Kitchen renovation

View of kitchen, cabinetry, lighting, maple hardwood flooring

Well, five months after my deadline, my kitchen is finished. I’ve promised my friend Nancy Peterson, CEO of, that I will write a post for her called “Why I will never be my own general contractor again”. Let’s just say it was an eye opening experience. This post, however, is not about the mistakes I made (and there were plenty!), it’s about whether or not I achieved my green kitchen goals.

I would say that I accomplished some green goals but failed miserably in others, in particular with indoor air quality. For many of you, this will be the one area where you will probably not want to compromise. I, on the other hand, seem to be willing to sacrifice mine and my family’s health for the sake of aesthetics, and in some cases, durability.

To recap, a green renovation uses a minimal amount of resources and materials that are repurposed or renewable, have low-embodied energy, can be recycled or repurposed at end of life, are as local as possible and don’t cost the earth, literally. It aims at creating a space with high indoor air quality, that is functional, easy to use and low-maintenance and very durable.

Design: I worked with the designer to maximize space in the 10×16′ room. Most weeknights we eat around the island, which is one reason I didn’t want the sink relocated there. The kitchen is compact, with all the pots, pans and bowls I use on a regular basis easily accessible. We maximized the use of the island, using it for storage of cookbooks and table gear (placemats and napkins) on the outside, and microwave and beverage fridge on the inside (facing the stove). It is the most functional kitchen I’ve ever worked in. We also put a TV in it, the first time we’ve had one in the kitchen, and it helps get through dishwashing duty a little easier.

"Outside" view of kitchen island

“Outside” view of kitchen island

Materials: I sourced as many materials locally as I could. Here is a list of what I used. I’ve marked myself on a scale out of ten for each area how successful I felt I was at achieving “green” goals:

  • Flooring: Sourcing local wood for the floor was embarrassingly simple. I called five or six flooring stores to ask if they carried Quebec maple hardwood flooring and they all paused, surprised I would ask such a dumb question. “But of course we do. What plank width and grade would you like?” was the usual answer. I used maple because that’s what was there before and I liked it. Maple and birch are a little less expensive than oak, which is the most popular floor wood right now, and there is a misconception that they are difficult to stain because their grains are so tight, but the fellow who finished our floors said both maple and birch are a great hardwood for floors and stain just fine. (Note: as mentioned in an earlier kitchen post, we tried to save the original floor, but it was too far gone by the time we ripped everything up.). Score: 6/10
  • Cabinetry, LED lighting, Cambria Quartz counter top

    Cabinetry, LED lighting, Cambria Quartz counter top

  • Cabinetry: We used low VOC, partial FSC plywood made in Eastern Quebec for the boxes and local Quebec maple for the cabinet doors. Regarding indoor air quality, all the low-VOC plywood was negated by the highly stinky and toxic lacquer I ended up using for the final finish. Our experiments with Allback linseed oil paint were unsuccessful: dry time per coat was a minimum of 24 hours, and the cabinet maker told me it took him six coats to achieve an opaque layer. Further, we couldn’t achieve the colours I wanted for the cabinets. Colours are a variation of Sarah Richardson for Para Paints. Perimeter cabinets: SR43 Shoreline (P2718-04) Island: SR73 Herringbone (P5244-52D). Score: 7/10
  • Counter tops: Cambria quartz, Edinburough design, 1.25″ thick. This is one of the best decisions we made. I was debating between all the different quartz manufacturers out there, two are less expensive but produced overseas, and three were higher end and produced in North America. I went with Cambria because they mine their quartz in Ontario, Quebec and the US, and manufacture in the US and the quartz is apparently very high quality (at least that’s what all the salespeople and installers told me). All I know is that I’m really happy with the end result. It’s low maintenance, never needs sealing and you use soap and water to clean it. Score: 7/10
  • Sink and Faucet: Novanni, made in Coldstream, Ontario. Identical to the one I had in my last house in Toronto, so I knew it was right for me. Faucet, not so much. I ordered a Rubi Basilico because I liked the look. When I was speaking with the vendor I commented on how inexpensive it was and would it hold up. He told me it was one of their most popular lines and they’d never had any problems with it. Well I don’t like it. The cartridge sticks when you turn it on so you either get nothing or a full force stream, and the handle is constantly coming loose and needs tightening. The flow is aerated, so it saves water, but I think I will order a Tapmaster foot control switch which will solve all my problems. Score: 7/10
  • Novanni Sink, Rubi Faucet

