Granite counter tops are desirable upgrades for many remodeling their kitchen. We investigated green, eco friendly alternatives like Icestone, Cambria, Vetrazzo, Richlite, Paperstone but did not find any finishes to our liking. Also the price for the granite we liked was less that all these. We could buy granite and donate the extra money to charity or carbon offsets. We tried to buy granite that was from more responsible countries, so we excluded China, India, Iran. We tried to buy ‘local’ American but only a salt and pepper color was available.
Cambria is one of a select few countertops manufactured in the United States. Most others are made overseas, which significantly reduces the greenness of the material due to transportation costs and petroleum use.
Stainless Steel Countertops
We also considered stainless steel countertops. We actually had them in our kitchen already! The metal had become incredibly scratched over the years, but proved to be very good at keeping dirt and bacteria out of the way. Kitchen grade stainless steel has a matte finish that some people may not like.
We are installing granite countertops and I needed to find an alternative to the epoxy that they use to glue the granite to the plywood put on top of our kitchen cabinets. We were looking for Zero VOC or no VOC or low VOCs in adhesives and finishes.
I found Greenchoice Titebond Heavy Duty Construction Adhesive with a low 6.6g/L of VOC’s or volatile organic compounds. No oils to discolor items. At $3.19, it was not too costly. Alternates I found had up 47 g/L or more VOC’s. My installer wanted to use epoxy, which is a commonly used adhesive.
Another possible adhesive Liquid Nails for marble and granite has even more VOCs at 115 g/L!
Pro Spec B150 is the epoxy adhesive alternative. It does not have VOCs but does have BPA as an ingredient. So the trade off in using it is not clear cut. Accept some VOCs or go for no VOCs with some ingredients not being too healthy. At least the epoxy stays underneath and is not exposed.
Well we tried epoxy on a large section and after wards, the smell was so bad we had to leave the house for 6 hours. Be warned that that the fumes are overwhelming. Once past this initial phase, air quality is fine. Someday a water or soy based adhesive will be available.
Indoor air quality is an important part of being Green as it affects you directly.
Some possible alternatives to epoxy:
Geocel 3500 Tile Adhesive Sealant at 0.09 g/l VOC (May need to clamp it after installation for a couple days)
Make sure you seal your granite counter tops with a water based sealer like low voc Aqua Mix Sealer’s Choice Gold. (4% voc)
Alternative to granite countertops, Concrete countertops
American builders have recently welcomed making concrete countertops at their home sites, reducing costs, and creating a new green building technology. An average 50 square feet granite countertop costs around $2000, with a comparable concrete countertop costing around $1100.
Be sure to check out our post on Radioactive countertops
Also consider a recycled tile backsplash to add some color to your kitchen or bathroom. You can install this directly on the wall when mounted on a removable board.
Richlite Green Eco Friendly Countertops
Richlite makes paper-based kitchen countertops. We considered them when we needed a new countertop but moved on when we saw the high cost and limited finishes. It is made of recycled paper and does not off gas, but it is also made with a petroleum based resin. It is hard to find a material that is 100% green. Using salvaged materials is much more green, but takes a lot more effort.
Granite Counter Top Fabrication
Once you select a slab of granite for your new kitchen counter top, a granite fabricator needs to step in to cut and form it into the desired dimensions. These are often different companies than the stone yards that sell the granite. Many of these firms are obscure small local companies so visibility is very limited.
We managed our firm well, ensuring they used more eco friendly sealers and glues that are low in VOCs. We also looked at the leftovers and had them create a round top for a table. Most people do not realize that extra pieces are left over, so do your homework.
Radioactive Granite Countertops
photo credit: avidtile
New York Times had an article that started a scare for myself and others shopping for or possessing granite countertops. It warned about the dangers of granite containing high levels of dangerous uranium or other radioactive materials, which would also release radon gas as it decays. Radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer after smoking.
Because we were going to purchase granite countertops, we felt it wish to purchased a Geiger counter for a couple hundred dollars to ensure our future countertop was safe.
We found that the better stone companies had geiger counters themselves and rejected stones that did not meet their standards. The lesser companies did not do this. Pieces from developing countries or exotic colors may be more likely to need testing. While the likelihood of buying a ‘hot’ piece of stone exists, it is not very likely according to the stone dealers.
Eco Friendly Green Kitchen and Bathroom Tile
What type of attributes should one look for when purchasing new tiles for their bathroom or kitchen? The following list is what we looked for when purchasing new tile:
- Local manufacturers. Less fuel used in transport, helping the local economy.
- High recycled content. Some ceramic tiles contain 100% in house manufacturing waste. There are 100% recycled content glass tiles from vendors such as Bedrock Industries.
- Neutral colors. We have seen some cool designs, but fear they would not stand the test of time.
- Easy to clean tile with minimal outcroppings.
Eco Friendly and Green Grout
Grout is used to seal up the spaces between tiles. There are not a lot of options in grout. As with most other building materials, we are looking for products that do not off gas toxic VOC’s. StarQuartz is one of the few products that utilizes urethane grout and fulfilled our requirements. Be aware that they recommend non vinegar and none acidic cleaners be used on this grout.
Good Green Remodeling Book
We’re doing remodeling and want to be as ‘Green’ as possible, so I found this book. Prescriptions for a Healthy House – It covers all aspects of a house in very good detail and includes lots of suggestions for alternative building materials. It covers everything from kitchens to bathrooms, tile to counter tops to flooring. Learn about Eco Label Tiles to Linoleum made from flax seed.
One problem is that some materials just are not very available. Several items were not stocked by any dealers in the entire San Francisco Bay area. At least I learned about qualities to look for in alternate products.
We also have Good Green Kitchens but find that book not as detailed.
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Reducing Construction Waste
Construction debris can make up over a quarter of a landfill. Here are some tips for reducing construction waste from our recent remodeling project.
We have covered donating unwanted items in the past. Craigslist proved very useful in giving away old kitchen cabinets, countertops, extra wood, and many other items. We also moved into our garage for much more organized storage.
Our contractor was instrumental in diverting old items toward for use on other projects he was working on. Many items went to a local church.
We were left with extra construction supplies such as adhesives and sealers, parts, etc. We returned as many as we could to vendors and gave the extras back to our contractor for future projects. No sense in adding stuff that would never be used to our storage space.