The kitchen is often said to be the heart and hub of the home. With an observed uptick in kitchen remodel spending and consumer interest in leading a more environmentally friendly lifestyle, especially from millennials, the largest generational share of homebuyers, it’s clear sustainable kitchen upgrades are becoming a major priority for homeowners.
Having recently designed and constructed my own home to Passive House standards, I’d like to share some insight on how to begin the journey of creating a more sustainable home, starting with the kitchen.
1. Everyone Can Make a Difference
Whether building new or renovating, key factors to consider are energy efficiency and indoor air quality. Designing with these goals in mind is an important first-step. More informed choices, a desire for change, a positive mindset, and steps in the right direction—giant or small—can all contribute to a more sustainable world. Regulations, guidelines and costs, while incredibly important factors to consider, can often stun or paralyze. Thus, it’s worthwhile to recognize there are steps everyone can take to make a difference, rather than letting overwhelm cause homeowners to abandon the cause altogether.
Beyond this, consider how any improvement to a space will enhance re-sale value, especially with the topics of health, wellness and sustainability in the spotlight and a majority of global consumers planning to improve their overall health and wellness within the next year.
2. Consider Passive House Design
If you are designing a new home, consider Passive House design. Even when renovating, certain aspects of Passive House design can be applied. Deemed one of the best paths to net-zero, a typical Passive House consumes about 90 percent less heating energy than an existing home and 75 percent less energy than average new construction while delivering filtered fresh air to all habitable spaces 24/7, a key feature in fighting the spread of COVID.
Because of the highly insulated, nearly airtight design of Passive Houses, it’s important to be mindful of ventilation. I recommend an energy recovery ventilator, which brings in outside air to bedrooms and living rooms and exhausts stale air from bathrooms and the kitchen while conserving most of the embodied energy.
3. Buy Local, Consider Longevity and Repurposing
When it comes to materials, perhaps one of the most important factors to consider is quality. To make the most sustainable choice, you want to choose long-lasting materials that will stay in a home and out of landfills.
Upcycling and repurposing original materials is also sustainable—and budget-friendly. Mix-matching old and new materials can even add a certain design edge to the space, and scrapped materials can be repurposed for alternative uses throughout the house. For example, consider using old marble as a fireplace surround.
Another sustainable decision is to opt for locally sourced materials when you can, using your location as a key deciding factor in sourcing materials.
4. Mind the Glue on New Cabinets
For cabinets, a great material option is a wood-based substrate called MDF. However, MDFs can often be accompanied by formaldehyde glue, so it’s important to look for MDFs with no added formaldehyde. My own kitchen uses a modular cabinet system that can be dismantled, reassembled and extended over the years. Components are connected via mechanical joints that guarantee the absence of glue and carcinogenic formaldehyde emissions, significantly improving air quality in the kitchen.
PHOTOS: Liz Glasgow