The environmentally friendly building movement has been gaining in notice as our concern with climate change and the effects of our nation’s increasing impact on the environment come into view. Homeowners seem more willing to pay more for an environmentally friendly home than ever before, making “green” home improvements to existing homes that much more important for those who are seeking to add value to those homes.
A 2005 article in Realtor Online Magazine reported that a kitchen remodel of cabinetry refacing, new countertops, and appliances on a “functional, but outdated” 200-square-foot kitchen costing roughly $15,000 would recoup about 98.5% of the cost. In some markets – the East and West specifically – that percentage increases to over 100%.
So, while granite counter tops are stylish and a selling feature, there are some other options that can be both stylish and eco-friendly that could do the job of increasing the value of your home.
Granite counters will cost roughly $60-120 a square foot: a not inexpensive proposition, but a solid option when considering the potential value to a home buyer. The recommended 3″ thickness, in one solid piece will likely cost the higher amount. Granite itself is highly durable, easy to clean, and a natural resource, but the fabrication of the stone, however, adds to the carbon footprint of the material – with most of the stone originating in India or Asia requiring significant transport.
Concrete is a stylish alternative to granite, but like granite, the preparation for the concrete is of significance to the eco-friendly buyer and to its carbon footprint. If a local fabricator is available, this will significantly reduce the transportation (and the majority of the environmental impact). Concrete is desirable for its obvious durability and its ease of cleaning, but the porous nature of the material requires sealants to avoid the probability of staining. Besides these drawbacks, though, concrete is a fundamentally sound eco-friendly option.
It does not release any volatile organic compounds (VOCs), the raw materials are generally quite plentiful and it’s production is not as energy intensive as finished stones, like granite. To this add the several ways concrete can be made even more environmentally friendly – adding recycled or waste materials to it – and it is a super option. At $60-70 a square foot, it is on the lower end of par with granite.
Paper Composite is an increasingly popular option in “green building.” This material is generally made from post consumer recycled paper and a resin that binds the paper together. If the “off gassing” of VOC’s are of a concern, you should pay close attention to the resin used in the making of the composite. It has the look and feel of a soapstone.
It is surprisingly durable and easy to clean, but at $50+ a square foot there are some significant drawbacks. It scratches and while stain resistant, it does stain, some colors may not be stable under UV light. Manufacturers will recommend treating stains with water and vinegar or low abrasive cleaner. It will be heat resistant to about 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Also, it will show seams and as such those seams should be considered in the design of the counter for maximum value. The finish will require reapplication on a regular basis.
Solid Surfacing is a third “green option” that has a very tangible benefit right out of the gate: it has a high content of recycled plastic. This is material that would otherwise be directed to a landfill somewhere. There is a BIG however in this equation, and it surrounds the fact that at some point this counter – despite being new now – will be replaced. This material, despite being recycled itself, is not recyclable – its made of polymer blends that cannot be disaggregated for recycling.
While it is highly durable, it is prone to scratching although scratches can generally be sanded out making it quite easily repaired. It is susceptible to stains and burns, but again, that can generally be remedied with a can of Ajax. The one piece of concern: it can flex over time.
At $50-100 a square foot, it can be expensive.
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