Putting Green Where It's Seen

Make your green statement in the kitchen

The biggest green payoffs may be hidden in the walls of the home, but if you want to be known as a green builder, you also need to offer some visible green products. These are the products that customers see, touch and use every day — and that they brag about to their friends. Fortunately there are plenty of stylish products on the market that can help brand you as a green builder.

The easiest place to add these touches is the kitchen. There are a host of products you can install in the kitchen that have sustainability as part of their calling card. Appliances are the most obvious — ENERGY STAR® appliances are a given for eco-friendly builders — but there are plenty of other ways to put green in the kitchen.

Make your green statement in the kitchen


Non-toxic cabinetry has become very popular, according to Paul Novack, director of sustainability for Green Depot, a New York-based green products retailer. They sell cabinets made from wood certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) as having been harvested in a sustainable manner, as well as low-toxin particleboard and non-toxic glues and finishes.

When Cherokee Investment Partners, the country's largest brownfield (abandoned or under-used industrial and commercial property) development firm, built a green demonstration home in Raleigh, N.C., it chose cabinets made from wheat board, an alternative to particleboard that is made from wheat straw.

There's even hardware with a green spin. At a recent International Builders Show, Whirlpool unveiled a sustainable kitchen that features green solutions from lighting and countertops to flooring and cabinetry, "right down to the drawer pulls," says Mark Johnson, Whirlpool senior manager for architecture and design marketing. The pulls are made from lead-free pewter and an environmentally friendly resin.

Non-toxic cabinetry, harvested in a sustainable manner, has become very popular


Builders can be environmentally sensitive and still give customers tremendous design options with kitchen counters. "Some of the big things out there are recycled materials for countertops," says Sid Davis, author of "How to Buy, Build or Fix Up an Eco-Friendly Home." "It's amazing what people are using now. I've seen laminated cardboard. Butcher block is coming back and recycled glass is really big."

For its builders show kitchen display, Whirlpool chose a countertop material called IceStone made from recycled glass and concrete that counts toward LEED green building certification. "It's beautiful," says Johnson. "It's a little like a quartz countertop. It's really tough."

Even granite, the ultimate luxury countertop material, can be green if it's quarried properly — and especially if it's produced locally, says Davis. "You have to consider the big picture. How can you call something green or carbon-neutral when it's shipped halfway across the country?"

Countertops manufactured with recycled materials is a big trend right now

Floor and wall surfaces

There's no shortage of sustainable options for floors and walls. FSC-certified hardwood floors are one choice, along with bamboo, which can grow to floor quality in a fraction of the time it takes to grow traditional hardwoods. Cork floors don't even require cutting down a tree. Linoleum is an environmentally friendly alternative to vinyl: It's made from solidified linseed oil and combined with wood flour or cork dust over a fabric backing.

Carpet, long criticized because of the processes used to manufacture it and the gases it produced, can now be manufactured as a sustainable product. Of particular importance in carpet offerings are materials with no or low volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and other chemicals that give off fumes.

And then there's always ceramic tile. "That's my favorite," says Davis. "It's waterproof, not many hydrocarbons are used to produce it, and it's incredibly durable."

Wall finishes, including paint, are another visible green product category. Novack recommends using true zero-VOC paints; they're easy to find today. "There's a big enough market, and color choices are no longer a problem," he says.

Eco-friendly, sustainable options for floors and walls


Your green touches will make a bigger impression if they're well-lit. Lighting can have a dramatic impact on the feel and design of a house, as well as energy savings. "Under-counter LED lights are big," says Davis. "In fact, the pattern is moving more toward localized LED lights. Look at using low, energy-efficient lights under cabinets and can lights in the ceiling. They make the kitchen look sharp."

Lighting can have a dramatic impact on the feel and design of a home