reasons for this including colour, design, material use (think terracotta tile flooring from the 80s), and most importantly, functionality. Kitchens are also a great place to start a more eco-friendly renovation. There are more and more green options everyday, and they’re easier to find from efficient appliances to better flooring choices to no-added urea formaldehyde cabinetry.

I was wondering about what kind of things you should look for when you’re searching for a green kitchen designer so I contacted Clara Puskas. Clara knows a thing or two (and more) about green kitchen design. She’s the Chair of the Green Committee for the National Kitchen and Bath Association, as well as an experienced green kitchen designer and has won numerous awards for green kitchen design. So, needless to say, she knows what it takes to design a more eco-friendly kitchen than the norm.

2011 Winner: Small, Green Kitchen

I asked Clara, “What are some of the points that distinguish a green kitchen designer from a regular kitchen designer?” and she responded:

A green kitchen designer will be able to:

  • provide more space without necessarily changing the square footage of the home,
  • focus on natural and task lighting, water and energy saving,
  • work with rapidly renewable/ fsc certified/ zero VOC/ environmentally preferable products, but reuse if possible (try avoidng landfill),
  • design for smart storage, recycling and use,
  • design to use less materials/more open shelves etc, clean look, easy maintenance is priority in green design and product choices,
  • [develop a] design [that] should adapt easily so no major changes/replacements should be needed for 50 years,
  • appliances energy star and as needed depending on home/ family size, cooking style,
  • proper venting, air quality, insulation, windows, doors not only for natural light but to connect with outdoors, decorate with fruits, vegetables, plant to create shade during summer, or use blinds, green roofs…d.epending on how far the client can/willing to go.

The more time and effort you put into the design, the better will be your end-result. Keep these points in mind when searching for green kitchen designers.

Then I asked Clara about how she approaches a new design for her clients.

I start interviewing my clients in their home so I can see the space, the position of the home on the lot, windows, door locations, can we work within the same footprint? Finding out what they like and dislike in their present kitchen, budget vs. extent of reno- wish list, how they use adjacent dining room, are key information. Checking, and upgrading the existing electrical, plumbing, insulation is the perfect time when renovating the kitchen. I also recommend if feasible enlarging , upgrading windows  if there is a nice view and doesn’t compromise storage, function within the same footprint. This helps connect with outdoors, enjoy the four seasons, helps fresh air circulation, and with natural light received that could result in energy savings. When no windows are available,  skylights, solar tubes are wonderful alternatives to consider .  Energy efficient lighting fixtures, dimmers, multiple switches will also promote energy savings. Designing for proper ventilation of gases and moisture is priority for a healthy kitchen.  Also very important how many are in the family, how old they are, how they use the kitchen, do they cook together, further more do they entertain in the kitchen, are the guests involved in preparation of food, or not, in that case the design should keep guests out of the working triangle. All these information  effects fixture, appliance choices beyond being energy star rated. How they shop and therefore store, effects appliance, storage, recycling considerations . I recommend environmentally favorable products that conserve energy, water, improve air quality, rapidly renewable,  long lasting and low maintenance, with consideration of my clients’ height, age,  perhaps physical limitations that all  effects design  choice for mechanism, height of counter tops, appliances, storage under and above. I aim to optimize the existing space’s potential, by using environmentally friendly products that minimize water and energy consumption. and with all these  create safe, functional, healthy and beautiful rooms that meet my clients need and dreams.

As you can see by the detail of Clara’s questions to her clients, there is a lot to take into consideration when designing a new kitchen. Making it a green kitchen adds an additional layer of complexity because it goes well beyond material use — it’s more than just using bamboo as a floor. It’s about keeping the same home footprint, if possible or realistic, using less, not more, of everything which means simpler cabinets with less millwork. Reusing anything that’s possible, etc., bringing in natural light, therefore thinking about smart, efficient window choices….

Chef's kitchen with stainless steel counters, gas appliances, open cabinetry

Chef's Kitchen. Winner in Large Kitchen Category, sustainable design

Finding a green kitchen designer. There are kitchen companies that specialize in green kitchens. Like Clara, designers with a dedication to being environmentally conscious will have received a certain amount of training above and beyond their design degrees, so it’s best to ask them what sort of training they have. Look for training and completed certificates in sustainable kitchen design, lighting, etc., from resource centres such as the American Institute for Architects, and Interior Design schools and organizations. They could also be LEED qualified, (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Accredited Professional.) Regarding education, the National Kitchen and Bath Association offers a one-day Green Kitchen Design workshop for its members.

