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How to Remodel Your Kitchen Without Creating Waste

Posted by Elizabeth Burton on

How to Remodel Your Kitchen Without Creating Waste

Kitchen renovations are some of the costliest home remodels -- second only to full additions. However, remodeling your kitchen can save money in the long run -- either by upgrading to efficient appliances or by achieving a higher sale price when the home is eventually sold. Furthermore, updating a kitchen to be low-energy and zero waste can improve the homeowner’s quality of life while reducing their carbon footprint. However, there are a couple catches to updating your kitchen -- even if the end result is the creation of a lower-waste space. Not only are kitchen remodels expensive, but many generate quite a bit of post-renovation waste. As the goal of this blog post is to help homeowners transition their kitchens to zero waste and we at Living Deep are committed to buying less and repurposing more, we would be remiss if we did not acknowledge the leftover materials post-renovation. Though old vinyl flooring, broken countertops and dated cabinets might seem like trash, there are plenty of ways in which to either recycle or repurpose these pieces. Follow below for our tips on creating a zero waste kitchen without breaking the bank or contributing to a landfill.

Is Renovating Your Kitchen Worth the Cost?

According to the HomeAdvisor True Cost Guide “How Much Does It Cost To Remodel A Kitchen?,” homeowners spend -- on average -- between “$25,526 or $150 per square foot” to remodel their kitchen. When all is said and done, “most homeowners spend between $13,343 and $37,709 or $75 to $250 per square foot.” Of course, this total expense varies significantly “depending on the size of the space, the quality of materials, and whether you change the layout of the room.” The first question many homeowners ask themselves when considering a kitchen remodel is whether the renovation is worth the cost of labor, materials and inconvenience. 

Surveys and studies do seem to demonstrate that homeowners are happier with their homes and recoup much of the cost of their remodel post-renovation. The National Association of Realtors -- NAR -- noted in their 2019 Remodeling Impact Report that overall, “after remodeling, 74 percent of owners have a greater desire to be in their home [and] sixty-five percent have increased enjoyment in their home.” These numbers are even higher when considering a kitchen remodel or update. This 2019 NAR survey found that 85% of homeowners had “a greater desire to be home since completing their project” and 74% had “an increased sense of enjoyment when they are home” when they updated their kitchen. After undertaking a full kitchen renovation, 94% of homeowners reported having “a greater desire to be home since completing the project” and 95% had an “increased sense of enjoyment when at home.” Furthermore, 59% of homeowners surveyed recovered the entire cost of their kitchen renovation post-sale.  

How To Determine Whether Your Kitchen Renovation is Worth the Time and Money

#1 Do You Plan to Sell Soon?

If you plant to place your home on the market relatively soon, renovating your kitchen might be well worth the money. Brett Martin explains why in his article “Is Your Renovation Actually Worth It?” for House Beautiful. Martin writes that the “average kitchen remodel will pay off more than a high-end renovation,” with a major renovation costing around $68,000 and homeowners recouping around $40,000. Quoting Elle H-Millard -- the industry relations manager for the NKBA --, Martin writes that a remodeled kitchen can really tip the scale in the homeowner’s favor. This is because potential buyers immediately gravitate towards the kitchen. They “‘congregate here and...want a good feeling in this environment.’” Buyers are typically willing to pay a bit more and close a bit faster for a home with a freshly updated kitchen. Shawnna Stiver notes in her article “Do These Interior Renovations Actually Help Sell a House?” for FamilyHandyman.com that “40 percent of realtors suggested [a kitchen] renovation before attempting to sell.” Furthermore, “a whopping 20 percent” of respondents “said the project helped close a sale.” 

#2 Does the Layout Work for Your Family?

Aside from securing a higher sale price for your home upon listing, another reason to remodel your kitchen is to better reflect your family’s needs and lifestyle. If the layout of your kitchen has prevented you from using it as often and as effectively as you would like, it might be time for a change. In her article “Kitchen layouts – everything you need to know” for Ideal Home, Amy Cutmore writes that the right kitchen layout “will create an efficient space that’s safe and comfortable for all the family,” ensuring you can store, prep and cook your food all in one space without difficulty or frustration. To determine which floor plan is correct for your space, rely on the tried and true “work triangle.” In other words, consider how you move around your kitchen and how you can best utilize and access each “task zone.” Homeowners should also consider safety when entertaining or when children wander in, keeping “children away from danger spots…[while] stopping guests from getting in your way.”

