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Sustainable Design at Home

Recently, my wife and I decided to redesign the kitchen in our twenty-five-year old home. We decided to explore green alternatives to save energy and money. Plus, we wanted to reduce our environmental impact while providing a good example of stewardship for our ten-year old son. While planning for the kitchen redesign, we learned that sustainable design is simply good design.

Consulting with a Certified Green Professional (CGP)

We consulted with a Certified Green Professional™ contractor. As designated by the National Association of Home Builders, the CGP certification recognizes builders and contractors who use sustainable techniques to maximize energy/water efficiency while minimizing the impact to the environment. Our CGP-certified contractor came to our home to perform a product inventory, which revealed the following:

  • Our water heaters were not ENERGY STAR® rated. (ENERGY STAR is a joint program of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Energy helping consumers to save money and protect the environment through energy efficient products and practices.)
  • Kitchen faucet could be more water-efficient
  • Kitchen stove could be more energy-efficient
  • Kitchen lights could be more energy-efficient
  • Our contractor recommended keeping our refrigerator, oven, and microwave, as they were already ENERGY STAR products. He made suggestions for updating our water heater and stove.

Sustainable Products: Elegant Efficiency

Our CGP contractor encouraged us to look at the ENERGY STAR website to see the different types of water heaters that are available. We viewed the site to explore what we expected to be mundane choices for a green water heater. We were both surprised at the elegant efficiency of our choices. We narrowed down our choice to one of the following water heater models:

  • Heat Pump Water Heater (HPWH) – This type of water heater takes the heat from surrounding air and transfers it to water in an enclosed tank. A low-pressure liquid refrigerant is vaporized in the heat pump’s evaporator and passed into the compressor.
  • Whole Gas Tankless – Hot water is made on demand. When a hot water tap is turned on in the home, cold water is drawn into the water heater. A flow sensor activates the gas burner, which warms the heat exchanger. Incoming cold water encircles the heat exchanger and leaves the heater at its set-point temperature. Combustion gases safely exit through a dedicated, sealed vent system.
  • High-Efficiency Gas Storage – High-efficiency gas storage models are similar to traditional gas water heaters, but they have better insulation, heat traps, and more efficient burners. To increase efficiency further, manufacturers may add a power vent to accelerate the venting of combustion gases. Source:

No ENERGY STAR Recommended Stove?

We found it counter-intuitive not to find any recommended stoves at the ENERGY STAR site. Our GCP contractor told us about the latest induction technology that uses magnetism to cook food.

The cook top looks like a standard electric stove, but the stove top uses sensors to detect the presence of magnetic cookware, and then it activates an induction field to adjust to the exact size of the cookware.

Induction cooking can be 70 percent more energy efficient than gas and 20 percent more energy efficient than electric.

Sustainable Redesign Best Practices

Products are not the only green aspects of our kitchen redesign. As part of our redesign project, we wanted a darker stain on our kitchen cabinets and were considering the removal of old wallpaper.

Our CGP contractor does not use volatile organic compounds (VOCs) which evaporate, contributing to air pollution.  VOC’s are often found in paints, adhesives, stains, and other chemicals used in construction.

Besides using zero VOC’s, the CGP contractor employed other green practices. He prefers to reuse and repurpose as much construction “trash” as possible. If we were going to replace the kitchen cabinets, he was going to recommend using them in our garage. He also gave us a handicap grab bar for a bathroom that he obtained from another remodeling project.

A Greener Outcome

When you begin any project, start thinking about how you can make it greener. Nathan Shedroff describes four ways to be sustainable: reduce, reuse, recycle, and restore.
My wife and I already try to reduce and recycle. Our contractor introduced us to sustainable products and processes, which were new to us. We reached a greener outcome, learning that sustainable design is simply good design.