by Staff Writer
They say the kitchen is the heart of a home, but in many homes, it's also the biggest source of energy waste. Kitchen lighting, refrigeration and cooking consume about 41.5 percent of the total home energy use; add space heating, cooling, and water heating to that total, and you'll see your kitchen is quite the energy hog. Creating an eco-friendly kitchen includes your choice of appliances, but it also goes beyond that; the floors, paint, pots and pans, and other kitchen items you use can make your kitchen eco-friendly as well.
Energy-efficient appliances: Go green in your kitchen with Energy Star qualified kitchen appliances. Appliances certified by Energy Star use 10 to 50 percent less energy and water than standard models. Energy Star appliances meet strict energy-efficiency guidelines set by the Environmental Protection Agency and US Department of Energy. For more information, check out energystar.gov.
Energy-efficient doors and windows: Nothing runs up heating and cooling bills like a drafty door or window. Even skylights can add to your energy bill. Check your weather stripping every year and replace window and door seals that are cracked or missing. Old doors and windows don't do much to insulate your house from the heat or cold. Replace them with insulated, sealed doors and double-paned windows, and you'll save a lot of energy and money. Double-paned windows and insulated doors can also offer more insulation or with double-paned windows.
Energy-efficient lighting: The most energy-efficient lighting choices for your kitchen are compact fluorescent and LED lighting. Compact fluorescent lighting has come a long way since the dim office lighting of years ago. This lighting simulates natural light, reduces eye stress and fatigue, has low heat emission, and will ultimately save you money. LED lighting works well for under-cabinet lighting, and it uses the least energy of all.
Induction stovetops: Induction stovetops or cooktops are specialty appliances that use electricity to produce a magnetic field which reacts to the iron content of your cookware to produce heat. Induction stovetops can be used with stainless steel, cast iron and enameled steel cookware. Induction cooking uses about 90-percent less energy than gas and radiant electric stoves. Because it's a relatively new technology, induction cooktops can still be a bit pricey; look for it to drop in price as more developments come along.
Eco-friendly flooring: Popular eco-friendly flooring choices include cork and bamboo. Cork is a great thermal and acoustic insulator. It also has a great memory, meaning it will spring back when dented, and it is soft underfoot. Bamboo flooring is made from quick-growing bamboo stalks and offers the same beautiful look you can get from wood. For either flooring material, use nontoxic glue. Many other items you might use in your kitchen, from window shades to serving bowls, are also made of these materials.
Recycled countertops and backsplashes: Recycled materials make beautiful countertops and backsplashes: recycled glass, recycled porcelain, concrete, and resin or a mix of all of them. Bamboo is also used to make countertops, and butcher block countertops made from certified and rediscovered forest products are also very popular. Resin recycled paper composites are gaining steadily in popularity, too. All of these recycled products make great countertops and backsplashes.
Low-flow faucets or an aerator: Adding an aerator to your faucet is one of the best and least expensive ways to increase water conservation in your home. Without an aerator, water usually flows out of a faucet as one big stream. An aerator spreads this stream into many little droplets, saving water and reducing splash. Aerators also improve the taste of your water. If you already have an aerator installed, its flow rating should be on the side and should read 2.75 gallons per minute (gpm) or lower. If it is over 2.75 gpm, replace it. Most faucets are threaded to accept aerators.
Lead-free dinnerware: Lead is typically found in older, antique dinnerware and stoneware or terra cotta pieces that have been glazed and colored. When exposed to high heat or acidic food, lead can leach out of the pieces of dinnerware and ingested. The federal standard for lead in dinnerware is three parts per million (ppm); it is 0.2265 ppm in California. Children are more susceptible to lead absorption. There are many lead-free dinnerware options on the market today; if you're unsure about the lead content of a piece of dinnerware or stoneware, it's best to leave it as a decorative piece.
Pots and pans: Metal leaches out of pots and into our food. Most of the time, it is in small amounts, but for a green kitchen, even small amounts count. Use inert cooking materials like glass or porcelain-enameled steel or iron. Replace your worn or scratched cookware with new cookware, but be cautious; avoid high heat with nonstick coatings and remember that acidic foods, like tomatoes, leach metals from pans.
Your old pots and pans and dinnerware make great camp cookware when they are no longer used in your kitchen. You can also remove the handles from lighter frying pans and use them as a back-up dish for camping trips. For other ways to reuse household items, check out the World Environmental Organization website at www.world.org.
To really say you have a green kitchen, follow the mantra of reduce, reuse, recycle. Don't waste money on paper plates and plastic forks that are just thrown away. Instead, invest in long-lasting, quality kitchen items, such as cloth napkins, reusable coffee filters for coffee machines, reusable shopping bags, and lunch boxes.
Instead of tossing out your old housewares, find them a new home. Have a garage sale or donate your gently used appliances and kitchen items to charity. If your pots and pans are too old to be reused, recycling is a great choice. If you are unsure of the recycling practices in your city, check Earth 911 online at earth911.org. You can look up recycling places by location, zip code or item.
VOCs, otherwise known as volatile organic compounds, are gases emitted from certain solids or liquids, like cabinet glue, varnish, and paint. VOCs are the cause of the "new" smell. Many things have VOCs, including cleaning supplies, pesticides, building materials, furnishings, copiers, printers, permanent markers, and lacquers. When you're online shopping to outfit your green kitchen, look for products that are describes as "low-VOC" or "no-VOC." They release a minimum of VOC pollutants and are almost completely odor-free.