Nine sustainable kitchen renovation ideas

Living Well | Words: Natasha Perera | Images: Getty, Unsplash | Posted on 20 October 2020

Renovate your kitchen sustainably with these budget-friendly ideas.

The kitchen is one of the most popular rooms in the home to renovate, and taking a sustainable approach has more positive spin-offs than you might think.

It can benefit your lifestyle, health, hip pocket and also lighten your environmental footprint.

According to Amy Hallett, co-director of architecture firm Topology Studio, the focus should be on buying less but buying better quality to reduce the need for replacing things in a few years’ time.

“Also think about key areas where you can recycle or reuse and inevitably it will result in a better-functioning kitchen,” Amy says.

Here are a few budget-friendly sustainable renovating ideas to consider.

Modern kitchen

Amy’s top picks for benchtops are natural stone and timber.



Nine ways to renovate your kitchen, sustainably, on a budget


Less is more

A large kitchen isn’t necessarily a good kitchen. So, when you renovate, don’t automatically assume you have to make it bigger to make it better. Try and avoid unnecessary duplication of appliances as every extra piece of equipment will add to the home’s energy consumption and running costs.

“Having a slightly smaller kitchen that works really efficiently is wiser,” Amy says. “Ask yourself, do I really need two fridges, two dishwashers or two ovens to make the space function better? You’ll probably find the answer is no.” 

Recycled materials

Don’t be too hasty to throw everything out and start over. It’s worth having a good look at what your old kitchen has that could work with the new design.

“Some have solid timber cupboard and drawer fronts which are expensive, so perhaps see how they can be refinished or repainted to lift the look,” Amy explains.

It’s also worth keeping an eye out for stone or timber off-cuts that can be fashioned into a benchtop. This is generally cheaper than buying large slabs of the materials new.

Natural choice

When it comes to sustainable work surfaces, Amy’s top picks for benchtops are natural stone and timber, rather than man-made composites, because they are more readily recyclable and contain fewer harmful chemicals.

“If you choose to go with timber composites ask for low E or zero E coatings to minimise the use of chemicals such as formaldehyde during manufacturing, and make sure any paints used are low VOC [volatile organic compounds],” she says.

For those who want to maintain a near-new look consider materials that can be touched up easily and repaired, rather than replaced.

“Something like a timber bench can be sanded down and refinished for a relatively inexpensive way of freshening it up,” Amy says.

Upcycle old furniture

Upcycling vintage pieces of furniture is another cost-effective idea, plus it adds a lot of personality. 

This might include a dresser or sideboard incorporated into the kitchen design for extra storage.

“It’s a really wonderful way of repurposing old pieces that are often quite high-quality and a lot less expensive than buying new,” Amy says. 

Managing waste

Given so much of our household rubbish is generated while cooking, it does pay to look at better ways to separate everyday waste in the kitchen.

“If recycling becomes a chore or inconvenient, you’re less likely to do it,” Amy says.

She suggests fitting multi-compartment bins in under-bench cupboards near the sink and dishwasher to make the task easier when cleaning up. 

Modern kitchen

Upcycling vintage pieces of furniture is another cost-effective idea.


Modern kitchen

Install multi-compartment bins to simplify waste management.


Modern kitchen

Clever pantry storage could help to reduce food waste.



Efficient storage

Kitchens with deep pantry shelves tend to encourage people to overfill this storage space with grocery items that eventually get pushed to the back and forgotten.

Narrower shelves or clever racking systems fitted inside the pantry, including drawers, allow you to see what you have in stock at a glance. This will help reduce food wastage.

“It makes us think smarter about how we shop, but it’s not for everyone, especially those who prefer to shop in bulk,” Amy says.

Water-wise

If the dishwasher and sink are not close to the hot-water service you’ll probably need to run the water longer for it to heat up, which will use more energy and water. A good way around this is to install another small hot-water service under the sink.

“The cost of adding a small under-bench hot-water unit will be offset by reduced running costs in terms of water and energy,” Amy explains. 

Light the way

Be sure to replace old energy-sapping lights with efficient LED designs and direct light where it is most needed to avoid over-lighting the space and adding to electricity bills.

“Often the light is directed on to the floor, whereas it should be focused on the benches and positioned in a way that allows you to see what’s in cupboards,” Amy says.

Star treatment 

When choosing appliances be guided by the energy rating – the star-rated labels allow you to compare the running costs and efficiency of appliances of the same size before you buy them.

“This is an effective system that gives people a clear idea of how efficient the product will be,” says RACV trade training manager Andy Anderson.

When choosing water-efficient taps Andy suggests people always check for a valid Australian WaterMark certification, especially when buying products online from overseas.

“Some countries may not have the same plumbing regulations we do and if it hasn’t got the WaterMark it may not function effectively here due to our water pressure being higher or lower than what the tap can accommodate,” he explains.

“Even if a tap’s flow rate is a few litres a minute more, it will add up over time and that will mean you are going in the opposite direction of trying to be sustainable.”

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