    Novanni Sink, Rubi Faucet

  • Lighting: If you spend as much time in the kitchen as I do, you want to avoid eye strain, and there’s nothing like cheap lighting or not enough of it to contribute to it. Fortunately, despite my agonizing over lighting, I couldn’t be happier with my choice of the LED 4″ potlights (2700K colour temperature) from Halo. The amount of light they give off is plenty, so much so that I never have to put them at full power (they are fully dimmable). Further, the distributor tried to convince me that “2700K is just as good as 3000K” but for me, it isn’t. I wanted to replicate the colour temperature of  50W halogen potlights, which is 2700K. Note: “colour temperature” refers to how cool or warm lighting is. There is a good explanation of the variations of colour temperature on the Home Depot website. Score: 9/10
  • Energy Efficiency: The kitchen has ten LED potlights of 10 Watts each, which I usually only have on at about 80% strength. That means I’m only drawing 80 Watts of power for all the lights. The undermount lights and pendant lights are also LED (except for the bird lamp over the sink which uses three 20W bulbs, but it’s rarely on). I marvel at how little electricity the lights draw. Ten halogens at 50W each would have drawn 500 Watts and needed to be replaced every few months. However, before I congratulate myself on the low wattage of the lights, we also installed a TV and bar fridge, and kept the 15 year old Amana fridge and Bosch dishwasher. Our TV and beverage fridge are frivolous “nice to haves”. A strict green kitchen would forgo both of them. If I had a Power Cost Monitor I could see how much electricity the fridge and dishwasher are drawing, suffice it to say, new ones would definitely be more efficient! Score: 5/10
  • View of "inside" side of island. Beverage fridge and microwave.

    View of “inside” side of island. Beverage fridge and microwave.

  • Indoor air quality: As mentioned in the section on cabinetry, I used a toxic lacquer for the kitchen cabinets. They will likely be off-gassing for years. The floor stain was a water-based ultra-low VOC stain from BONA, covered by a smelly and off-gassing but hard wearing polyurethane protective coat. Finally, we kept the high quality 15 year old Thermador gas stove because it is in excellent shape, but, let’s face it, if you’ve read Clara’s post on indoor air quality in the kitchen, I probably should have replaced the stove with an induction stove. We did install one of the best venting hoods on the market, a Vent-a-Hood, and it vents to the outside, but it’s not perfect. On the other hand, a professional hood would have been overkill as replacement air can be a problem if the vent is too powerful for the spaceScore: 2/10
  • Stove, vent, cabinetry

    Stove, vent, cabinetry

  • Carpentry materials: There were minimal adhesives and caulk used, but they were standard, drywall was by CertainTeed but I looked up recycled content and in Montreal it’s only 5% (in Toronto it’s 95%. The reason for the big difference is whether or not the manufacturing facility has access to recycled material). Framing wood was not FSC. All off-cuts and scraps I took to the eco-center for recycling. Score: 0/10

Total score: 43/80 or 56%. 

Cost breakdown: Below I’ve listed in percentages of our costs. We did nothing elaborate or out of the ordinary, we reused our appliances because they were in good shape. Labour costs were more than I had anticipated, but every time you open up a wall you have to be prepared for some unanticipated expenses. The LED lights were also more expensive than halogen, but with lower running costs and never (supposedly) having to replace the bulbs, I’m content with the upfront costs. Naturally cabinets and counter tops were expensive, but I had anticipated that. The amount of detail and work that goes into cabinetmaking is incredible and as my civil-engineer brother in-law pointed out, “the island touches the ground in nine places, that’s not an easy thing to accomplish, especially in an older home with an uneven floor.”

Labour (48% of total cost):

  • Design
  • Demolition
  • Rough carpentry
  • plumbing
  • electrical
  • masonry
  • floor finishing
  • tile installation

Materials (52% of total cost):

  • Flooring
  • Cabinetry (includes installation)
  • Counter tops (includes installation)
  • Sink and Faucet
  • Lighting
  • Drywall, carpentry wood, supplies
  • Paint, caulk, etc.
  • Appliances and Furniture

Lessons learned:

First and foremost, unless you can do 80% of the job yourself, hire a general contractor. Believe me, it’s worth it. Secondly, when sourcing materials, be proactive, and if your contractor doesn’t use greener materials, offer to source them and buy them yourself. While some contractors won’t like this idea, others will be more than willing to have you running around to all the different stores, fighting traffic and picking up the material yourself. Third, if you don’t already have a preferred contractor, source one that regularly uses green materials and has green habits such as minimizing waste.

BEC Green

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