For more information regarding Clara’s services, visit her website, XL Kitchen Studio

All Photos courtesy of Clara Puskas, Chair, Green Committee, National Kitchen and Bath Association.

Nu Green — No Urea Formaldehyde added particleboard by Uniboard

May 20th, 2010

Urea formaldehyde is a naturally occuring substance in our environment and cannot be avoided. It is, however, also added to many household products as a preservative, from clothing to furniture.  Some studies have linked  urea formaldehyde to certain forms of cancer in lab animals and humans, and as such, different countries allow for different exposure levels to the chemical. In the United States, the EPA notes that an acceptable  indoor air quality level is 0.1ppm (parts per million). Health Canada notes that a study was undertaken in PEI and Ottawa measuring levels of formaldehyde in the home and it was found that levels vary between 3 and 81 parts per billion, much lower than what the USEPA considers an acceptable level. It also notes that the link between specific forms of cancer and formaldehyde occurs only with exposure at very high levels for prolonged periods of time. People who work in certain industries (such as wood milling, textile preparation and undertaking) are more prone to the negative risks of formaldehyde than the regular population.

It can however, contribute to very poor indoor air quality, and certainly did so during the the 1970s and 80s when it was used as foam insulation (also know as UFFI — ureaformaldehyde foam insulation). People who are sensitive to urea formaldehyde can have symptoms such as irritated eyes and nose, sore throat, asthma, migraines and/or nausea.

Urea formaldehyde is used as a resin to bind wood fibres to produce particleboard and plywoods. Most homes today are filled with particleboard products from melamine covered shelving to bookshelves to closet inserts to kitchen cupboards. One thing to keep in mind — if the particleboard is completely sealed it will emit very low levels of formaldehyde, so if you do have some melamine cabinetry, bookshelves or furniture, check to see if all sides are sealed. While regular sealants such as oil paint and polyeurathane will effectively seal exposed areas, these products also contribute to poor indoor air quality. AFM Safecoat Safe Seal provides an effective alternate sealant with very limited VOC exposure.

If you’re planning on renovating your kitchen, or having some cabinets built, there are alternatives available to using standard particleboard. The problem has always been knowing what they are and where to find them.

NuGreen is a “no ureaformaldehye added” particleboard manufactured by UniBoard out of Quebec. Not only does this product not contain any added formaldehyde, but also, the wood fibres used are 100% recycled or recovered. NuGreen is also available in white melamine.

Cost: I spoke with Adam Dardis at Commonwealth Plywood and he quoted me the following prices for Nu Green particleboard (note these prices are valid as of May 2010. Prices will vary over time):

1/2″x4’x8′ $28.16 per board for up to 10 boards. There is a discount for ordering more boards.

Other particleboard sizes: 3/4″x4’x8′, $33.28/board; 1″x4’x8′ is $44/board.

Where to buy in the GTA (for distributors outside the GTA see Uniboard’s list of distributors):

25 Dansk Court
Rexdale, ON
M9W 5N6
tel.: (416) 675-3266 or toll free 1 (800) 268-6965
fax: (416) 675-3482

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The Healthy Home at Downsview Park: Kitchen

March 29th, 2010

I wrote a post about the Healthy Home a few days ago. But really, there’s SO MUCH information on the home to cover that I couldn’t capture it all in one post (well, I could, but your eyes would glaze over after awhile).

To recap, the Healthy Home is an example of how using smarter materials doesn’t have to look different. All of the products used in this home are easily obtainable in Toronto. In fact, what was surprising to me was how many products were supplied by Sears. I’ll be honest — I have never thought of Sears as a supplier of green materials — shows you what I know.

I thought for this post I’d focus on the kitchen, because, well, it’s my blog, and I love the kitchen! (I’m in one for most of the day — it feels like anyway — so functional and pretty kitchens are important to me).

A few of the features of the Healthy Home’s kitchen:

Sink area

Kitchen sink -- height modified

Cabinets were manufactured by Heritage Finishes: Cabinets are made from low-VOC Composite wood board (Uniboard NuGreen low VOC wood composite panels), Richelieu Hardware supplied Greenguard veneers, and Allstyle cabinet doors supplied low-VOC cabinet doors. There is very little, if any, “off-gassing” of harmful chemicals from these cabinets. Low-VOC glues, adhesives and paints were also used in the making of these cabinets.

(Note: Greenguard is a third party certification organization that focuses on helping companies improve the indoor air quality of their products.)

