Green kitchen makeovers

sustainable kitchen renovations

Are you planning a new kitchen? Considering that the average family galley is updated every 13 or so years, chances are you have your next kitchen in mind. I recently chatted with Robyn Monteleone from Select Custom Joinery and would love to share her tips on how to make greener choices when it comes to sustainable kitchen renovations.

Eco-friendly kitchen renovations

First up, the most eco-friendly solution to a bright-orange 80s-style kitchen is to do nothing at all. As soon as you start pulling up benchtops and knocking down walls you’ve got disposal issues. Then you’ve got to think about what you’re putting in – where it’s come from, what it’s made of and where it will end up in another 13 years. So if you can live with your kitchen, do it. Mine is missing half its doors and was hip around the same time as safari suits, but it works.

That said… There’s no real reason you can’t have a gorgeous new kitchen with minimal impact on the planet – and your family’s heath.

According to Robyn, there are four areas to consider when planning a sustainable kitchen renovation:

  1. Quality of the products used : How long is the warranty period for the materials used?  Are quality fittings and fixtures used?
  2. Longevity: How long is the kitchen expected to last under normal conditions?
  3. Durability: Do the manufacturing methods used maximise the life of the kitchen?  Good quality materials put together using poor workmanship are not going to provide you with a quality outcome.  What is the warranty period for the kitchen itself?  Be wary of companies offering a 10-year warranty when the materials used only have a 5- or 7-year warranty.
  4. End of life : Are the materials recyclable or compostable or will they end up as landfill when the kitchen is eventually replaced or demolished?

Sourcing sustainable building materials

eco-friendly kitchen4

The vast majority of kitchens today are made from cheap, easy-to-manufacture materials such as particle-board, MDF and melamine. These materials – and their offcuts – are generally unsuitable for recycling and end up as landfill. According to Robyn, these materials tend to have a five-year warranty.

Another factor to consider is the chemicals used in the materials, which will certainly offgas in your home. Formaldehyde is a known carcinogen and, while Australian regulations are strict, materials made overseas may have higher levels of this preservative and other toxic chemicals.

It is possible to source second-hand kitchens through, visiting demolition sites or trading venues like The Gumtree, but there’s a whole lot of luck involved in finding the right fit. Below are some suggestions from Robyn of more sustainable building material choices for your kitchen renovation:

E0 MDF Board
An increasing awareness of sustainability has caused suppliers in the industry to respond with low formaldehyde MDF (Medium Density Fibreboard) products. These products have decreased formaldehyde levels so air quality will be better, they may also have Forestry Steward Council (FSC) certification, meaning the wood-fibre component of the boards is sustainably sourced. Also look for Good Environmental Choice Australia (GECA) certification.
Warranty periods for most products are capped at 8 years and most industry professionals should be happy to use E0 boards if they are specified.

Plantation hoop pine plywood
This is manufactured in Australia and can be used for the cabinetry itself as well as doors and drawers – depending on the quality used.  Check that the material has Chain of Custody (COC) documentation, which documents the journey of the material from harvest to manufacture.  Australian-made plywood has very low formaldehyde levels, but foreign imports may not.

Bamboo board
Bamboo is being used to make entire kitchens – from the cabinetry to doors, drawers and bench-tops as well as handles. Bamboo is equivalent to a hardwood, so hard wearing.  While the board is imported from China, the quality and durability of the end product can offset the embodied energy, including transport. FSC certification is available for bamboo, however it is less widely required as bamboo is a type of grass, which regrows after every harvest.

Recycled timber
Timber that has been recycled from old buildings, bridges and home renovations makes beautiful benchtops and doors.  The timber does have increased feature from nail holes and other “faults”, however, many people value the story behind the timber and the unique look that recycled timber can give.

Choose the right people

The materials describer above can provide the most sustainable options when used correctly.  Cabinet makers with experience working with timber will be more open to working with these materials in a kitchen, however they tend to be the exception, so be prepared to do your research to find the right business to work with.

 The finishing touches

eco-friendly kitchen

In addition to choosing sustainable materials for the kitchen itself, there are other ways you can green your kitchen renovation:

  • Use a non-toxic oil, rather than a two-pack polyurethane type finish or paint so materials can be mulched or composted at their end of life.
  • Choose quality fittings, including water filters, water-saving taps.
  • Choose energy-saving appliances.
  • Go for LED lighting instead of fluorescent or halogen.
  • Avoid trendy designs or features that will date your kitchen. Bold colours, high-gloss white and metallics are current trends that may be cringe-worthy in a decade.
  • Build-in space for bins, recycling and other waste systems.

Be prepared to spend more

Robyn estimates that a kitchen made with E0 boards will cost 10% more than with standard materials, and one made with the hard woods described above, including bamboo would cost around 30% more. “But that’s great value, considering the materials are three to four times the cost of standard products and there are higher labour costs.” Plus, your kitchen will last a lot longer, which, in my mind, is a win all round.

Pictures courtesy of Select Custom Joinery.

Robyn Monteleone and her husband Gino run Select Custom Joinery, a boutique cabinet making business that specialises in designing and manufacturing sustainable kitchens and furniture. 

Are you an expert in sustainability? Share your wisdom with Down to Earth Mother readers. Contact us today!



  1. Lyn Turner says

    Hi just a question about LEDs. Just shopping for lights recently and went for fluro over closed systems led as the whole unit will eventually need replacing which seemed worse than replacing a fluro bulb. What are your thoughts?

  2. Bec @ The Plumbette says

    I love the look, but I’ve seen wooden kitchens deteriorate rapidly due to water damage and cleaning damage. The wood and bamboo needs to be treated to stop this from happening and most turn to chemicals to prevent damage. It’s an interesting article, but most people are more keen to upgrade their kitchen under a budget and only do so once every 15 to 20 years or more.
    For eco friendly plumbing, use copper for water and pvc for waste.
    A well built kitchen that is looked after and uses premium materials will last 10 to 20 years.
    Bec @ The Plumbette recently posted..Why I will never buy a green carMy Profile

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