What is a sustainable kitchen?

Kitchens are one of the focal points of any home. This allows people to ‘show-off’ their eco credentials during dinner parties and such-like. Oh, how Guardian reader-ish. But seriously, having a well designed kitchen that will last a long time and also use sustainable materials is a real bonus for any home. People often pay really big money for kitchens that look good, but actually are not very good quality and do not last as long as would normally be expected.

Kitchens also suffer from trends and fashion. I think that we have all heard of people moving in to new homes and immediately changing the kitchen over. This is of course a huge waste of resources, unless you can re-use or recycle the kitchen.

Colour and style are important where you are going to spend a lot of time, but this can easily be changed by painting doors, just replacing the doors, changing over handles etc. There is generally no need to rip everything out, skip it and re-new.

However, there are times when needs must and a new kitchen is required. So what are the options?

The following are points that could be thought about and that might alter ones choice:

Look for really good carcassing. This is the backbone of a kitchen unit and is often overlooked. Many companies offer lovely looking kitchens (basically good quality doors) at reasonable prices. This is often achieved by having poor quality carcassing. Think about it. The hinges rely on a firm base (carcass) and so if this is not strong enough the wear and tear will soon become evident. How many kitchens have you seen with poor fitting doors and drawers after a couple of years? We would recommend either using plywood or min 18mm particle board. It is also possible to use recycled plastics for carcassing. This is great if you are in a flood area,or prone to leaving taps on, having a dodgy washing machine etc.

Raising the carcassing off of the ground is also a little tip. Any particle board that gets wet, will expand and effectively ruin the units.

Specify recycled content doors and drawers. Milestone up in Yorkshire
have a range of kitchens that have very high recycled content.

Specify A or A+ rated white goods

Look at housing noisy machines (washing machines etc) elsewhere so that they don’t drown out conversation when on

Make sure any punctures through the wall (outflow pipes for sinks, washing machines etc.) are sealed up properly to reduce draughts.

Dish washers are regarded as being more water efficient than washing up, but they do use electric for heating and so are less efficient (bearing in mind overall efficiency of the electricity grid) than options like gas heating, so weigh up what suits best – water efficiency or energy efficiency. Personally I would go with energy, but it does depend a bit on where the boiler is, dead legs, boiler efficiency etc.

Work tops can be made from a variety of materials: recycled plastic, recycled glass, wood chip, solid wood, marble, granite etc. I think that locally grown timber or recycled glass are the best options. The plastic is often not heat proof and the stone options are imported from afar (Italy and China being a couple of the main exporters).

Think about using a good quality heat exchange system for above the cooker (hood) or just for the room generally. Kitchens do produce a lot of heat and this could be usefully transferred to other parts of the house.

Floors are best to be made of an easily cleanable material. Wood and tiles are good options here.

Maximise the natural light in a kitchen. It is a place where we spend a lot of time and having it swathed in light makes for a better internal environment.

Use scrubable natural paints as a finish. Green paints are a good option here. However in areas where splashing is likely we would recommend tiling these areas (around sinks, cookers, hobs etc.)

Provide enough space for recycling. Kitchens generate most waste, so having space for your food, green, plastic, metal (or mixed) and general waste bins is very useful to have here. You might not need to have the bins here, just smaller collection points so that you can take it out daily to the main bins.

Fit LED lights. In kitchens we generally need good quality and instant light. This can only be achieved in an energy efficient manner with LED bulbs.

Remember the Golden Triangle – the linking of the fridge, cooker / hob and sink in a close triangle so that you can access them all easily and quickly when cooking.

Fit extractors to the lee side of the house where possible to allow them to work properly and efficiently. See post on extractor fans.

Happy cooking!