Installment Six: Green Countertops using Recycled Materials
If you are considering a kitchen or bath remodel and are looking for “green” options, you are in luck. There are some attractive and durable options available and you don’t have to sacrifice durability or functionality.
What’s green? Green countertops feature recycled or sustainable content, low-toxicity binders, eco-friendly manufacturing processes, or a combination. Local production is a bonus also because transporting countertops can be a big fuel-guzzler. Two other important things are to pick a material that has been recycled already and to choose something that lasts so you never have to replace it. Local, recycled and enduring, it is hard to get more green than that!
Recycled glass/terrazzo, reclaimed wood, and recycled paper are three excellent environmental choices for durable, nontoxic, and resource efficient countertops.
Terrazzo can be made from crushed up stone and recycled glass that is held together by a binding agent. The countertop is then buffed for a nice smooth surface. You can color or stain the terrazzo for a custom finish and a stylish, chic look. Using terrazzo made from recycled glass eliminates the energy needed to obtain new materials. As some binding agents may release VOC’s, look for terrazzo made with a cement binder made from fly ash. Fly ash is a by- product of burning coal. By using a terrazzo bound with fly ash, you are recycling something that would otherwise end up in a landfill and eliminating potential VOC’s at the same time. Terrazzo countertops are as durable as granite and they withstand heat. They can be a bit pricey though, starting at about $50 a square foot. Kyle Contris of ConCreations was a local Olympia artisan who manufactured and supplied some stunning concrete and recycled glass countertops.
Reclaimed hardwood is another excellent environmentally sound product. Manufacturers use wood sources from old buildings, barns, farm houses, wine barrels, doors and tables. They then mill or form them into solid pieces or butcher block countertops and surfaces. These pieces have a unique and weathered appearance adding to their charm. The most common woods used for reclaimed wood countertops are reclaimed Oak, Maple, Hickory, Red Oak and Cherry. However, wood that has been reclaimed from old barns and warehouses might have been treated with chemicals that are now recognized as being toxic. Substances such as lead paint and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) can be present in the reclaimed wood, so be sure to ask your supplier about the risks associated with reclaimed wood origins and choose non toxic alternatives. Wood generally requires a bit more maintenance than stone or tile and may not be the best choice in a wet area. The price of reclaimed wood countertops can vary greatly, but they can often be found starting at around $30 a square foot. Windfall Lumber countertops are made in Olympia Washington and they offer some beautiful options.
Using paper to make a countertop may seem a bit “counter” intuitive. But these countertops are not only very attractive, but also water proof and heat and stain resistant. Made from post consumer recycled paper fiber combined with non toxic resins, they can be made to look like natural stone or other solid surface materials using various natural pigments and finishes. Countertops can be cut and shaped with standard woodworking tools so may be a good choice for the budget conscious home craftsman. Prices start at about $30 a square foot. Paperstone, a local company in Hoquiam, makes a very attractive product.