Know Your Counter Tops – Going Green in the Kitchen

By on 14 September, 2011 in DIY, Heather Coleman with 1 Comment

Paperstone countertops - photo by HandsLive

Over the last couple of months, we have selected and purchased cabinets and floors for our kitchen remodel. Because of our busy schedules, we finally decided this month to hire a contractor to help with some logistics, so we are currently in the process of interviewing contractors. The last hurdle before we start the remodel is figuring out what to put on the countertops.

Going into this, I really thought that there were a couple of basic options for counters. Most of the kitchens that I have seen use Corian, tile, laminate or granite counters, with the occasional butcher block thrown in. In general, these are not terribly environmentally conscious options, although in recent years some progress has been made towards making them more eco-friendly. When I started really delving into my options, I was shocked to see how much the market had expanded, particularly in the area of eco-friendly options.

Being environmentally aware is something that is important to us. The IKEA cabinets that we chose are held to the highest worldwide standards (German) for off-gassing. They are formaldehyde free and have very very low VOC’s. The cork that we chose for the floors is one of the most environmentally friendly options that exist. Cork is harvested only every nine years, from trees that are at least 25 years old. The cork oak is carefully harvested by hand, ensuring that the tree remains unaffected by the harvesting process. Harvesting actually increases the amount of oxygen that the tree gives off, because the tree has to work harder to replace the lost bark. Cork oaks can live well over 150 years, making cork the ultimate renewable resource.

That being said, cost still plays a pretty significant role in our decision making process. We want a counter that is inexpensive and eco-friendly. Many of the green options were amazing and gorgeous, but at $80-$100 per square foot, not at all practical for our budget kitchen remodel.

If you want an amazing counter top and budget isn’t a huge concern, check out glass terrazzo products such as IceStone, Fuez, Bottlestone, BioGlass, Vetrazzo, Trinity Glass and EnviroGlas. Like stone, they are heat, scratch and stain resistant. Some use a petroleum-based binder, but many of the newer products use ceramics or concrete-based binders. All are made from recycled glass. These products are very similar to stone and require an experienced fabricator for installation, so expect a higher price tag.

Once relegated to flooring, wood and bamboo are both quickly becoming viable options for countertops. Teragren produces some amazing bamboo countertops– the variety and beauty really surprised me. Durapalm is actually made of older palms that no longer fruit. Pricing is surprisingly reasonable from what I can find — around $20-$30 per sq ft. Endurawood offers reclaimed wood, sustainable woods, and non-wood options like bamboo, wheatboard, Kirei board (sorghum straw waste) and several paper-based composites. Craft-Art also has wood options that are sourced in a environmentally friendly way. They have an online store and boast that they are DIY friendly. For the very budget conscious, Ikea offers birch, beech and oak butcher block options. While not as eco-friendly as some of the other options, they are unfinished, so there is minimal off-gassing. They can be sanded and resealed for years.

Paper and resin composites are also a fairly budget friendly option. Like the glass terrazzo products, they are made primarily from recycled materials, held together with a composite material. Paperstone is one of the leaders in this market. According to their website, experienced DIYers can easily install it and they even have a tutorial right on their site. They also sell remnants and discounted pieces for a fraction of the price. Shetkastone is another, more expensive paper composite. They use a wide variety of post-consumer paper sources, and have a “green” counter that is made from recycled money. Like Paperstone it can be fabricated with basic woodworking tools.

There are quite a few more composite products. Alkemi is a gorgeous option made from recycled aluminum. Eco-Terr uses pre-consumer marble, granite, other stone and glass chips combined with a cement binder to create their counter tops. Lithistone is a magnesium-based ceramic cement that can be tinted and molded into almost any design. Squak Montain Stone is another cement based material composed of recycled paper, glass and cement. The end result is similar to limestone or soapstone. ECO by Cosentino is one of the most readily available eco-friendly composite products. Both Home Depot and Lowe’s can order it. The main issue with composite products is that many of them require an experienced fabricator.

In particular, solid surfacing has come a long way. Many companies are taking recycled products and creating beautiful, eco-friendly solid surfaces. Pricing is still a concern — you are definitely paying for it being a green product. Local availability is also a major problem. Although many companies allow you to order samples directly from them, finding a fabricator may be a challenge.

Ultimately, I am not sure if we will go with Paperstone or a steel banded melamine laminate from Ikea. It depends on how close we come to hitting out target budget. I am excited by the possibilities that are out there, and I now have a folder full of bookmarks for when we are in our “forever home.” Hopefully these products will have become more commonplace and the price will have come down by then!

Heather Coleman is a freelance writer and part-time DIY’er who mostly manages to fit her projects in around her family and her volunteer work. She lives with her husband, two boys and two pets in Midtown.

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  1. Jim Yeaman says:

    Don’t forget Granite Transformations…..they did a marvelous makeover of my kitchen and I only lost ONE day of use! Tell Joe Medlin I sent you:

    http://www.granitetransformations.com/centralalabama/

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