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By Elden Freeman

If the family room is the emotional centre of a house, the kitchen is its heart and soul.

It’s where we do a lot of living. As such, it’s one of the more expensive areas of a home to build, to renovate and to keep running smoothly and efficiently. It’s also an area we can easily overlook in our quest to raise our environmental know-how.

Installing faucet aerators and shopping at Whole Foods are great for our eco-consciousness but there is so much more homeowners can do to lessen their impact on the environment and to save money in the meantime.

About 30 per cent of your household energy use takes place in the kitchen. Because energy guzzling appliances are a big part of the kitchen, it’s important to rethink or relearn how to use them. According to Kate Heyhoe, author of Green Cooking: Reducing Your Carbon Footprint in the Kitchen, this can be done without sacrificing your favourite recipes.

Your overall cookprint – which is what Heyhoe calls the environmental impact created when you eat and cook – is what we need to begin shrinking. You’ve heard this term elsewhere, more likely as sustainable eating.

The oven is an energy hog or as Heyhoe puts it, the Humvee of the kitchen. Since only about six per cent of the fuel used for an oven goes toward active cooking, try using a toaster oven or your cook-top instead. Try more passive cooking. Reconsider the length of time you preheat the oven and give it a try without any preheating time at all. Consider turning the oven off 10 or 15 minutes earlier than the prescribed cooking time, which allows the food to finish cooking from heat already built up inside the oven. Try softening noodles by soaking them first in boiling water.

Many green foodies abhor microwave ovens, but they probably don’t know that they consume far less energy than a stove. The beauty of a microwave is that it doesn’t heat up your kitchen and lead you to turn up your air conditioning. Try not to use them to defrost foods, though, because that’s simply wasteful. Thawing food overnight in your fridge is best.

Did you know that convection ovens produce 30 per cent less greenhouse gases than conventional ovens?

Many kitchen faucets are controlled by a single valve. If you leave the handle tilted to the hot side (usually the left) and turn that on, you fire up the hot water tank even when you don’t want hot water. Simply leaving it turned to the right saves energy.

Teflon cookware and single-serving containers are two of Heyhoe’s biggest pet peeves. Teflon is not only toxic but often poorly made and easily disposable. Single-serving containers of yogurt and individual bottles of iced tea add needless waste to our landfill sites. Consider instead brewing your iced tea at home or eating your yogurt from a bowl or lunch-box container.

Since kitchens generate the most waste of any room in the house, start by minimizing the excess packaging you purchase at the supermarket. Buy fresh, unwrapped produce, avoid buying in bulk and huge portions unless you eat in bulk or have a big family to feed. Reuse plastic bags, glass jars and packaging. And don’t forget to compost your organic waste.

The toxins that go into dishwashing soap, floor and glass cleaners, detergents and the gamut of household cleaners we use in our kitchens is frightening. There are solutions with cleaning products that are non-toxic, biodegradable and plant-based. Or consider making your own household cleaning products from such kitchen staples as baking soda, lemon juice and white vinegar.

While we should celebrate the earth every day of the year, April brings us Earth Day on the 22nd as a reminder. Consider sharing some of these tips with your clients. The earth will thank you for it.

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