Countertops

I was curious about the eco friendly nature of the various types of counter tops after I mentioned our Corian kitchen last night, so I did some research on my lunch break today and found some interesting information.  Though it isn’t useful for me in the present, it’s good to know, and might be helpful for my mom, who is hopefully replacing the gross 70’s beige/goldy laminate tops in the kitchen at home this year.

The most common types of countertop materials are granite, quartz, laminate, and Corian, although using butcher block, copper, stainless, or glass seem to all be growing trends. 

Granite and quartz get a low eco-friendly rating, as they are non renewable natural resources, require mining or drilling to obtain, and also require regular chemical treatments to keep them from cracking or losing their shine.  It is also extremely difficult to reuse granite that has already been cut for a specific counter.

Laminates can go either way from what I read, but I personally think they tend to look cheap and would not choose them if I was designing my own place.  Some brands are made with formaldehyde resin (gross!),  but a few brands have started to use recycled plastic and less nasty resins.  I wonder if the always-helpful associates at places like Home Depot or Lowes, where most lower to middle class folks would be shopping, would be able to answer questions like “does this brand use any percentage of recycled plastic?” or “did they soak this in outdated carcinogenic embalming fluid before it ended up on your shelves?” 

Now on to Corian, which has mixed reviews.  One of the challenges to finding trustworthy information on the internet is figuring out whether a statement phrased as though its a fact is actually an opinion.  According to GetWithGreen.com, Corian and similar products are a mixed bag – its plastic, and therefore made with chemicals and manufactured in a factory, but unlike granite or laminate, it can be repaired and renewed.  They also have certified low VOC (Volatile Organic Compounds) content.  According to DuPont’s website, there are a few product lines that now feature a small percentage of recycled materials.  They don’t list prices on their website, but I imagine those cost more.

As for the other options,  they look great in home magazines, but perhaps are not the most practical for most of us. I’d never do butcherblock – wood absorbs pretty much everything, including germs and bacteria, and it is also easily water and heat damaged. Unless one has the time to stain and seal the surface fairly frequently, it seems like too much of a headache.  Stainless steel and copper, while not absorbent, are easily dented, show every fingerprint and smudge, and also need regular maintenance to stay pretty.  All 3 of these options can be “reclaimed” or salvaged, though, which gives them significant eco-friendly points.

So what is the most eco friendly solution? Composite counter tops.  Not too popular yet, but hopefully getting there.  Quoting GetWithGreen.com,  “some are made from recycled paper and combined with resins to form a surface that’s hard yet warmer than stone, and others are made from recycled glass held together with either cement or resin. ”

An example of this type is icestone – http://www.icestone.biz/.  I think this looks even nicer than granite (pictured with a recycled glass sink, it appears?) Especially in a modern kitchen, but no pricing is available on the website. I’d guess its somewhere between Corian and granite?

If you were designing the kitchen of your dreams, what would you use?  How about a kitchen on a budget?

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