Countertops are one of the first things that homeowners think about when planning a kitchen renovation, and with good reason; they are one the most used and visible surfaces in the room.
Over half of all countertops in homes are made of laminate formica, as well, so there is a lot of room for improvement. Especially for environmentally conscious do-it-yourselfers, who should be concerned about the formaldehyde contained in the pressboard that such laminates are mounted on.
Medium density fiberboard used in laminate countertops is bound together with either urea formaldehyde resin, which is allergenic and a carcinogen, or in the case of melamine formica, with phenol formaldehyde resin, which, while it does not offgas quite as much, is also not such a great material for your indoor air quality. Fortunately, there are green alternatives for countertop materials.
What makes these materials green? A high percentage of recycled content indicates that fewer greenhouse gases were released into the atmosphere during the manufacture of a product. Materials that are manufactured locally means less transportation was required to get them to you, ergo, less fuel wasted, less pollution created. And choosing a natural material often means that your indoor air quality will be better; some materials offgas hazardous fumes and volatile organic compounds.
Environmentally Friendly Countertop Materials
Recycled glass countertops are stunning and stainproof, as well as being healthy. Look for brands with high percentages of recycled content, such as Bio-Glass, which is 100% recycled glass. You can also find glass tiles with a high recycled content, to use as a backsplash. Consider backpainting the glass, to add some subtle or not so subtle color to your kitchen. You can also get recycled aluminum tiles that make an interesting surface covering.
Recycled terrazzo is available in both slab and tile form. Terrazzo, a smooth surfaced material made from ground stone or glass mixed with concrete, is environmentally friendly and looks upscale as well. The recycled glass used in it comes from recycled consumer items like beer bottles, automobile windshields, and wine glasses as well as industrial items like tubing, neon signs and traffic light covers. The stone and concrete also is post-consumer and post-industrial recycled material.
Marmoleum is a low-maintenance material made for countertop surfaces that is inexpensive and looks good. It is made from ground cork, wood flour, linseed oil, jute and pine resin, and is available at your local Home Depot. Another interesting material for green counters is called Paperstone, a faux stone countertop surface made from recycled paper that is actually durable.
Of course, natural stone such as granite and marble is a popular choice for the kitchen countertop, and would seem to be an ecologically sound choice. But there is one thing you should be aware of in this regard, and that is the possibility of introducing radon into your new kitchen.
Radon is a radioactive gas which is released by decaying uranium in the soil and rocks. Everyone has a small amount of radon in their home, though it is only a health hazard in high concentrations. Still, you have to wonder about how much more radon might be brought into your house with that huge new slab of granite. It turns out that some granite countertop slabs have up to 100 times higher than background radiation.
The Marble Institute of America has stated that 85% of the more than 1,000 varieties of granite sold as countertop are safe. Are you feeling lucky? If not, you might want to have your marble or granite countertop checked for radiation levels.
Chances are that a well-ventilated kitchen will disperse any radon gas so that there is no health risk; compare that to a basement where radon can accumulate more easily and where it is more likely be emitted from the surrounding stone and dirt.