CeasarStone Quartz Counter tops

Countertops: Provided by Dixie Marble and Granite. CaesarStone is made with up to

93% quartz and a polymer resin. Quartz is the second hardest substance and is excellent for kitchens. The surface is non-porous, durable, won’t scratch or stain.

Backsplash: Provided by Antica Tile and Stone. Onix Moonglass in Pearl. Mosaic tiles are made from 98% recycled glass.

Wall paint: provided by Homestead House, which is a local Toronto company, and the only Canadian company to produce a milk paint. The paint has a higher pigment concentration for fuller colour intensity, and is zero VOC.

Led-Linear Chandalier

Led-Linear Chandalier

Lighting: The kitchen chandalier is provided by Led-Linear, and uses linear LED lighting strips in a creative way for a central light. Undermount lighting for kitchen cabinetry was provided by Hafefle.

Appliances all supplied by Sears:

Wall Oven by Sears

  • Refigerator: Kenmore Elite. Energy Star. Annual energy cost: $47. Internal icemaker, external water dispenser.
  • Dishwasher: Kenmore Elite. Energy Star. Saves up to 42% water and 31% energy cost. Includes HE function, automatically measuring time water and energy for maximum efficiency. Annual energy cost: $30.
  • Cooktop: Kenmore Elite Induction Cooktop: cooks in half the time of gas or electric cooktops. Annual electricity cost of $23.
  • Wall oven: Kenmore Elite Self-Cleaning oven. Annual electricity costs $24.
  • Water filtration system: Kenmore MD Central Water filtration system. The system filters chlorine and other unpleasant tasting odours from water. Filter never needs changing as it’s self-cleaning.

Sears Self Cleaning central water filter

The Healthy Home is on display at Downsview Park until December, 2011. Open to the public, Monday-Friday 6-9pm, Saturday and Sunday 12-3pm.

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Greentea Design: kitchen cabinetry made from reclaimed wood

March 12th, 2010
Loft Kitchen by Greentea Design

Loft Kitchen by Greentea Design

I had read about Greentea Design a few years ago when an American supermodel cum eco-fashionista was espousing the virtues of the company. Wow, I thoughtlooking at the pictures, that’s pretty beautiful stuff! Imagine my delight when I saw that the company is based right here in Toronto. Hooray! Fieldtrip! (much more fun than staring at a computer all day).

I dropped by the fantastic warehouse space where Greentea resides on Carlaw, and Dale Storer took time out of his schedule to talk to me about his kitchen cabinetry business.

The kitchen and furniture making side of things grew out of Dale’s Asian antique import business. All the kitchen cabinetry is manufactured in Korea and shipped back here. “So, could you please enlighten me as to why your kitchen cabinets are considered ‘green?'” I asked him, staring at the most exquisite and intricate kitchen cupboards I have ever seen.

One of the designers had already told me that the kitchen cabinets are made from two kinds of wood (gingko or elm) and six different stains. Unlike Dutch elm disease which wiped out the majority of the elm trees here in Toronto in the 1970s, the Chinese elms weren’t affected. At any rate it wouldn’t have mattered because as it turns out, not a single tree is felled in the manufacture of these cabinets. All the wood used is salvaged from Korean homes or buildings that are about to be torn down. This waste wood would either be burned or end up in landfill, so it gets a second life as it’s transformed into beautiful cabinetry or furniture. Further, because it’s already been “seasoned” it is heavy, hard and very durable.

I know what you’re thinking: “But it’s not sourced locally. It all comes from Asia. How green is that?” And I’d say that you have a point. But the furniture is made with minimal waste and is less energy intensive because the milling has already been done. Further, to minimize packing waste, each cabinet is wrapped in packing blankets that the new owner keeps and can resuse. There is, of course a transportation carbon footprint, and it has recently been revealed by a study by the United Nations Environment Programme that shipping by boat isn’t as energy efficient as originally thought.

The one area Dale said they’re working on is minimizing the VOC (volatile organic compound) output, or off-gassing of chemicals, from the stains and adhesives used in the cabinetry manufacturing. “We’re not quite there yet, but we’re getting there.”

Chalet Chic

The kitchen cabinets themselves are works of art and probably unlike anything you’ve ever seen. While they have a decidedly Asian influence to them, they would fit in with North American homes, particularly those homes where a dark, rich stained wood would complement decor. One of the more intriguing and eye-catching aspects of the cabinets is the number of small compartments and drawers as well as the latticed or decorative woodwork on the cabinet doors. There is also the ability to design the entire kitchen around freestanding units, which means that pieces could, theoretically be moved into other rooms or out of the house completely if you have to move. You can watch a great video about a freestanding kitchen remodel here.

