Friday, January 18, 2008

Green Watch: Counter Intelligence

For our very first installment of Green Watch we offer a look at new innovations in counter surfaces. While the current field of countertop options seems dominated by laminates, solid surfacing (including varieties such as Corian and Silestone), and granite (the top choice in high-end design), with the movement towards more environmentally conscious material choices, these frontrunners may soon find themselves loosing favor to more sustainable alternatives.

Gaining rapid appeal, especially among those desiring a clean, modern aesthetic, is concrete. Though not considered a true 'green' product, the benefits of concrete from a green standpoint are that it is made from all natural ingredients, without the harmful effects on the landscape as harvesting granite. However, be warned that concrete does have its downside -- its primary ingredients is Portland Cement, the manufacture of which produces greenhouse gases. So, should you go the concrete route, be sure that the mixture uses 30-50% fly ash (a harmless by-product of coal production). We can only imagine that innovation will arise to push the environmental envelope. In the interim, the good news is that, unlike most other countertop options, concrete can be entirely recycled, whereas with granite you can only be advised to make trivets.

While concrete, with its inherent durability, may seem like an obvious candidate for a counter surface, how about a material that seems unthinkable...perhaps paper? That's right, paper is emerging as a new surfacing material. Products such as PaperStone and Richlite are gaining a lot of attention in the market today, and was seen in several of the Solar Decathlon homes on the Mall this past summer. The former boasts up to 100% recycled content. And as it's nearly impervious to water and extremely scratch resistant, it is not only a viable option for countertops, but for a myriad of other uses as well, including toilet room partitions, thresholds and sills, signage, and rain screens. The latter was the first producer of hemp-based countertops, and, with its similar qualities to PaperStone, is also used for skate ramps, and various boating and aeronautical uses. In fact, both PaperStone and Richlite are even used as prep surfaces and cutting boards in commercial kitchens! Take note, however, that the heat resistance of both products does not exceed 350ยบ, so keep that new granite trivet handy!

Looking for a little sparkle in the kitchen? Then terrazzo might be the option for you. No longer just for floors, terrazzo is a beautiful option for counter tops. Today companies such as EnviroGLAS are producing terrazzo with recycled content. Along with offerings for flooring and landscaping, EnviroGLAS offers EnviroSLAB, which uses recycled glass bottles, mirrors, and plate glass, and offers the option to customize your countertop with your choice of glass and resin colors. The companies latest offering is EnviroMODE, a porcelain terrazzo made using recycled toilets, tubs, and sinks. Like PaperStone and Richlite, the green aspect come on the production side, as recycling of these surfaces is not a possibility, so choose a look that will last. But with these good looking options, we think that you should be happy for years to come.

For more information on these and other countertop options, as well as tips for greening your entire home, we recommend visiting And of course stay tuned to DesignCult for future Green Watch product!

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