We’ve been talking about renovations quite a bit, and it makes sense. So many home owners are opting to renovate their existing homes rather than sell and relocate. The other current trend, of course, are home owners selling their larger, family homes and moving into smaller digs. Either way, with a renovation or new construction comes the opportunity to go green from the ground up.
We’ve talked about green flooring and redoing the bathroom, and we’ve talked about low-voc paint, and covered what to keep and what to toss when renovating a kitchen. It’s time to talk countertops. Of course, keeping your existing counter is the most eco-friendly choice, but that’s not always an option.
From tile and Formica to butcher’s block, granite and poured concrete, counter surfaces run the gamut in style and price point. But what are the greenest options out there for creating a functional and stylish counter in the kitchen or bath? We’re going to find out!
The first step is to consider your style and your budget. It makes sense to invest in the best countertop you possibly can – a longer-lived counter is a greener counter.
Recycled glass countertops like IceStone, Syndecrete and EnviorGlass actually divert glass and porcelain from the waste stream. Colorful recycled glass bits are mixed into a cement, concrete or resin base to make a truly custom counter. This is a pricey option, running $50 a square foot and up. It’s not a DIY project and you’ll want to ask some serious questions about VOCs, sealants and fillers to ensure the end product is as green as you want it to be. As for durability? These tend to stand the test of time, though their stain resistance and ultimate durability are impacted by the various components.
Recycled paper fibers are either bound into resin, or compressed into solid blocks and coated in resin creating a tough-as-nails surface that is totally customizable for color. Companies like PaperStone, Squak Mountain Stone and EcoTop are leading the way in the field. Cost starts around $30 per square foot and installation is on the easy side, though still not DIY. The lifespan of these counters is still to be determined, but expectations are high. Look for low-VOC, petroleum- and formaldehyde-free resins (some are even made from cashew nut shell liquid).
Recycled Construction Waste
Construction waste accounts for over 15% of what goes into landfills. 3form Chroma, made from 100% postconsumer HDPE, a plastic commonly found in landfills, is a relatively new entry in the field. The price is very high, ranging up to $105 per square foot, and long term durability not yet determined, but expected to be very high. Thepanels come in a wide range of colors and are able to be refinished and ultimately recycled after use.
Reusing something is almost always a good option when it comes to conserving resources. Salvaged wood countertops are a perfectly green solution when available through local salvage supplies. The cost starts around $40 per square foot and if treated with low-VOC sealants or natural oils, the environmental impact is minimal. Water damage is a potential concern, and wood shouldn’t be used directly next to a sink or dishwasher. Craft-Art and Endurawood are both national manufacturers creating counters from reclaimed wood. Aside from water damage, burns and stains, expect a well-cared for wood counter to last a lifetime.
It’s industrial looking and virtually indestructible. It’s heat resistant, totally customizable, easy to clean and can be made from recycled material and then recycled at the end of its lifetime. So what’s the downside of this eco-wonder surface? Stainless steel counters range from affordable to super expensive, with prices ranging from DIY at about $20 per square foot to $100 per square foot for custom installation. They may dent, will scratch and show fingerprints and they’re noisy. But, if made with recycled stainless, they’re incredibly eco-friendly and if you can handle a few imperfections, they’ll last a lifetime.
Bamboo counters are an environmentally-friendly alternative to wood. Bamboo is renewable, sustainable and highly durable. If made from end-grain wood that’s glued into panels, it can even be a cutting or chopping surface. Make sure all adhesives and sealants are low-VOC and expect to pay prices starting at $22 a square foot. Like wood, bamboo should not be used immediately adjacent to a sink or dishwasher and will require regular upkeep with sealants or natural oils. The surface is prone to stains, burn marks and water damage, but should otherwise last a lifetime.
Questions to Ask:
- Is the primary material sourced from recycled or renewable content? And if so, what is the percentage?
- If the surface is wood, is it FSC certified?
- Where were the counters manufactured? Is there a local source?
- What steps does the manufacturer take to reduce energy, water, and waste during manufacturing?
- How long will the countertop last? At the end of its life, can it be recycled locally or returned to the manufacturer for recycling?
- Does the countertop material offgas VOCs? Is the product independently certified to be low- or zero-VOC?
- Will the countertop require a backing such as plywood, medium density fiberboard (MDF), or particle board? If yes, is there a VOC-free backing available?
- Will any adhesives, grouts, mortars, or sealants be used during installation? Are low- or zero-VOC products available?
- Does the manufacturer recommend a specific maintenance product? If yes, ask for the material safety data sheet (MSDS), so you can assess the product’s ingredients.
- Will the installer be able to remove your old countertops intact so they can be reused elsewhere? If they can’t be reused, can they be recycled?