Greentea design provides an excellent interactive website, complete with the various cabinet sizes (stock or custom are available), kitchen layout opportunities and pricing so you can figure out just how much your cabinetry will cost. In fact, Dale told me that 60% of Greentea’s business comes from the US as telephone or internet orders. “Canadians are more hesitant about ordering straight off a website without having seen live examples of something first. We don’t have the same catalogue habits that Americans do.” I have to admit, I too am a bit of a touchy, feely kind of person and fit in to that category.

Combining this cabinetry with countertops made of IceStone or PaperStone, and perhaps a reclaimed wood floor or cork floor and some Energy Star appliances, would produce one eye-catching, timeless and green kitchen, that proving yet again that “green” doesn’t have to conjure up visions of “hippy treehuggers” — as my 13 year old son likes to refer to me.

Greentea Design: 388 Carlaw Ave., Suite 200, Toronto ON, M4M 2T4

phone: 416-462-1459.


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The Zero Point Eco Home Store

February 5th, 2010
The Zero Point

The Zero Point

Today I decided to visit The Zero Point — a store that sells a lot of different merchandise for personal and home needs. There are two sections to the store — the front holds everyday products such as cleaning supplies, baby and children’s clothes, some reuseable BPA free #5 plastic recycled and recyclable plastic plates and cups, while the back of the store is dedicated to building supplies. The different areas of focus might seem a little unusual until you realize that everything in the store is easier on the environment than its traditional counterpart (I’d say “green” or “eco-friendly” but I think we’re all getting a little numb to those terms). And many of the products are generally hard to find.

Being an eco-building material enthusiast, I went right past the olive oils, stainless steel containers, natural soaps and natural cleaning supplies and headed straight for the flooring and countertop section. The great thing about this store is that you can do a lot of your green building shopping in one place. Below is a brief description of some of the products this store carries.

Flooring: The Zero Point carries a line of flooring products called Eco-timber. Eco Timber was one of the first flooring companies to be FSC-certified, way back in 1993. All of its wood comes from managed forests in North America, while its bamboo comes from one plantation and isn’t harvested until it is 5-7 years old — which means it is much more durable than many bamboo flooring products on the market.

Reclaimed Barnboard Flooring

Reclaimed Barnboard Flooring

Another flooring product is reclaimed hardwood flooring sourced from old barns and other buildings no longer in use in Ontario. This is beautiful, rustic looking flooring available in Antique Hemlock and Elm, in different stains (price: $8.75/square foot).

Countertops: IceStone is a composite of 80% post-consumer glass and 20% concrete. It comes in 29 different colours and is stunning to look at.

PaperStone looks like a laminate countertop but it’s actually made of compressed paper. It’s durable and longlasting and comes in several different colours.

Yolo Colorhouse Paint

Yolo Colorhouse Paint

American Clay products

American Clay products

Paints and finishes: American Clay products are a natural plaster that is tinted into tranquil pastel colours. Because clay is derived from a natural mineral it allows your walls to breathe, and is a natural moisture inhibitor. There are no VOCs emitted from clay, and the air in rooms with this plaster is cleaner than in painted rooms. This product is very popular for babies’ rooms and playrooms (primer: $80 per gallon, $295 per 5 gallons; $80-$160 per 50lb bag — coverage approximately 200 square feet).

Yolo Colourhouse paint is a high quality, low odour acrylic paint with  no harmful chemicals and no added solvents. Yolo Colorhouse paint is zero VOC, even when colour pigments are added.  (1 quart: $21.06, 1 gallon: $64.14).

LED lighting: While not very popular yet, LED lighting offers a lot of advantages to CFLs: longer lifespan, no added mercury, and even lower wattage while producing stronger light than CFLs. While the cost of each bulb isn’t cheap, the fact that their lifespan is 40,000 to 100,000 hours. That’s a long time! There are bulbs available to replace 60Watt incandescent, 100 Watt spot lights, 75 Watt spot lights and 50 Watt halogen lights. I plan on replacing my 50 Watt halogen lights one bulb at a time, as they burn out.

Kitchen cabinetry: The Zero Point will also arrange for cabinetry quotes from a local kitchen company that works with formaldehyde free, FSC certified MDF board.

Furniture: Around the store are beautiful pieces of hand-painted wooden furniture that is available for sale. The pieces are made from local reclaimed wood.

Please note The Zero Point appears to be closed — March 1, 2016


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