Cooking at Home Can Help the Environment

Laying out your kitchen properly will encourage you and your family to use the space more often. Not only is cooking at home a great way to bond with family and ensure the ingredients in your food are healthy and properly prepared, but it can also be better for the environment. Food and Drink writer Beth Hoffman explains in her article “What's So Great About Cooking? Four Reasons (and Resources) to DIY.” Quoting Cornell University professor of Agriculture and Life Sciences David Pimentel, Hoffman writes that “‘without question, it takes less energy and resources to cook at home.’” Pimentel notes that it “takes seven kilocalories of energy to produce food, but processing, packaging and transporting it takes another ten.” In layman’s terms, this means that “iit takes more than double the amount of energy to process food than it does to grow it.” Not only is processed food more energy-intensive, but certain types -- like single-serving frozen meals -- require nearly “twice as many resources...than it takes your neighbor to cook at home.”

#3 Do You Need to Remodel or Just Update?

If the layout of your kitchen works well for your family, the floors are in good condition and the cabinets offer enough storage, you might consider updating the space rather than undergoing a full remodel. Adding a fresh coat of paint, installing a new backsplash or simply reorganizing your pantry could make your kitchen more efficient and more comfortable for your family. Transitioning towards a lower waste lifestyle could be as simple as planning meals in advance, installing a faucet aerator, purchasing glass containers or reconfiguring your fridge -- particularly if your budget is tight.

#4 Can You Finance Your Project?

Full kitchen renovations are expensive -- particularly if they involve reconfiguring storage, ripping out flooring or reorienting the layout of the space. The cost of a remodel can vary widely depending on your location, the current cost of labor and materials and how much of an overhaul your kitchen requires. In the article “What It Costs to Remodel a Kitchen: Here’s the Typical Price Tag” for HomeLight, Presley Attardo writes that “kitchen remodels can cost as little as $10,000 for a DIY spruce up to north of $50,000 for a full out chef’s kitchen.” Referencing research from Remodeling Magazine and HomeAdvisor, Attardo identifies the average range of a kitchen remodel as between $13,113 and $37,157 -- with room to exceed $60,000 if high-end features are chosen at every turn. 

Replacing dated pieces -- e.g. kitchen appliances, hardware and backsplashes -- could cost as low as $10,000 to $15,000 while replacing cabinets, expanding the size of your kitchen and swapping out countertops could bring you closer to $30,000. Splurging on a major kitchen remodel by opening up the floorplan, adding a walk-in pantry or purchasing expensive finishes could bring you closer to $50,000. An “all-out chef’s kitchen remodel...designed for functionality and efficiency” could approach $100k.

#5 Is Your Kitchen Hazardous to You or the Environment?

Everything from your cookware and countertops to the oven and refrigerator could be harming your family’s health or that of the environment if not chosen carefully and maintained properly. If your faucet pumps out tons of water, your fridge is inefficient or your stove contributes to indoor air pollution, renovating your home’s kitchen might be the best answer. However, an entire renovation might not be necessary. Your kitchen might just need a bit of an update -- e.g. a new vent hood with better suction or a more efficient fridge.

5 Tips for A Zero Waste Kitchen Remodel

#1 Repair What You Can


In her article “Zero Waste Tips for Renovating Your Home” for Our Little Organic Life, founder Kelly suggests “refinishing, repairing and restoring” what you can. She notes that “wooden floors, kitchen work surfaces...and furniture can all be refinished.” Older cabinets can be sanded down and repainted or outfitted with beautiful new-to-you hardware. Even lightly “damaged surfaces such as chipped countertops, scratched wood floors, cracked tiles and furniture can all be repaired.” For a repair that lasts a lifetime, Kelly recommends paying a bit extra for a professional technician. Professional restoration specialists can “repair wood, stone, marble, uPVC, veneers, laminates, granite, ceramic tiles, stainless steel and even glass, rectifying chips, dents, scratches, burns, holes and more” on site in your home.

#2 Add Shelves Where Needed to Make All Items Visible


Prevent food from spoiling and spices from going to waste by adding extra shelving to your kitchen walls, cabinets or pantry. When all items are visible and accessible, homeowners feel that they have more options rather than an unmanageable and indiscernible mess. Furthermore, you will be more likely to store food properly in your fridge and consume it at a later date -- rather than simply tossing it out or allowing it to grow hard and moldy in an unsealed container -- if you can find the lid to each tupperware container! 

Take advice from Clea Shearer and Joanna Teplin -- founders of The Home Edit --, offered by Samantha Swenson in her article “THE HOME EDIT’S 2020 GUIDE TO AN ORGANIZED KITCHEN” for Elle Decor. Swenson writes that “because these are some of the home’s most high-use spaces, [kitchens] easily become disorganized.” Shearer and Teplin recommend organizing by category, adding shelving and using clear glass jars to make each item instantly recognizable and accessible. Lazy Susans and drawer organizers are also ideal for reducing waste and maximizing usable space.

