How Thinking of Sustainability Affected our Kitchen Remodel Project

We really USE our house. We host neighborhood soup nights, community meetings, discussion groups, game nights … all with a side of food and drink. We can tomatoes and pickles, sprout seeds, brew beer and wine, bake bread and culture the occasional yogurt. We do it all in a typical South Minneapolis bungalow kitchen that measures 9′ x 10′.

Not a lot of space to move in the old kitchen

Not a lot of space to move in the old kitchen

One evening, while watching 4 people bump into each other getting ready for a potluck, I thought to myself, “This is just not working! I’ve GOT to do something with this kitchen, NOW!”

What had stopped me in the past was, of course, the money. Kitchens are the most expensive room to remodel and ours would be no exception, since little had been done to it since the house was built in 1921. But this time, exasperation pushed me all the way to the doors of the community bank. We weren’t getting any younger – or richer. If we didn’t do something now, it was increasingly unlikely we’d do it later. Loan in hand, we were ready to begin.

Sustainability Goals

Energy, water, food – the kitchen is the hub of much of the resource consumption and much of the waste production in a household. We’ve been working on behavioral change for a few years now, trying to build better habits. Good habits are hard to create but they’re free. The kitchen remodel would give us an opportunity to enact a whole new range of sustainability improvements – the kind that are expensive, but easy. Our sustainability-related goals were these:

  • Reduce our use of fossil fuels (and overall energy use)
  • Reduce heat waste from a heat vent that went into a cabinet
  • Reduce heat loss from the original kitchen air vent, a hole in the wall with a fan covered by a thin piece of tin
  • Reduce electricity wasted when people turned on – and left on – outside and basement lights without realizing it because all the light switches were in one place in the kitchen
  • Reduce water waste
  • Make secondary use of water easier
  • Reduce food waste in the fridge
  • Reduce fruit and veggie waste when things go bad sitting on the counter
  • Make it easier to save kitchen scraps for later composting (which we already do)
  • Encourage recycling and discourage garbage production

We had livability goals as well:

  • Get traffic out of the work space (a safety goal). I  had a dread fear of burning someone as I carried hot tomato jars from the stove on one side of the room to the counter on the other.
  • Minimize the need to get down on my hands and knees to get things from lower cabinets (aging in place goal)
  • Improve overall lighting and add task lighting (aging in place and safety goal). No wonder my grandma’s dishes were never quite clean. The single overhead light in her kitchen, combined with poor eyesight, meant she couldn’t see what she was doing.
  • Increase usable storage space and create clearly defined spaces for each person’s food in this shared house (a community-building goal)

In our next post, we’ll talk about how we used the concept of reduce, reuse, recycle to guide the destruction process.

* I am not paid to advertise any products or services, nor am I promoting a product, service or company.

About thinkofitasanadventure

We are a 50-something couple living in the Longfellow neighborhood of Minneapolis. We attended a sustainability conference at our local high school in November 2010, with keynote speaker Richard Heinberg from the Post Carbon Institute. What we heard shocked us deeply. We finally understood the need to transition away from fossil fuels as quickly as possible. We immediately began to change the way we live. We joined together with other folks in our neighborhood to learn more, to do more and to have fun doing it! We're part of Transition Longfellow. We're choosing to change now and to "think of it as an adventure." If you are on this journey too, we'd love to hear from you.
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