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Outside the green box: Designing the new green kitchen and bath

Toilets that conserve water have become imperative items in drought-stricken areas like Georgia and parts of the Southeast. Pictured are new Kohler models at a Lowe’s store in Columbus, Ohio.

Green products for the kitchen and bath, at their most basic level, are easily divided into two core categories—water conservation and energy savings.

Energy savings has been a hot news topic for years, particularly in light of higher energy costs and the EPA’s steady promotion of its Energy Star program. But water conserving items, such as low-flow showerheads and toilets that use a minimal amount of water per flush, have taken center stage since droughts have hit many southern states.

“What you’re seeing now is that places like Georgia are very concerned about the drought that they’re under," explained James Walsh, a product director for American Standard.

American Standard recently introduced a new residential low-water-use toilet under the FloWise brand, with a 20 percent lower per-gallon water-use function. Like American Standard, nearly all major manufacturers of toilets have come out with water-conserving models in recent years.

American Standard has three toilet models listed under the EPA’s WaterSense Program; companies including Toto, Gerber and Caroma are heavily represented on the WaterSense list as well.

Tommy Linstroth serves as a sustainability expert for Farmer’s Almanac. Since being based in Atlanta, Linstroth said he’s seen the trend toward water-conserving products in drought areas take root.

“The Northwest had already demonstrated themselves as being leaders in green building,” Linstroth said. “But in the South and down in the Southeast right now, those sort of water saving issues start to become very personal.”

In terms of energy-saving appliances, many of the familiar items, such as refrigerators and dishwashers, have been Energy Star-rated for more than a decade. But some new technologies are trying to make headway into the market.

Induction cooktops have been made less expensive and more available in recent years. The cooktops, which transfer heat directly into the food being cooked, are best known for having a range surface that remains cool to the touch while operating.

Manufacturers such as Electrolux and Thermador have promoted the efficiency, responsiveness and temperature-moderating qualities of the items.

The federal government does not have energy standards for ranges, ovens, cooktops or microwaves—though as a general rule, those items use less energy than 24-hour appliances like refrigerators and freezers.

Again, induction cooking was made available first in Europe, and has grown in popularity there, particularly in areas where gas cooking is not an option.

Linstroth agreed that, as with induction, numerous green products have carried high prices for years that may have kept consumers away.

Promoting the full range of kitchen and bath offerings becomes important as consumers start to realize just how broad is the assortment of products. Even highlighting products consumers might not view as “green”—such as a $2 water-conserving aerator for faucets—is one key to selling the concept.

“One of the common misconceptions has been that ‘Oh, it’s only solar panels,’” Linstroth said. “Some better labeling or having a green section to call those things out could really help to ramp up sales on some simple products.”

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