#3 Edit Out Plastic When Shopping for New Appliances

According to the HomeStratosphere article “Pros and Cons of Stainless Steel Kitchen Appliances,” stainless steel appliances are durable, long-lasting and resistant to damage. The article notes that because stainless steel is a metal alloy, “it is proven to have greater strength than any other appliances made out of metal.” Additionally, stainless steel has a high resistance to stains, rusts and water damage,” important factors given that kitchen appliances “are usually in contact with water and other fluids.” Not only will stainless steel appliances last longer than plastic appliances but they are also healthier for your home and gentler on the environment. The Tiny Eco Home Life article “Is Stainless Steel Sustainable or Bad for the Environment?” explains that “around 80% of all new stainless steel is made from scrap metal and electricity according to the 2018 International Stainless Steel Forum, a non-profit research organisation.” TEHL notes that “with such a high percentage of reuse and repurposing of existing products, it gives a big tick to the sustainability credentials of stainless steel.” Furthermore, byproducts of stainless steel which were once considered waste, are now “sold and used mainly in construction, getting turned into the likes of concrete and asphalt for roads.” 

Stainless Steel is Sustainable and Safe

Emissions from steel production have also declined in recent years, with TEHL writing that “the amount of energy consumption and carbon dioxide emissions from steel production have decreased by more than half” since the 1960s. As mentioned above, many of today’s steel manufacturers prioritize the use of scrap metal and electricity, meaning that “the process can be completely fossil-fuel free.” Perhaps best of all, “stainless steel is infinitely recyclable, meaning it can be recycled over and over again without losing quality.” Consumers typically do recycle their stainless steel appliances after moving on. Experts estimate that “around 85% of stainless steel gets recycled at the end of its life.” In the construction industry, this rate climbs much closer to 100%. As for the health and safety of your home and family, “stainless steel is environmentally neutral meaning that it doesn’t release any toxins or harmful substances when it comes into contact with water, soil or air.” To reduce your energy consumption, choose Energy Star certified appliances wherever possible.

#4 Choose Timeless Pieces You Won't Need to Replace When You Sell


Trendy tiles, unconventional backsplashes and bizarrely shaped islands might be fun for the short-term -- or befitting of your family’s aesthetic -- but chances are they will not pass the test of time. More likely than not, your family will outgrow last season’s tile trend and the future buyers of your home will replace and toss out your unique backsplash. To avoid creating future waste, consider advice from the recent This Old House article “Remodeling Your Kitchen? Read This!This Old House suggests choosing hardware, flooring, tiling and other finishes that “reflect your taste—but that [are[ also widely appealing and easy to maintain so it won’t turn off buyers when you put the house on the market someday.” For a classically beautiful kitchen with just the right amount of sparkle and personality, we love IceStone’s recycled glass countertops.

#5 Sift Through Vintage Accents


In her article “8 Little Ways to Update Your Kitchen Without Renovating” for Real Simple, Caitlyn Harris suggests homeowners “swap out the hardware” in their kitchens for a simple yet stunning change. Harris writes that “you won’t believe how quick and easy it is to give your old, outdated hardware a refresh.” Homeowners can “warm up [their] finishes” by opting for vintage brass hardware “in a sleek, modern shape [which] will instantly make your kitchen look on-trend.” With their organic shapes and varied sizes, we love the character and history of this set of vintage Portuguese cast brass Baldwin Mid-Century Modern cabinet knobs from 1stDibs. Donate old hardware or paint and repurpose in your bathroom or laundry room.

#6 Consider Salvaged Materials

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To reduce emissions produced and waste created during your kitchen remodel, source materials locally and salvage what you can. In the article “Remodeling Your Kitchen With Salvaged Items” for DIY Network, Karin Beuerlein writes that “scoring a great find at a salvage shop, an estate sale or an online vintage retailer” might not be cheaper than purchasing pieces from cheap ecommerce sites like Wayfair or Overstock, but it “will add presence to your kitchen and prevent waste from going into the landfill.” However, finding recycled or repurposed pieces for your kitchen could save quite a bit of cash if you were planning to purchase high-end elements. 

Jean Brownhill explains in her article “I Saved $92K on My Reno By Buying a Recycled Kitchen” for Domino. Brownhill writes that choosing salvaged materials almost always “adds character while lessening the project’s impact on the planet...but the impact on your wallet can be substantially reduced as well.” Quoting Big Reuse director Justin Green, Brownhill writes that “cost savings can be considerable,” with  “‘salvaged plumbing, lighting, doors, windows, cabinets, and fixtures are usually more than 50 percent off.’” In the end -- notes Brownhill -- when homeowners embrace the “three R’s—reuse, recycle, reduce—meet the fourth—renovation—anything can happen.”

