DIY: Design your own eco-kitchen

G Magazine

Greenovating the most energy-intense space in your home

The kitchen consumes the most energy of any room in the house, yet renovating your kitchen can be overwhelming and confusing.

To make things easier, here are a few key points you should consider when designing your new eco-friendly kitchen...

Taking stock

Before you begin your renovation, consider the state of your current kitchen, as reusing the old parts will keep them out of landfill.

Kitchen cupboards can be reused if they are in good condition. The shell of the cupboards can be refreshed with a new set of doors, or simply a coat of fresh paint and new handles.

If you are not going to reuse your cupboards or appliances, consider how you can recycle them.

The Trading Post, Freecycling and eBay are great ways to sell your old kitchen for reuse in someone else's renovations. One person's trash is another's treasure!

When designing your new kitchen, consider how the design can help you to manage your household waste.

It is much easier to separate your recycling and compost as you go. Four separate bins designated for household rubbish, glass, paper and compost will help to reduce the volume of non-recyclable household waste.

The floorplan

A simple way to determine where to place your new appliances and bench-space is to draw a triangle over your plan, linking the sink/dishwasher, cooktop/oven and fridge. There should be minimal disruption in the flow of traffic between these key areas.

The sum of the sides of the triangle should not exceed 8 m, while each side should be no more than 3 m.

Another way to determine how to position your kitchen is to imagine cooking your favourite dish - drawing a map between each step of the process from fridge, to pantry, to workspace, to utensil drawer, to stove.

If there are too many cross overs, reconsider your design.

Energy choice

Gas is certainly the most environment-friendly form of energy for your cooktop, since none is lost in delivery to the consumer.

Gas cooktops can also be easily reused: in terms of environmental impact, there is minimal difference in the technology of an older model and a new one.

In comparison, a lot of energy is lost transporting electricity from the coalmine to the home. In fact, only 30 per cent of the energy produced from coal actually makes it to consumers.

For those without access to gas, induction cooktops are the best option due to the quick heating process and the fact that the energy is transferred directly to the pot.

Water and energy consumption

Older models of some appliances, such as the fridge and dishwasher, can have a detrimental impact on the environment because they're less efficient than newer models.

According to the Department of Climate Change, the fridge is responsible for 17 per cent of greenhouse emissions from energy use in the household. It comes second only to water heating.

If you are buying a new fridge, consider the energy ratings as well as the volume of fridge, which must be compatible with the household it is servicing. A large appliance, with the same energy rating as a smaller version, will result in more emissions than the smaller model.

Generally, a fridge/freezer combination will be more energy efficient if the freezer is on top. Be wary of the side-by-side fridges, as they tend to carry a separate energy rating for the fridge and the freezer, rather than the whole unit.

While the energy and water ratings on dishwashers have made it easier to choose between different models, you must be conscious of tailoring your dishwasher to your requirements.

The energy and water ratings are determined by the amount of water used on average, according to the capacity of the dishwasher. Thus, a 14-place dishwasher may have a better rating, but may use more water in each wash cycle than a lesser-rated dishwasher with a capacity for 12 place settings.

Australian taps carry a water-rating dependant on how many litres they discharge per minute. Typical taps discharge 15 to 18 litres per minute.

If you are reusing your old tap, consider placing an aerating mixer on your existing faucet. Taps with an aerator or flow restrictor may reduce flow to less than a third of that of standard taps.

What's cooking?

Australian ovens do not carry energy ratings, but European ovens do, and many of the European models sold in Australia are made to comply with overseas standards.

The energy rating of an oven is determined by how quickly the oven can heat and how much energy the oven uses to maintain a given temperature. This is depends on how well it seals in the heat.

Look for ovens that are well insulated and have a triple or quadruple-glazed glass door to trap the heat inside - without this technology much of the heat will escape through the glass.

Don't let the process overwhelm you. At the end of the day it is not just the choice of appliance, but the choices made by the human who controls them and their impact on the environment.