The kitchen is free of any particleboard, plywood, veneers, or plastics. The cabinets are made entirely from unfinished, locally harvested and milled pine. We chose pine because it’s aninexpensive local wood that’s easy to make cabinets out of. The cabinets were made the old-fashioned way, hand cutting joints and patching together pieces of wood so that only solid wood was used.
Our countertops are locally harvested and locally made beech butcher block. These we purchased salvaged. Although butcher block does contain glue (sheets of wood are “laminated” together), the butcher blocks were old enough that most of the toxicity from the glues had outgassed before we brought them into our home.
As part of our new building project we will also be making some improvements in our original home; one of the projects we are looking forward to is refurbishing our kitchen. Because all the surfaces are solid wood we can sand it down, refinish it and change the knobs for a new look. Doing this will be a lot less expensive and less disruptive than ripping out the entire kitchen and replacing it as so many homeowners are forced to do when their laminated particleboard kitchens start to deteriorate.
We installed a dishwasher, since an efficient dishwasher uses far less water than washing by hand does. We replaced our 13 year- old Asko dishwasher in 2008 with a newer model Asko which, like the old one, uses only a few gallons of water to wash an entire load. When used with environmentally friendly dishwasher soap, we feel this is a more ecologically sound option than washing by hand. The thing to remember about dishwashers is that “less is more”- a super efficient dishwasher operates best with a small amount of soap- make sure you experiment to find the best soap and the best amount to use. Our kitchen also contains a double sink, which allows us to conserve water when washing those items that cannot be placed in the dishwasher.
Our stove is propane powered, since electrical heat-generating appliances consume so much electricity and are so inefficient. Buying a gas stove that could run off-the-grid turned out to be quite a challenge. Due to safety concerns, continuously burning pilot lights are being phased out. That’s just as well, because maintaining a continual flame is also a terrible waste of non-renewable fuels. With the new, electronic ignition gas stoves, each gas valve is closed until its corresponding burner is turned on. Then gas is released and lit by an electronic spark, which uses only 2 watts of power for a few seconds and can easily be replaced by a match.
The problem, however, is that most gas ovens now use an electric glow bar, instead of an electronic spark, for ignition. With a glow bar (which draws 300 to 400 watts of power the entire time the oven is on), the gas valve remains closed until the electric glow bar heats the valve to a high enough temperature for the gas to burn. Because the opening of the valve requires high heat, the oven cannot be lit by a match.
When shopping for a new gas stove, look for one in which both burners and ovens start with an electrical spark. Fortunately, these are generally the less-expensive stoves. We were able to purchase our Caloric gas stove for less than $300. In 2008 our stove died and we needed to replace it- finding a propane powered stove that did not have a glow bar was even more difficult than it had been 13 years earlier. The stove we ultimately purchased was about $900 and while more substantial than our earlier stove, its functioning is not noticeably better. We hope that stove technology will continue to develop in ways that benefit those of us choosing to limit our electrical consumption. Having a stove that needs electricity as well as propane does not make a lot of sense, particularly in places where storms or limited supplies may interrupt a steady flow of electricity.
Our Sunfrost refrigerator and stand alone Freezer are both very energy-efficient and both run on DC power (see Electrical Systems). Although DC refrigerators are more expensive, we felt this was an important investment, since refrigerators are the largest consumers of electricity in most homes. Our 16 cubic foot refrigerator (6 cubic feet of which is freezer space) consumes only 1/6 the energy of a similarly-sized conventional refrigerator.