It isn’t easy being green. It isn’t even easy to explain it. Green means environmentally friendly but defining what exactly makes a product friendly to the environment, specifically in your kitchen and bath, is an entirely different proposition.
“Green can be a lot of things,” says Denise Domingues, appliance product manager with Coburn Supply Company. There is no international standard for what makes something environmentally friendly. To ‘be green’ means to inflict minimal harm on the environment. But in New Orleans, the whole thing still seems a bit foreign.
“One person of every 20 people that come in here knows what they’re talking about when it comes to turning green,” says Christina Thompson, owner of Bella Cucina Design. “It
hasn’t necessarily gotten to this area as much as it has to the East and West coasts but I definitely see that people are starting to care more.”
Maybe it’s not so much lack of environmental concern as it is lack of information. Perhaps, like with other long-term relationships, it’s more an issue of finding the right ways to show you care.
Sure, there’s the obvious “use less, waste less” approach. Then there’s the not-so-scientific glancing at the tags on appliances with high Energy Star ratings and buying those. In fact, those are the two easiest ways to start.
Energy Star is a standard used to rate energy efficient products. It is a system created by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency together with the U.S. Department of Energy to help people save money and protect the environment at the same time. Think of it like you would a movie review: The higher the rating the better the product.
The issue is, as some products get more environmentally friendly they grow more budget unfriendly.
“Going green is more expensive than not going green,” says Randall Shaw, president of Nordic Kitchens and Baths Incorporated. Shaw explains that sometimes doing the right thing for the planet may be more expensive in the short-run, though in the
long-term customers can cut their utility bills and help make a difference in the world.
Take a refrigerator as an example. In about 12 years, a typical refrigerator ends up in a landfill; a high quality, built-in unit, like a Sub-Zero, may last 20 to 25 years. In a December 2007 Consumer Reports, three Sub-Zero models scored “very good” but didn’t yet have an Energy Star rating. The confusion sets in. To buy or not to buy comes front and center, nevermind built in. And yet, even the magazine, known for its unbiased, independent, reviews finds the units to be environmentally friendly. “These units will last 20 to 25 years. That product is going to be more green than one that might only last 12 years, so now you’re going to be putting one refrigerator into a landfill as opposed to two,” explains Shaw.
As of early 2008, reports indicate that average refrigerators need 20 percent savings over the minimum standard to qualify as environmentally friendly.
Want to know how much energy your refrigerator uses? First, find the brand and model number of your refrigerator. The model number should be located on the inside of your refrigerator. Next you’ll need to find out your current fridge’s energy
consumption. To do this, get the “energy rating” number at:www.homeenergy.org/consumerinfo/refrigeration2/refmods.php. Now go to:www.greenerchoices.org/products.cfm?product=fridge&page=calcFridgeOld and choose a new refrigerator model. The Web site will automatically tell you how much you pay now to run your refrigerator and how much a newer model would cost you.
Another quick way to save the earth, and your budget, is to invest in a two-drawer dishwasher. Then you can use one drawer for smaller loads or both drawers when needed. Whirlpool carries several dual load dishwashers in the $1,000 range. “If you were to use one of these drawers, you [would] use 55 percent less water than the standard dishwasher,” says Domingues. “If you use both drawers because you had a full load, then you [would] use 10 percent less than a standard dishwasher.”
Another small way to make a big difference is to use compact fluorescent bulbs instead of incandescent ones; this can cut your lighting costs by 67 percent! These bulbs cost less than $10 each and last six to 10 times as long as standard bulbs. You can save even more by using electric timers to turn lights off automatically when you don’t need them.
Ever think about what your cabinets bring to the table, so-to-speak? Manufacturers are recycling byproducts, using water-based, non-toxic, glue and taking other precautions as well. “They’re paying a premium for it. They’re spending a little more money on the manufacturing process to be friendly to the environment,” says Paul Mattix, owner of Mattix Cabinetworks Incorporated. “Brands like Bertch, Heritage and Holiday Kitchens are green-certified.”
“Bamboo and other woods that aren’t over-forested are becoming very popular,” says Thompson of Bella Cucina. “It used to be bamboo floors, now you’re starting to see bamboo everywhere,” she says. Wheat board bathroom cabinets, which are typically made from wheat straw and a nontoxic binder, are also a great alternative.
Water use is also a big to do. Purchasing a water filter avoids pile up of plastic bottles. Also, drinking and using only the water you need, not overdoing it, is key.
“In the kitchen, Brizo is making the Pascal faucet, which features an infrared sensor that automatically turns off when you walk away – no wasted water,” says Mona Vinturella, who oversees sales at Southland Plumbing. Showerheads on some upscale brands, such as Grohe, are eco-friendly and allow you to conserve water by flipping a switch.
Upgrading your old water heater clunker to a tankless water heater is ideal. The new models measure about 3 feet by 4 feet and weigh 30 pounds. “It’s much easier to manipulate. You can carry it up to the attic yourself. It’s not an easy feat to move the old water heaters into the attic,” says Leslie Lomont-Relayson, designer with Cabinets by Design. A tankless heater costs about $800 and only heats the water it uses; it no longer needs to heat all the water it holds.
Perhaps the most fashion-forward, energy-saving fixture is the dual flush toilet. Toto is one company that makes these energy-friendly toilets. “They’re the best flushing toilets out there,” says Patrice Keller Kononchek, vice president of Keller Supply.
“Most come with 1.2 gallons to save water when you flush; so instead of the standard 1.6, you can order 1.2 to save water. There’s no price difference,” she says.
In the end, there’s no exact way to go green. People will always argue one product or one rating against another. It all comes down to the individual choices we make as consumers. So whether you switch light bulbs, swap fridges or buy a environmentally conscious toilet, think green. After all, that’s the bottom line.