Written By: Guest Blogger Ash Stevens
Thanks to technology and creativity, home fixtures can be made using anything from recycled paper and cork, to plastic bottles and cement. Their green potential will vary depending on how you go about them, but these eco-friendly home materials are just what you’ll want to research as you get ready to build or renovate…
If you’re looking to get a tattoo of your favorite sustainable material, then look to the cork tree. It turns out the cork stuffed into kitchen drawers by wine-loving earth advocates actually comes from the bark of this tree that’s common in both Spain and Portugal. Remove bark from your average tree and it will die, but the cork tree actually has the ability to go on living AND it will have another layer of cork bark to harvest nine years later. And cork’s list of awesomeness goes on still! It naturally sits at room temperature, and it’s possesses a cushion-like nature that calls out to chilly and achy feet.
Even better, any nicks or scratches will naturally fill themselves in or they’ll blend into cork’s texture. The flooring even helps with sound by keeping echoes and loud noises down. This is a great option for homes looking for a green material that can stand up to pets and children while offering comfort and safety. However, as with bamboo and hardwood, it’s vulnerable to water damage and color fading from sun exposure. So, those are important things to keep in mind.
This eco-friendly option begins with post-consumer wastepaper that is heated and compressed into a dark, dense slab for countertops. It’s durable, stain-resistant, non-porous, and free of petroleum products, making it appealing in a variety of homes. However, color options are limited to medium to dark hues, and it will develop a patina as it’s put to use.
Remember those plastic bottles you’ve tossed into recycle bins? Well, they’re being turned into PET (polyethylene terephthalate) carpeting. Recyclers keeping their plastic out of landfills make it possible for manufacturers to create a living room carpet that’s resistant to stains and color fading yet free of the chemicals used on nylon carpet fibers. The ability to repurpose plastic makes this flooring option very appealing to eco enthusiasts, but recycled carpet may pose health concerns if ingested, so it may be best to avoid where there are pets or young children.
Hardwood flooring has long been a natural flooring option but, unfortunately, that requires cutting down valuable trees. Luckily there’s bamboo. This woody grass grows everywhere from China to Australia and is one of the fastest growing plants in the world. It’s highly-sustainable and offers a beauty comparable to wood while being as hard as wood floors, if not harder.
It comes with a lot of benefits that make it popular in homes as well as in yoga studios, but it has some special considerations. Bamboo is vulnerable to the same water damage and scratch marks that threaten hardwood. Homes in the southern United States often aren’t good candidates for bamboo because changes in humidity cause bamboo boards to shrink, so it’s best to forego it whenever moisture is involved.
Mix colored glass with cement, and you have yourself a beautiful and durable eco countertop. The cement used will sometimes be combined with fly ash, which has these counters keeping yet another product out of our landfills (Bonus!).
On top of those pros, they’re quite durable and they come in a variety of gorgeous colors that take kitchen aesthetics to a higher level. However, glass countertops do require regular resealing and waxing to keep it resistant to stains and scratches, and some people have had hot pots crack their countertops. It’s also important to note that a patina will develop over time, and that may or may not work with your kitchen’s color scheme. Look for pictures online to get an idea of what that will mean for your home.
Hardwood flooring has long been the rage, but now the focus is shifting over to reclaimed wood. There’s obviously the eco appeal of being able to give a new purpose to an already-manufactured product, but there’s more. Reclaimed wood is up to 40 points harder on the Janka hardness scale as it’s commonly been sourced from older trees. Plus it offers a rustic and even eclectic look that can be used in everything from flooring to furniture.
Benefits said, reclaimed wood has cause for precaution. Wood may have been treated with chemicals in it’s former life, so you may be bringing toxins and VOC’s into your home. The costs of used lumber can often be higher than new wood because of the labor required to disassemble wood for repurposing. It’s also at risk for water damage, and it’s porous nature makes it susceptible to bacteria as we know from the cleaning considerations necessary for wooden cutting boards.
