Crossville’s natural porcelain tile can be specified for a variety of kitchen and bath applications. Shown is the Tuscania series for floors, walls and countertops.
Green design is not limited to corporate buildings or large homebuilders; sustainable design can be incorporated into kitchen and bathroom surfaces in any home, office or construction project.

Nationally recognized organizations are encouraging the design and construction of environmentally conscious kitchens and baths. For example, the U.S. Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) rating system for Commercial Interiors pilot program addresses a variety of performance areas including: water use reduction, optimizing energy performance, ventilation efficiency, resources reuse, recycled content and regional materials, rapidly renewable materials and certified wood, indoor environmental quality, and low-emitting materials.

Neil Kelly Cabinets’ case materials are made from annually renewable resources and formaldehyde-free wheatboard core.
The National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) and the NAHB Research Center intend to develop “Model Green Home Building Guidelines.”

Among common “green guidelines” currently being practiced in design and construction, there are many that relate directly to kitchen and bath design, says Mary Jo Peterson, CKD, CBD. Peterson is president of Brookfield, Conn.-based Mary Jo Peterson, Inc., a design studio and consulting firm with specialized expertise in kitchen, bath and universal/accessible design. Her recommendations include:

  • Designing a space that is as small and energy-efficient as possible;
  • Minimizing ozone-depleting chemicals;
  • Improving indoor air;
  • Sound and water quality;
  • Conserving energy and resources; and
  • Efficiently using and recycling materials, including waste management.

Richlite’s (Tacoma, Wash.) countertop surface is primarily made of paper. Richlite uses renewable resources purchased from managed, certified forests.

Counters And Cabinets

By specifying low- or no-VOC (volatile organic compounds) paints and finishes, a healthier indoor environment can be achieved. In addition, many natural, breathable wallcoverings inhibit the growth of mold and mildew, often a major concern in kitchens and baths. Countertops can feature recycled content, such as tiles made with recycled glass.

Cabinetry options are now available in certified wood with environmentally-sound finishes. U.S.-based Neil Kelly Cabinets (Portland, Ore.) offers case material and drawer boxes made from annually renewable and formaldehyde-free wheatboard core. Finishes are water-based low-VOC or no-VOC products, all the way down to the glues during construction. These product lines have been used in several LEED-certified projects including Viridian Place in Lake Oswego, Ore.

Teragren LLC (Bainbridge Island, Wash.) has introduced panels and veneers for cabinets, furniture and walls. Shown in the Gomez Residence kitchen in Portland, Ore., are Teragren’s cabinets (Cross-Ply Panels in Flat Grain Natural) and TimberGrass Flat Grain Caramelized flooring (photo by Jon Jensen). Teragren uses renewably harvested bamboo. Bamboo plank flooring with a formaldehyde-free adhesive is also available.
For counters, floors and walls, natural tiles may also be considered. Porcelain tile does not produce fumes, and it does not support mold or mildew growth. Crossville Ceramics' (Crossville, Tenn.) porcelain stone tiles are made of naturally occurring clays and locally-mined minerals. The company also offers a new Eco-Cycle program featuring products made from 95 percent recycled tile.

Weyerhaeuser’s (Federal Way, Wash.) Lyptus high-grade hardwood, made from Eucalyptus trees in Brazil, can be used for flooring or cabinetry.


Products such as bamboo, certified wood, cork and linoleum can be used in kitchens and baths. Other options include natural carpets or those with recycled content, long-life cycles and reclamation programs.

“While specifying green products can be challenging, especially in complex spaces such as kitchens and bathrooms, we have always found that our clients have a genuine appreciation for these products. In one residential bathroom, we used an ECOsurfaces recycled rubber flooring by Dodge-Regupol and the clients are thrilled with how it looks and performs,” says president of The Epsten Group, Inc., Dagmar B. Epsten, AIA, CCS, LEED Accredited Professional.

Many sustainable flooring options can even be applied over radiant heating, resulting in a more comfortable kitchen or bath. A variety of methods can be used to achieve efficient delivery of radiant heat while using less energy and providing clean air. For more information on radiant heating, please visit

As Peterson says, “Designers need to be alert to ways that we can help make that impact positive, in the materials and products we specify, the construction process and the design of the space.”