How to Find Eco-Friendly Elements for Your Kitchen Remodel

Wherever possible, purchase furniture from environmentally conscious designers and local makers using recycled glass in countertops and salvaged wood in kitchen furniture. Opting for locally-sourced materials in your kitchen remodel reduces emissions by eliminating the need for fossil-fuel-heavy cross-country or international shipping. We recommend considering eco-friendly vendors like IceStone for countertops, Grain for Accents, StickBulb for lighting, ECOS for paints and varnishes, and Meyer Wells for furniture when updating your kitchen. Each uses salvaged, local, recycled or VOC-free materials in the making of their products.

I've Remodeled My Kitchen -- What Do I Do with the Leftovers?

In his article “How to Donate or Recycle Home Remodeling Materials” for Houzz, Mitchell Parker explains what to do with post-renovation cast-offs. He writes that depending on the condition, most kitchen finishings, appliances, flooring materials and other elements can either be repurposed or recycled if salvaged. Referencing a list from the U.S. Green Building Council, Parker writes that the following materials can be either reused elsewhere in your own home or donated to another project or family. The Green Building Council recommends homeowners either reuse or donate “appliances, cabinets, ceiling tiles, dimensional lumber, doors, ductwork, flooring, insulation, lighting fixtures, marble, metal framing, plywood, paneling, pipes, stone, tile and trim or molding.” For more specific instructions, follow below.

#1 Cabinets

The Recycle Nation article “How to Recycle Kitchen Cabinets” outlines ways in which homeowners can either recycle or repurpose their discarded cabinetry. Recycle Nation notes that homeowners can recycle cabinets “made with untreated lumber” by dropping them off at a local recycling center. However, if the cabinets are treated, varnished or “covered with kitchen paper or a similar material,” the process can get a bit more complicated. If you find that your cabinets were crafted from treated wood, the only option might be tossing out each piece. This is because the glue used in treated wood cabinets “often contains formaldehyde and other toxic chemicals, making it impossible to safely recycle.” If your cabinets are backed, safe from unhealthy emissions and in good condition, Recycle Nation suggests “donating them to a building material reuse organization.”

#2 Countertops

According to Christine Tusher in her article “How to recycle your old kitchen during renovation” for Green Home Guide, “while recycling building materials can take longer than simply whacking them with a sledgehammer...some things—such as large appliances and granite countertops—can be easily recycled with the right charity or facility.” If possible, Tusher recommends hiring “a green demolition company that already has ties to local charities and can remove building materials and finishes according to their specifications.” Though it might cost the homeowner a pretty penny to hire a green demolition crew to get rid of your heavy countertops, “some of the extra cost can be offset by avoiding landfill charges and with tax credits earned by donating materials.” 

#3 Appliances

In her article “How to Keep Old Appliances Out of the Landfill” for Better Homes & Gardens, Kathy Barnes suggests either selling, donating or recycling used appliances. Your appliances might not fit the needs of your family anymore, but they could work perfectly in another person’s home. Consider posting an ad on Facebook Marketplace, hosting a yard sale or “selling it to a used appliance shop or repair shop for parts.” If your machine is completely defunct, consider selling your old dishwasher or stove “to a scrap metal yard or metal recycler.” If you would prefer to donate rather than sell your old appliances, Barnes recommends checking with local donation centers, keeping in mind that “most charities only accept items that are clean and in working condition.” The final way to keep your old appliances away from landfills and onto their next stage of life is to recycle. In order to recycle legally and properly, Barnes recommends contacting “the manufacturer to see if the company runs a recycling program” or asking “your local waste management or public works departments to pick up and recycle the appliance.”

#4 Flooring

The Habitat for Humanity resource “8 things to donate when renovating” notes that “many salvage yards will recycle wood flooring that is in good condition.” Homeowners hoping to donate their old flooring should “look for clean, undamaged wood flooring with no visible nails and screws.” Salvage yards will also happily “recycle extra boxes of tiles from a home improvement project.” However, “not all types of flooring are recyclable,” particularly old linoleum and off-gassing vinyl, so homeowners should “talk to [their] local salvage shop before donating.” When purchasing flooring for your kitchen remodel, try to find eco-friendly materials that can be recycled in future -- such as those by Teknoflor which are manufactured from a blend of pure thermoplastic polymers and natural minerals.

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