Smart Design With Suzette: Environmentally Friendly Kitchens

Light-filled kitchen. Courtesy photo
Smart Design With Suzette
Environmentally Friendly Kitchens

Designing interiors using sustainable practices is important. Indoor air quality, sustainable materials, water efficiency, and energy savings will provide long-term cost savings, comfort, peace of mind and safety.

Sustainable design is a science. Some principles apply across the board, but many measures will depend on your home’s age, construction techniques used, building codes, local climate (temperature and humidity) and the land on which your home sits. If you’re going to get serious about sustainability, you’ll want to do a lot of research and eventually some testing.

Where To Begin

Material choices and energy star appliances are what come to most people’s mind when they are thinking about sustainable design. That’s a good start, but I believe that you should incorporate all facets of being green that you are capable of and are able to sustain.

Recycling bin. Courtesy photo

Here are various ways of incorporating sustainability in the kitchen: 

  • Solar design and using natural light
  • Green water plans that include aerators, filtration and grey-water systems
  • Radiant floor heat
  • Appliance efficiency
  • Recycling and composting
  • Healthy materials and finish

Criteria For Material Selection

When it comes to choosing your materials for kitchen cabinets, counters and flooring, look for the following criteria:

  • Recycled content
  • Ability to be recycled, reused or reconditioned when you’re through with it
  • Durability: products with a long lifecycle need to be replaced less frequently
  • FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) certification, identifying wood as harvested from a sustainable, well-managed forest
  • Rapidly renewable: Made from plants that grow to maturity quickly like cork, bamboo, cotton, etc.
  • Found in nature (stone, wood, etc.) and requiring minimum processing, which can create harmful chemicals and toxins
  • No pollutants: wood products without formaldehyde; low- or no-VOC (volatile organic compounds) paints, caulks, adhesives and sealants; flooring without PVC (polyvinyl chloride)
  • Noise absorbing or reducing properties
  • Locality: Transporting materials a long distance takes energy and pollutes the environment

Shop Local

Even the greenest materials require a lot of fuel to ship across the country (or around the world). Use green materials and pair them with handmade and local materials.

Kitchen Recycling Center

Absolutely include some type of recycle center in your kitchen. Along with your pull out trash can, include a recycle bin behind it.

Eco-Friendly Flooring

Bamboo, cork, and eucalyptus mature in roughly half the time (or less) that it takes hardwoods to reach market size. Other environmentally conscious flooring choices include: linoleum, stained concrete and tile.

Recycled glass countertop. Courtesy photo


Countertops offer several green strategies including, concrete sealed with healthy wax, recycled glass, bamboo, stainless steel, and recycled pressed paper laminates. When it comes to quartz counters, try Cambria. The stone is primarily mined in North America, recycles all of the water in its fabrication facilities, and scrap material is collected for use as road base. 

Wall Insulation

Nothing improves the comfort and energy efficiency of a kitchen more than plenty of insulation in the exterior walls. To add insulation to existing homes, blow fibrous insulation material-fiberglass or natural materials like cellulose and mineral wool-into enclosed wall, floor and roof cavities.

Windows, Doors and Skylights

Well-designed windows and skylights can lighten the feel of a kitchen. Energy Star-qualified products lighten the burden of energy bills as well. Homeowners can find significant savings-ranging from $110 to $400 a year.


Maximize natural lighting and provide task lighting. Lighting controls range from a simple outdoor light fixture with a built-in photo sensor to whole-house programmable controls that allow fixtures to perform as task, safety or mood lighting.

LEDs (light-emitting diodes) have come a long way in the past few years, and now the only type of recessed lighting I recommend.

Energy efficient refrigerator. Courtesy photo


Energy Star-qualified appliances incorporate advanced technologies that use 10 to 50 percent less energy and water than standard models.


Induction cooking uses electricity to produce a magnetic field that that reacts with stainless steel, cast iron, and enameled steel cookware, producing heat. The cookware gets hot, but the stovetop doesn’t. Less heat is wasted and the food heats faster, saving time and energy. Induction cooking is about 90 percent energy efficient compared to gas and electric at 50 to 60 percent efficient.

Bamboo cabinets. Courtesy photo

Kitchen Cabinets

Consider resurfacing or re-facing existing cabinets with low-VOC (volatile organic compounds) paint or stain. If buying new cabinets, you have green options like bamboo and eucalyptus. Some solid wood cabinet lines have low-VOC emissions.


According to the Environmental Protection Agency, indoor air may be two to fives times more polluted than outdoor air, and we spend 90 percent of our time inside. Therefore the design of your kitchen should include sources for energy-efficient natural ventilation that will replace indoor air with fresh air from outside.

Air Admittance Valves

These pressure-activated, one-way mechanical valves are installed in plumbing drain lines in place of through-the-roof pipe venting. They operate with the discharge of wastewater, just like conventional plumbing vents. By eliminating piping and flashing, there is a net savings after the initial investment of $25 to $40. And they’re durable.

Deciding how sustainable you go is up to you. The trick to putting all of this together is having it make sense. Understand how you use your kitchen so it is the most effective for you. Fill it with only the things you love and get rid of the rest. 

Feel free to contact Los Alamos Interior Designer Suzette Fox to suggest specific design topics or for help with your home. For more information, find her on Facebook at and on her website

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