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When it comes to improving the overall efficiency and sustainability of your home, the kitchen is a great place to start, due to the number of energy-intensive appliances. Here are the top 10 ways you can improve your kitchen’s performance, which can reduce utility bills, improve indoor air quality, maximize comfort, and lower your carbon footprint.

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1. Conduct an Infrastructure Assessment

There’s no point in enhancing your home’s performance if the foundation (literal and figurative) has issues. Kerry Harp, Pearl Certification’s Senior Sustainability Analyst, recommends making sure your existing infrastructure is in good condition before performing any sort of upgrade.

“This includes having a contractor check your electrical and plumbing systems to ensure they’re functioning correctly, as well as ensuring all wall and floor materials are free from moisture or mold damage,” Harp says.

If your infrastructure has issues, you’ll need to address them before upgrading any appliance or fixture. And remember, measure twice and cut once. Once your contractor gives you the okay, Harp recommends taking precise measurements to ensure new appliances are compatible with existing spaces.

2. Switch to Products Rated for Efficiency

    When replacing your fixtures and appliances, it’s important to consider purchasing ENERGY STAR® or WaterSense-rated products. ENERGY STAR products have been assessed for energy-efficiency claims, and WaterSense products are certified to use at least 20% less water, save energy, and perform as well as or better than standard models. Since 1992, the ENERGY STAR program has helped American families and businesses save more than $500 billion in energy costs and avoid 4 billion metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions.

    “These programs are run by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which ensures that each product is independently certified to deliver efficiency and savings, without sacrificing performance,” explains Harp.

    3. Go Low Flow on Kitchen Faucets

      Replacing your kitchen faucet can greatly improve water efficiency. While WaterSense rates most commercially available water fixture types, it does not rate kitchen faucets. (This is because, according to the EPA, kitchen faucets are used to fill pots and containers in addition to rinsing dishes and food.)

      Due to the absence of this rating, Pearl recommends installing a faucet that meets the highest state-enforced performance standard, which is currently set by the state of California. There, kitchen faucets must have a maximum flow rate of 1.8 gallons per minute (GPM) with optional temporary flow of 2.2 GPM. And that adds up: You can save up to 20% in kitchen water use by choosing kitchen faucets, including bar faucets, that use no more than 1.8 GPM.

      4. Switch to an ENERGY STAR Refrigerator — And Lose the Ice Machine

        Refrigerators are the most energy-intensive appliance in your kitchen. For most homes, they're the biggest energy users after cooling, heating, and hot water systems — and can account for up to 8% of the total energy consumed in your household, according to the Department of Energy (DOE).

        “Pearl recommends choosing an ENERGY STAR-rated refrigerator, which is approximately 9% more energy-efficient than models that meet the federal minimum energy efficiency standard,'' says Harp.

        If you’re looking for even more savings, consider a refrigerator without an ice machine, which can increase energy consumption by approximately 12% to 20% according to The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST).

        5. Choose a Dishwasher with an Energy-saving Cycle

          The average dishwasher model today uses six gallons of water per cycle, and older models can use up to 10 gallons. Compare that to a standard-sized ENERGY STAR-rated dishwasher, which can operate at less than 3.5 gallons per cycle and you’ll see both water and energy savings accumulate. For dishwashers, the ENERGY STAR label incorporates water-efficiency factors in its certification criteria. According to the EPA, replacing existing dishwashers with ENERGY STAR-labeled models reduces water use by up to 65% and reduces energy use by more than 10%.

          That’s not all. When choosing a dishwasher, keep an eye out for energy-saving wash cycles or the option to turn off heated dry for added savings. And if you’ve been looking for an excuse to cut down on hand washing your dishes, consider that washing your dishes in an ENERGY STAR dishwasher can save you $130 in utilities each year, along with 230 hours — 10 whole days — of time versus hand washing. Take your time back!

