Buyer’s Guide to Eco Stone & Tile

September 4, 2009 By Green Home Guide Staff

This buyer's guide will help you compare the environmental attributes of stone and tile materials. Use this summary chart to choose the best stone or tile material for your specific project.

Links to green product directories and additional resources are provided below the chart.

MaterialSelection TipsProsConsMaterials CostRecommended Uses
Ceramic & Porcelain Tile
Made from clay, a natural and readily available (though finite) resource. Durable, low maintenance.
Look for locally manufactured tiles with high recycled content (glass, ceramic), preferably post-consumer. Avoid lead-based and radioactive glazes on some imported tiles.

Porcelain is typically harder, less porous (more impervious) and more scratch-resistant than ceramic.
* durable

* easy to clean

* resistant to stains and burning
* somewhat high embodied energy (for manufacturing)

* clay mining impacts land and water quality
* $10 - $20 per square foot for ceramic

* $5 - $12 per square foot for porcelain
* floor
* countertop
* wall
* fireplace
Glass Tile
Durable material, often with recycled content.
Look for locally manufactured tiles with high recycled glass content, preferably post-consumer.* sintering process used by some manufacturers requires less energy than conventional melting

* up to 100% recycled content

* durable

* easy to clean

* resistant to stains and burning
* high embodied energy to fire and produce tiles

* smooth tile surfaces will scratch under heavy wear
$30 - $80 per square foot * floor
* countertop / backsplash
* wall
* fireplace
Terrazzo
Aggregate of glass or stone chips (sometimes recycled) and binders.
Look for locally manufactured tiles with high recycled content, preferably post-consumer. Some binders may emit VOCs. Available as both tiles and poured-in-place integral floor slab (w/ epoxy or cement binder).* recycled content (30-80%)

* durable

* easy to clean

* resistant to stains and burning
* because of its heavy weight, high embodied energy for transport $20+ per square foot (furnish & install) for slab* floor
* wall
* countertop / backsplash
* fireplace
Granite
Some colors are domestically quarried; natural resource and durable material.
Because large amounts of energy are required for transport, look for locally mined and fabricated stone (within 500 miles). Salvaged stone is available.* highly durable

* easy to clean
* because of its heavy weight, high embodied energy for transport

* stone is a finite resource

* mining impacts land and water quality

* some types may contain trace amounts of radon
* $15+ per square foot for slabs

* $12+ per square foot for tiles

* $375+/ ton for rough pavers (approx 75 sq feet/ton at 2” thick)
* floor
* wall
* countertop
* fireplace
Marble
Some colors are domestically quarried (e.g., in Vermont, Tennessee, and Arizona); natural resource and durable material.
Look for locally mined and fabricated stone (within 500 miles). Salvaged stone is available.* easy to clean * may require sealing / resealing

* not as hard or durable as most other types of stone

* finish is harmed by acidic liquids/ cleaners

* because of its heavy weight, high embodied energy for transport

* stone is a finite resource

* mining impacts land and water quality
$12 - $50 per square foot for tiles * wall
* fireplace
Flagstone
Some kinds are domestically quarried; natural resource and durable material.

Flagstone is usually a type of sandstone, limestone, slate, or quartzite.
Look for locally mined and fabricated stone (within 500 miles). Salvaged stone is available.* durable

* easy to clean
* because of its heavy weight, high embodied energy for transport

* stone is a finite resource

* mining impacts land and water quality
$480 / ton for rough pavers (approx 75 sq feet/ton at 2” thick)* floor
* wall
* fireplace
* patio
Soapstone
Natural resource; durable material. Soapstone (Steatite) has been used in kitchens for centuries.
Look for locally/domestically mined and fabricated stone. Most soapstone for countertops is imported from Brazil, which requires large amounts of transportation energy. However, there are some soapstone quarries in the U.S., primarily in the Northeast.* easy to clean

* scratches easily; less durable than other stones

* high embodied energy (especially if transported from foreign quarries)

* mining impacts land and water quality

* stone is a finite resource
$55 per square foot (furnish and install)* countertop
* wall
* fireplace
Sandstone
Domestically quarried (primarily in the Southwest, e.g., Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, Nevada); natural resource; durable material.
Look for locally mined and fabricated stone (within 500 miles). For Northern California residents, there are very few sources of locally mined and fabricated sandstone.* durable * porous and absorbent; will stain easily

* because of its heavy weight, high embodied energy for transport

* mining impacts land and water quality

* stone is a finite resource
$250 - $480 / ton for rough pavers (approx 75 sq feet/ton at 2” thick)* flooring
* wall
* fireplace
Slate
Domestically quarried natural resource; durable material. Primary domestic mines located in Vermont and Pennsylvania.
Not a preferred environmental choice for residents of western U.S. There are few if any sources of locally mined and fabricated slate in this region (within 500 miles). * durable

* resistant to stains and burning

* impervious to water
* may require sealing / resealing

* scratches easily

* because of its heavy weight, high embodied energy for transport

* mining impacts land and water quality

* stone is a finite resource
* $6 - $12 per square foot for tiles

* $500 / ton for rough pavers (approx 75 sq feet/ton at 2” thick)
* countertop
* fireplace
* patio
* roof tiles
Other Resources

For suggestions of green product options for ceramic, glass, and terrazzo tile, see the relevant GreenSpec directory links on BuildingGreen.com.

If you’re wondering whether or not you should seal a stone surface, take a look at the guidance from the Marble Institute of America on StoneNetwork.com. For more information on natural stone and guidance on its care and cleaning, see the Marble Institute of America’s consumer resources and this article from Natural Home magazine.

Lastly, if you are preparing to install or seal your tile, look for low-VOC, nontoxic, water-based grout, mortar, and sealers. If sealing a kitchen countertop, be sure to select a “food-safe” sealer.

Tagged In: home air quality, eco tile, stone, buyer's guide

Green Home Guide Staff

Green Home Guide Staff

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