Be it modern and sleek, or simple and rustic; hardwood is highly-coveted by homeowners for it’s beauty and versatility. Unfortunately, it’s as versatile as it is vulnerable because of the damage that comes with the damage of water, scratches, and fading from sunlight. Tile and ceramic don’t have these same weaknesses, and so they’re now being manufactured to replicate the look of wood without the cons. With their high durability, the look of wood can now be hold up to regular furniture rearranging, rambunctious dogs, and even spill-prone toddlers.
This flooring option is about as durable as it gets, thus it’s a staple in warehouses with heavy-duty equipment. But while warehouse flooring is hardly pretty, concrete has great aesthetic potential and can made to look like tile flooring, or it can be turned into art by being painted as simple or as detailed as desired. Most flooring already has concrete subflooring beneath that’s just waiting to be polished up, and any concrete floor that’s properly installed is eligible to have another flooring installed on it if home needs change. And if it’s not appealing enough, this big-rig ready floor only needs to be resealed or waxed every 3-9 months to keep it pretty and resistant to moisture.
There are a lot of benefits to concrete flooring and, naturally, these benefits also some with another side that’s not so great. In concrete’s case, the downside is it’s expense to comfort. Cool weather make this floor feel cold as ice, and it’s hardness will make your feet ache if you stand on it for too long. The cold, rock-hard surface poses a major threat to anything that’s dropped on it, and that includes falling children and trip-prone seniors. So, while it can hold up to the damage of a family, it’s best left for younger individuals and single people.
This dense and crystalline igneous rock is about as strong as it gets. And while it doesn’t boast the famous beauty of marble, it also lacks the porosity that makes marble high maintenance. It’s easily cleaned with soap and water, and it’s resistant to heat and can put up a fight against stains. As simple and durable as granite is, it’s important to note that it’s susceptible to cracking when it’s hit with just the right thing in just the right spot. It can be also expensive as its density has it packing on the pounds. However, if you’re desperate for granite to fit your budget, buy it in tile form and it will cost considerably less.
Marble has a beauty that’s been appreciated and celebrated for thousands of years. It has a color and look that creates sophistication and allure that’s timeless. However, marble is a gorgeous albeit a high-maintenance stone. It requires regular sealing and special cleaning accommodations, and all that special care still leaves it at the mercy of stains, scratches, and cracks. Marble will certainly create a classy and beautiful environment, but it’s a risky option that may involve big checks and salty tears of remorse.
These days, tile can be made from a variety of materials, but the average tile being installed will be ceramic. The most common ceramic tiles are non-porcelain, which are created by combining water with a fine powder of clay and minerals that is mixed and shaped into individual tiles which harden up once fired in a kiln. Porcelain ceramic tiles follow the same process, just with the inclusion of feldspar.
If tiles are grout are sealed, then they’ll resist stains and water with any nasty chemical treatments while offering a beautiful look that can be classy, modern, or even traditional. On the flip side, it’s a cold surface that will amplify noises, and it’s likely to get slippery when wet — a big problem since its hardness makes falls extra painful.
There are some great eco-friendly options for both flooring, decks, and countertops. Once you decide on the option that’s best for you — and just how green you want to take it — maximize the green of both your wallet and your home’s sustainability by looking into natural DIY cleaners. Everyday kitchen items like olive oil and baking soda allow you to clean without any chemicals, but not all of the options shared above can be cleaned the same (ie. porous marble makes vinegar a no-no). Research your top picks and you’ll go eco while avoiding any regrets.
When it comes to installation, know your material and the process. You can save a lot of money by handling it yourself, but that also comes with a lot of work. You want to be aware of any potential problems that may arise, and you also want to be able to look out for future issues that become visible during tear down and installation (ie. mold growth which only becomes more destructive and costly with time). If you’re not a pro, then consider getting a licensed professional involved at least for assessment or consultation. Whatever you may need their help with, it will surely save time and regret in the long run. Just make sure you don’t hire a contractor without taking special considerations. Do your research and have a written agreement with a satisfaction guarantee. Then you’ll make the most of all your time and money.