          6. Breathe Better with Range Hoods and Ventilation Fans

            Cooking with gas can produce carbon monoxide, formaldehyde, and other combustion gas pollutants that are hazardous to your health, not to mention to the environment. Self-cleaning ovens, whether gas or electric, can also create high levels of pollutants as food waste is burned away.

            That’s why proper ventilation is critical for kitchen safety, as well as your health. It’s important that range hoods and ventilation fans exhaust to the exterior of your home, rather than cycling the air back into your kitchen.

            An ENERGY STAR ventilation fan uses up to 50% less energy than standard models and is quieter. When determining the needed performance of a range hood, consider the size of the cooking surface, the amount of heat produced by the cooking surface, and the volume of the kitchen. Keep in mind that a minimum of 100 cubic feet per minute (CFM) is required in kitchens.

            Kerry Harp lays out some relatively easy math to help you calculate the proper size of a range hood:

            “If the range hood is attached to a wall, it is recommended to have 100 CFM per linear foot of cooking surface. For example, for a 30-inch (2.5 feet) wide range, you should have a range hood rated at 250 CFM (2.5*100 = 250). If the hood is over an island, it is recommended to use 150 CFM per linear foot. For example, a 30-inch (2.5 feet) cooktop would require 375 CFM (2.5*150 = 375).”

            By adhering to these standards, you can ensure you are getting the right amount of ventilation and keeping your indoor air quality clean and safe.

            7. Opt for Electric Induction Stovetops

              The U.S. Department of Energy estimates that cooking accounts for 4% to 5% of total home energy use. For cooking appliances, Pearl promotes an all-electric setup, though it is understandable that it may not be feasible for all homeowners to switch from gas to electric.

              If you are going for all electric, induction cooktops are the most energy-efficient and offer better safety features compared to gas or standard electric cooktops. Induction cooking tops are 5-10% more efficient than conventional electric stoves and approximately three times more efficient than gas. They are available with glass or smooth surfaces that allow for easy cleaning and precise temperature control.

              “More importantly, induction stovetops are also safer because they reduce the risk of carbon monoxide and other combustion byproducts that can contaminate your indoor air,” says Harp. “They are key to significantly improving your indoor air quality and creating a healthier home environment.”

              8. LED Lighting

                Proper lighting can transform any space into a welcoming, comfortable environment. If you’re remodeling your kitchen, it’s important to install ENERGY STAR-labeled fixtures that accept light-emitting diode (LED) bulbs.

                LEDs are 90% more efficient than standard incandescent light bulbs. Besides saving energy, they also last longer, don’t contain mercury, and provide a variety of options for brightness, quality, and color.

                Harp recommends comparing lumens instead of watts to get an idea of how much light a bulb will produce. “A lumen is a measure of the amount of brightness of a bulb,” she says, “and the higher the number of lumens, the brighter the bulb.”

                Use ENERGY STAR’s light replacement guide to help you choose the right light bulbs for your environment.

                9. Go All Electric

                  If possible, Pearl recommends making your home all electric, especially your kitchen. If you upgrade your home to all electric, you are more likely to power your home from clean energy, and this also removes any combustion that can negatively impact air quality.

                  According to a study by RMI, making your home all electric can greatly reduce carbon emissions and utility costs. During a 15-year study, RMI found that the net present cost savings of transitioning to all electric in New York City were as high as $6,800 and resulted in 81% less carbon emissions compared to a mixed-fuel home.

                  10. Create a Ferguson Healthy Kitchen Home Investment Plan

                    Whether you’re remodeling the entire kitchen or just replacing some appliances, it’s critical to start with a plan. It’s why we at Pearl Certification created the Home Investment Plan (HIP) in our award-winning Green Door app.

                    With a few pieces of information about your home and your goals, Green Door will generate a series of customized home performance recommendations. Through Pearl’s partnership with Build with Ferguson, Green Door users who build a Ferguson Healthy Kitchen Plan can shop for beautiful, sustainable, and 100% certifiable products for their dream kitchen. Need help with installation? Use Green Door to connect with a local, vetted Pearl Network Contractor and have your installation third-party certified. Get started with a free Green Door account today.

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