Counter Intuitive

Recycled materials make countertops visually vibrant, eco-friendly

By Elisa Williams, Columbian staff writer

Published:

 

Have you considered a kitchen countertop made out of old wine vats, paper or a mix of ash and mother of pearl?

Perhaps you should.

Kitchen remodels are getting greener with the wide range of eco-friendly countertops available.

Granite enjoyed a long run in kitchens as a preferred material. But, creating a granite countertop involves mining the stone.

“Our whole business is trying to avoid that,” said Dan Plaza, co-owner of Ecolution NW LLC in Vancouver, which sells environmentally sensitive countertops and flooring for residential and commercial projects.

Eco-friendly countertops use recycled materials such as glass and paper or sustainable resources such as fast-growing bamboo. Options can range in price from about $60 a square foot installed for bamboo to $120 for higher-end, recycled-glass-and-cement surfaces.

Selecting which green countertop works best is based largely on personal taste.

Paper countertops, made by companies such as Richlite and PaperStone, come in deeply saturated colors, many of which are earth tones that can create a rich, warm effect. One popular line, Plaza said, is made from corrugated cardboard.

“People get crazy with it,” he said, adding that customers order it with features such as integrated drain boards.

Recycled glass shares some aesthetic characteristics with granite. Depending on the style selected, it can have a glossy finish and feel cool to the touch like stone.

Wood countertops vary widely in appearance depending on the species and how the wood was previously used. Countertops made from wine vats, for example, have subtle lines of deep red that help tell the story of where it came from.

Surface with a story

Plaza said that most of his company’s customers opt for countertops made by FUEZ, because they like the look of it and the story behind the company.

Customers are shopping for “greenness,” he said. They want to know which material is the most environmentally friendly.

Portland-based FUEZ uses recycled materials and low-carbon cement for its countertops. Its manufacturing process is also green. The company’s plant is run on wind-generated power and it uses reclaimed water.

Depending on the style of countertop, the recycled content in FUEZ’s products ranges from 20 percent to 80 percent.

Beyond “greenness,” Plaza urges customers to consider their whole home when buying a countertop.

It doesn’t make sense, for example, to invest in a high-end countertop that’s out of character with the rest of the house.

How it’s used is also a factor.

Plaza said serious cooks are more often turning to wood, because of its durability. Scratches and stains can be sanded out. Evidence of use also helps create an appealing patina.

An Old World feel

Ecolutions uses suppliers that make countertops from regional woods such as Oregon walnut and madrone. It also offers a unique checkerboard design made from bamboo, which sells for about $60 a square foot installed, that’s suitable for contemporary decors and remodeling projects with tighter budgets. At the other end of the spectrum are wine vat countertops that create an Old World feel, but can cost more than $100 per square foot.

Countertop suppliers such as Elmwood Reclaimed Timber in Missouri use wood from old barns, houses and schools. Customers can customize the look they want to create with a variety of surface treatments. The countertop can be antiqued, wire brushed, hand planed or hand hewn.

Paper also offers design flexibility and can be used to create looks that range from traditional to contemporary. The color goes all the way through, so there’s no need to fret about scratches. Treating it with an herbal oil provides even more protection.

Recycled glass and cement mixes offer a huge range in color options and pattern variations. Prices vary depending on the materials used.

Mixes with shells, for example, are at the higher end of the FUEZ line.

It’s the variety offered by these lines that’s a large part of their appeal, said contractor Ben Day, owner of Vancouver’s R3 Rebuild Remodel Regreen.

“There’s been a big shift,” he said. “People got stuck with the same kind of look for a long time. Now there’s a desire to do something different.”