Countertops & Shelving
Whether you're looking for kitchen countertops, bathroom vanities, island worktops, or shelving solutions, you want the work surface to withstand the wear from everyday use. Look for products with multiple green attributes. Attributes include:
- waste reduction (for example, by being made from something that would otherwise have gone into the waste stream like remnant stone or removed from a demolished home, or by eliminating waste in production by being made in a form on site),
- recycled content (like reclaimed wood,or recycled glass),
- durability (for example, by standing up to wear and tear or able to be refinished or repaired on site – applicable only if the surface is used through the end of the product life),
- environmentally-friendly production (like FSC-certified wood),
- third-party certified (FSC-certified wood, GreenGuard Indoor Air Quality, SCS Recycled content or other)
- healthy (low-VOC emissions), and
- recyclable or compostable.
For an example of how to count green attributes, locally quarried granite countertops where the pieces came from remnant scrap has two green attributes. A new slab of local granite has one green attribute.
Wood, especially local wood and FSC wood, is a beautiful countertop option. Countertops can be made of any species and many durable options, such as maple and walnut, can be sourced locally. It can be refinished on site.
Wood surface products should be FSC certified to ensure use of sustainable forestry practices. Finishes should be no-VOC and food-safe for use in kitchens. Refinishing or routine treatment with mineral oil or other recommended products may be required to prevent drying, warping, and staining of the wood.
Potential green attributes: durability, recycled, locally sourced, environmentally-friendly production, third-party certified, healthy, compostable.
Another options is to seek out a natural linoleum countertop, which proved its worth as a countertop material prior to laminate being created. Historically, the term "linoleum" referred to an environmentally friendly resilient flooring option made from linseed oil, wood flour, cork dust, and resins applied over a jute, burlap, or canvas backing. Over time, the name "linoleum" also came to refer to vinyl sheet flooring. Here, we reserve "linoleum" for non-vinyl products. Pigments are added for a wealth of color options. Because the color goes through the entire product, it hides gouges and scratches well. When well maintained, linoleum can last nearly 40 years. It does require regular application of a sealer or topcoat, to maintain wear strength. As an added benefit, linoleum is naturally anti-bacterial and is biodegradable at the end of its lifecycle.
Potential green attributes: Durability, healthy, environmentally-friendly production, third-party certified, compostable.
Plastic laminate products are popular because of their affordability. They are made of a layer of decorative plastic glued over a plywood or composite base. Their durability is limited, and there are concerns with VOC's from the glue in the composite wood as well as emissions from plastic production. However, if you shop carefully, you can find some good, cost-effective laminate products for a kitchen. Many manufacturers are starting to use some recycled content as well as FSC papers in the laminates. Many are GreenGuard certified for low emissions. A laminate adhered to a biobased substrate or FSC paper with low VOC adhesive is a good, green option.
Potential green attributes: Low-emissions, environmentally-friendly production, third-party certified.
LOCAL AND REMNANT STONE
Stone work surfaces such as marble and granite are often desirable for their natural appearance and durability. They can be very costly and are subject to staining. If you choose natural stone for your countertops, look for a locally-sourced stone to reduce the environmental impact of transporting the stone. Also consider the effects of mining practices used to harvest the stone. Many fabricators (the companies that actually cut, polish, and install the product) have storage lots of remnant pieces that are often sold at a discounted rate – making remnant a more cost effective option. Research a variety of manufacturers and suppliers before purchasing natural stone.
Potential green attributes: Waste reduction, durability, locally sourced, healthy, recyclable (recycling currently uncommon practice).
Concrete countertops can be precast or formed and poured on-site to provide a work surface. Concrete countertops don't look like your basement floor -- concrete can be stained, polished or even combined with glass flecks to create a wide array of colors and finishes. Concrete countertops are durable, however their performance relies on the finishes used to seal them. Scratches, stains, and even bacteria resistance depend on the durability and porosity of the sealers. Use caution with VOC's released from sealers; as always, talk to your installer about using low or no-VOC finishes whenever possible.
Potential green attributes: Waste reduction, recycled content, durability, third-party certified, healthy, recyclable.
Solid Surface MaterialSolid surface materials and quartz, also known as engineered stone, are manufactured surfaces that resemble natural stone. Solid surface materials are a blend of processed clay material, alumina trihydrate, acrylics and resins cured in molds to desired shapes. Solid surface materials are lighter than natural stone and can be finished with a desired gloss. The glosses used can contain VOC's so be sure to talk to your installer about your options; the same is true for some of the acrylics and resins used during manufacturing. Polishes can be subject to scratching over time which can require refinishing. They are less porous than laminates and often have additives to resist bacteria growth. Unlike laminates, solid surfaces can be refinished. The material color & texture is through-body so it hides scratches and wear well.
Natural quartz grows in crystals which are combined with resins and cured in a mold to form work surfaces. The surfaces are then polished to form an extremely durable, scratch, and stain resistant working surface. Quartz is non-porous and requires no refinishing. It's colors and textures resemble natural stone patterns. Quartz and solid surface products sometimes incorporate small quantities of recycled glass. Both types can be refinished on site.
Potential green attributes: Waste reduction (if cast to specification), recycled content, durability, third-party certified, healthy.
Composite & Agrifiber
Agrifiber surfaces are composite products made from processed fibrous raw material such as sunflower seeds, wheat, coconut shells, bamboo, and sorghum stalk. They are not appropriate for wet applications, and kitchen countertops made of these materials may not be durable because they are too wet. A relatively new alternative to wood composites, more lightweight and competitively priced. Carefully research product reviews and warranties for durability. With any composite material, the adhesives used to bind the material together should be low-VOC or No-VOC with no added urea-formaldehyde to ensure a safer product for your home. Agrifiber products offer a variety of unique finish textures can be used in a wide variety of settings, including cabinetry, work surfaces and finish carpentry.
Potential green attributes: waste reduction, locally sourced, third-party certified, healthy, compostable.