Countertop considerations for the eco-conscious
The good news is that more home owners are catching on to the eco-conscious trends and incorporating environmentally friendly materials in their kitchen designs and remodels.
The better news is that as manufacturers realize the potential benefits to be had by offering more options, both monetary and otherwise, they are ramping up production of green materials.
Where kitchen countertops are concerned, although a wider selection of options provides a larger pool from which to pick your favorite, it also presents a more intricate list of considerations to take into account when deciding on the right material for your household.
To help you reach your decision, here's a closer look at eco-conscious countertops and some additional tips for making your greener kitchen as personal and planet-pleasing as possible!
Leading the pack of eco-friendly materials these days are recycled glass countertops. Made from 70-90+% pre- and post-consumer glass products (from sources as varied as demolished buildings, vehicle windshields, decommissioned traffic lights and recycled bottles and glass jars, just to name a few) mixed into a cement, resin or concrete base and set with a sealant, these 100% unique countertops are about as colorful as you can get!
By diverting used glass products from the waste stream that would otherwise end up at the bottom of a lake or landfill, recycled glass countertops are able to make the most of a previously discarded product, which is the very essence of a green initiative.
Depending on the level of color and material customization, recycled glass counters can cost upwards of $50-$100+ per square foot but leave you with something you can be proud to showcase in your eco-conscious kitchen.
If a natural wood countertop is more your speed, there are myriad options with reclaimed and recycled lumber or sustainably harvested (and lesser-known) tree species.
These are more expensive than their non-renewable butcher block counterparts (costing upwards of $50+ per square foot) but by using reclaimed wood, you can eliminate the need to harvest new trees. Moreover, lumber that has been recycled actually provides a better quality countertop due to the tighter grain of the wood.
Alternatively, you can still have brand new wood counters that come from trees of underutilized species (like Pacific Madrone) or those that come from managed forests and are harvested in a way that preserves their sustainability.
For those who want the look of natural wood without chopping down trees, consider the fast growth and renewability of bamboo.
In order to get the most longevity and strength, bamboo countertops utilize end-grain cut rectangles that are glued into panels, typically 1 ½ inches thick, that are then formed into chopping blocks. From here, you can get them to fit your spaces in natural tones or shades of brown.
Bamboo countertops are also green due to their ability to be cut with standard woodworking tools and use of low-off-gassing glues which do not harm the indoor air quality. Finally, they keep more green in your pocket; bamboo counters have a midrange cost compared to stone countertops and run in the ballpark of $22+ per square foot.
A concrete countertop is the ultimate green compromise. On the one hand, it's going to cost you a green bundle, ranging from approximately $65-$125 per square foot, but on the other, you can tweak the manufacturing process to incorporate personal touches and employ greener technology.
Preferable to nonrenewable natural resources (like quarried stone) and petroleum-based manufactured products, concrete's eco-friendliness arises in the production phase and the 'degree of green' depends on the particular manufacturer. Some incorporate natural minerals and recycled materials like metal shavings, recycled glass, scrap wood, plastic remnants and coal byproducts like fly ash, just to name a few.
At the same time, since each countertop is 100% unique, the options for customization are endless (recycled glass countertops are also in this category) and can include aspects like angles, curves, specific colors and even personal mementos! If you use a fabricator who pours your countertops onsite (some use precast molds and ship the finished product to your home), you can arrange to have broken bits of items like favorite china or seashells incorporated.
To up the green factor, look for a concrete manufacturer that utilizes recycled materials (preferably from local sources), with topical sealers that contain zero VOCs (volatile organic compounds), and a production process designed to minimize waste from imprecise fabrication quantities.
What are some of the eco-conscious countertop materials you've come across in your quest to create a greener home?
Chris Long is a long-time store associate at a Home Depot in the Chicago suburbs. Chris also writes on kitchen DIY and trends for the Home Depot website. He provides tips for homeowners on counter tops, flooring, sinks and cabinets.
Companies: The Home Depot