Buyer’s Guide to Green Countertop Materials

September 4, 2009 By Green Home Guide Staff

This buyer’s guide compares and contrasts countertop materials on their environmental and health qualities, and provides selection tips. Use it to find the best green countertop materials for your home.

Recycled glass countertops are one of the more popular materials in this list. This material is also known as terrazzo.  It consists of crushed stone and glass set in a cement or epoxy substrate that is buffed smooth.

MaterialSelection TipsProsConsMaterials Cost
Concrete
Simple mixture of cement, aggregate (often sand), and water.
Because large amounts of energy are required for transport, look for a local fabricator. Use fly ash as a substitute for cement (at least 30%).* highly durable

* easy to clean

* no offgassing

* recyclable as slab or crushed aggregate
* high embodied energy for manufacture of cement

* requires sealant to avoid stains

* dust during installation
$60 to $75 per square foot
Laminate
Green laminates are made from recycled plastic, nontoxic glues, and formaldehyde-free substrate.
Look for laminate made from recycled plastic that has been glued to formaldehyde-free substrate with nontoxic glues. Fasten to cabinet boxes with mechanical fasteners.* easy to clean

* stain-resistant
* low durability

* particleboard substrate may offgas formaldehyde

* not recyclable
$25 to $50 per square foot
Stainless Steel
Highly durable, easy to clean material with high recycled content.
Use salvaged metal or high recycled content if possible. Attach to substrate with mechanical fasteners.* highly durable

* easy to clean

* can be mechanically fastened, avoiding use of glue

* recyclable
* scratches easily $45 to $65 per square foot
Paper Composite (Solid Surfacing)
Made from paper and a resin binder.
High content of recycled paper is preferable. Look for low VOC resins.* easy to clean

* durable (particularly impact and heat resistant)

* raw material is a renewable resource

* recycled content
* can be scratched

* lighter colors may show stains

* colors may not be UV stable
$50+ per square foot
Recycled Plastic (Solid Surfacing)
Highly durable material made from recycled plastics that would otherwise go to the landfill.
High content of recycled plastic is preferable.* easy to clean

* recycled content

* highly durable
* may scratch, but can be sanded out in most cases

* not recyclable

* may flex over time
$50 to $100 per square foot
Stone
Natural resource and durable material, though not renewable. Granite and slate are domestically quarried.
Because large amounts of energy are required for transport, look for locally mined and fabricated stone (within 500 miles). Salvaged stone is available.* easy to clean

* some types of stone are highly durable (i.e. granite)

* softer stones closer to earth surface, such as soapstone, have less embodied energy

* does not offgas

* recyclable as slabs
* stone is a finite resource

* mining impacts land and water quality

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

* extra weight might require extra cabinet support

* granite requires sealant to avoid stains
$6 to $65+ per square foot depending on thickness, shape and stone type
Terrazzo
Aggregate of glass or stone chips (sometimes recycled) and binders.
Look for locally manufactured products with high recycled glass content, preferably post-consumer. Some binders may emit VOCs. Available as both tiles and poured-in-place integral floor slab (with epoxy or cement binder).* recycled content

* highly durable

* easy to clean

* resistant to stains and burning
* because of its heavy weight, high embodied energy for transport $50 to $120 per square foot for slab
Ceramic & Porcelain Tiles
Made from clay, a natural but 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. Large tiles and tight grout joints reduce ongoing maintenance.* highly durable

* low/no VOC emissions

* supports good indoor air quality

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

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

* clay mining impacts land and water quality

* grout may stain or trap dirt if not properly sealed
* $10 to $20 per square foot for ceramic

* $5 to $12 per square foot for porcelain
Glass Tiles
Durable material, often with recycled content.
Look for locally manufactured tiles with high recycled glass content, preferably post-consumer. Large tiles reduce the number of grout joints. Recommended as backsplash; may not be practical for countertop.* sintering process used by some manufacturers requires less energy than conventional melting

* up to 100% recycled content

* highly durable

* low/no VOC emissions

* supports good indoor air quality

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

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

* grout may stain or trap dirt if not properly sealed

* smooth tile surfaces will scratch under heavy wear
$20 to $60 per square foot; more for high-end custom
Wood (Butcher Block)
Minimally processed, natural material; durable.
Look for Forest Stewardship Council-certified, salvaged, or reclaimed wood. Ask for a Chain-of-Custody certification. If product is laminated, avoid product with added formaldehyde. Look for sealers and cleaners that are environmentally benign and low VOC emitting.* renewable resource if from a sustainably managed forest

* low embodied energy, particularly if harvested and produced locally

* scratches can be removed by sanding

* can be mechanically fastened, avoiding use of glue

* can be recycled in slabs
* conventional forestry causes overharvesting and destruction of habitat

* naturally occurring formaldehyde

* requires regular cleaning and sealing

* easily burns and scratches, but can be sanded out in most cases
$50 to $100 per square foot

For specific product recommendations, see Sunset magazine's "Eco-Friendly Kitchen Counters" and consult the GreenSpec directory of environmentally preferable building products.

Tagged In: eco tile, concrete countertops, stone, buyer's guide

Green Home Guide Staff

Green Home Guide Staff

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