Eco Priority Guide: Kitchens


The following issues relate to both potential positive and negative issues associated with each product class:

Priority Order

Benchtop stone


Joinery carcass


Finishes, Stainless Steel

Floors & Walls



Refer 'Materials' - stone

Refer 'Timber'


Refer 'Timber'

Refer 'Plastics'

Refer 'Metals'

Refer 'Floors', 'Paints'

Refer 'Water'


Granite benchtop

Timber benchtop, veneers on cupboards

Chipboard or MDF frame for joinery.

Laminate benchtops or cupboards

Stainless steel use domestic or commercial

Timber, tile, vinyl floors

Sinks, taps, dishwasher, oven


The kitchen is the heart of many Australian homes, and in commercial or residential applications the site of many of the most resource intensive activities. In Australia about 23% of domestic GHGs are generated in the kitchen through cooking and refrigeration, and about 13% of domestic water use is associated with the residential kitchen (Commonwealth of Australia 2002). The selection of materials impacts directly on the health of the space users (for example through VOCs), and the selection of eco-preferable products, such as low-flow taps, impacts profoundly on the performance of the building as a whole whether domestic or commercial.

Quick Guide

Benchtop, Stone


· Durability

· Readily cleaned

· Reusability

· High value - potential for reuse good


· Typically imported - energy loads

· Often require high VOC chemical sealant to prevent absorption. These are often factory applied and continue to emit VOCs for long time after installation

· High potential water use and contamination in factory polishing unless Clean Manufacturing techniques used

Benchtop, Timber


· Reasonably durable

· High value - some potential for reuse

· Low/ zero harmful VOCs if finish natural hard finishing oils used

· No ongoing harmful VOCs if natural oils used

· Certified and recycled timber laminated benchtops available



· Potentially from at-risk forests or ecosystems

· High VOCs if polyurethane (PUR) sealant used

· Ongoing VOCs from reapplication of PUR over time

· Re-application of PUR requires complete stripping of bench

Joinery Carcass - chipboard and MDF


· Wood product probably locally grown

· Low emission EO and E1 emission class products are available


· VOCs from predominantly urea formaldehyde glues

· Reuse potential poor, partly result of particularity of most kitchen designs, partly due to use of glue-fixings, low value of substrate, poor potential for repeated fixing.



· Highly durable

· Low VOC emission



· Recycling not practical - landfill likely disposal route

· Potential VOCs from (typically high emission) chipboard substrate- alternatives available

Stainless Steel


· Durability

· High-value - reuse or recycling likely

· Inert - no VOCs


· Very high energy inputs, toxics associated with stainless steel production

· Cleaning requirements due to appearance characteristics and cleaning requirements (use of caustic solutions)

Making a Decision


Most residential kitchens end up in the dumpster, with a large associated body of wastes that are highly mixed - glues, mastics, laminated chipboards that are impractical to recycle, broken tiles and the like. Joinery is screwed and glued together, it typically has poor edge strength, and the potential for disassembly & reuse is very low. Kitchens are one of the hardest areas to minimise impacts on.

As a general rule wherever possible use solid timber, mechanically fixed, with minimum compositing with non-like materials. This will lead to a higher capital cost, but higher potential for reuse. An eco-advantage option that may be more cost-competitive is the use of ultra-low VOC MDF products now being manufactured in Australia.

Wherever possible heavy products, for example tiles, should be sourced locally. There is a good range of Australian-made ceramic tile products available for floor and wall applications.

Ultra-low and zero VOC paints are also available, some with excellent wash & wear capabilities.

In many domestic kitchens a strong argument can be made for an unsealed tiled floor (zero VOCs), or a natural cork floor (most cork manufacturers will not warranty their products without high VOC high embodied energy polyurethane coatings.

The embodied energy figures (refer 'Embodied Energy') give some guidance on the relative intensity of materials used in the kitchen - but does not give a sense of the quantities used. Only in some areas are comparisons useful:

Joinery carcasses - some comparative embodied energy figures






Approximately equivalent in terms of mass

KD Pine


KD Hardwood


Heavier, but less required. Probably heavier overall.

Plastics general (virgin)


Sheet products can be used in special circumstances

Source: (Commonwealth of Australia 2002) section 3.1.

Decision-making guidelines (entry level)

Decision Making for Sustainability: a Global Guide

Project specific activities

Ongoing activities: Building Capacity

· Interrogating materials use by Guidelines 1-6.

· Data Quality checks

· Build understanding

· Send right signals

· Innovate and educate

· Contractor knowledge


Commonwealth of Australia (2002). Your Home. Canberra, Australian Greenhouse Office.