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Naturally Green: Natural Stone Tile Countertops

by Matthew J. Goering

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Not surprisingly, stone tile makes for a naturally green countertop material. It's moisture resistant, lasts a lifetime, is very sanitary, and it releases almost no harmful byproducts into your indoor air. In other words, you're already going green by choosing a stone tile countertop in the first place. There are steps you can take to make your stone tile countertops even greener, however. Here's what you need to know if going green is important to you.

Going Green with David Johnston
HomeAdvisor understands that it can be tough for homeowners to wade through all the "green" remodeling information out there, which is why we've teamed up with green remodeling expert David Johnston to provide you with the best, most accurate, green remodeling advice in the business. Johnston is the founder of the green consulting firm What's Working, Inc., the author of multiple books on green remodeling for homeowners and contractors (including the Nautilus Award winner Green Remodeling: Changing the World One Room at a Time), and he's an expert on green countertop projects and working with natural stone. Here's a green guide to installing stone tile countertops in your home, drawn from the experience, wisdom, and writings of David Johnston himself.

Green Remodeling 101: A New Way to Calculate Value
For starters, let's talk cost. Budget is a big concern on any remodeling project, and the high cost of stone can make some homeowners balk at the prospect of spending even more by going green. However, the truth of the matter is that going green with stone tile rarely costs more than a conventional tiling project, and in many cases, it can actually end up saving you money. In addition, Johnston is quick to point out that the true value of green remodeling is almost impossible to put a price tag on. Things like low maintenance requirements, which equals to more free time for homeowners, high quality installations, long lasting materials, and healthier homes are far more valuable than any budget can reflect. Add to that the peace of mind that comes in knowing you've made a commitment to a better, more sustainable world for your kids and grandkids, and it's easy to see what Johnston means when he claims that going green is worth every penny, and then some.

Green Tips that Benefit Your Pocketbook and the Environment
So what can you do to make sure your new stone tile installation is as green as they come? Johnston has a host of suggestions, starting with a few that will save you money and benefit the environment at the same time.

  • Use Local Materials—If at all possible, purchase stone from local quarries. Going local is much kinder to the environment since you won't burn large amounts of fossil fuel shipping it cross-country (or internationally) from the quarry to your home. And since you'll be eliminating all those labor and fuel costs associated with transportation, you'll probably save yourself a few dollars on material costs, as well.
  • Install Reclaimed Stone Tile—Consider using reclaimed stone tile for your project. Since stone lasts generations without experiencing significant wear and tear, it's possible to find perfectly good discarded stone tiles that look as good today as they did the day they were initially installed.
  • Reuse and Recycle Jobsite Waste—As much as 85 percent of the construction waste sent to landfills can be recycled and used in other construction projects. If your project requires you to tear down before you start building back up, be sure to reuse whatever materials you can, and send recyclable waste somewhere besides the dump.

Green Tips for a Healthier Home
Going green and doing right by the environment doesn't just refer to saving money and improving the world outside your windows; it means creating healthier indoor environments as well. Considering that the EPA lists poor indoor air quality as one of the top environmental health risks facing American homeowners today, it pays to take whatever measures necessary to create a healthier home for you and yours. Here's how Johnston suggests you go about it.

  • Avoid Particleboard, MDF, and Interior Grade Plywood—Stone tile countertops are installed over a solid substrate, many of which present a serious health risk to homeowners. Particleboard, medium density fiberboard (MDF), and interior grade plywood are three of the most popular substrate materials used in countertop construction, and all can off-gas carcinogenic formaldehyde into your indoor air for years after installation. Instead, use exterior grade plywood, solid wood, or formaldehyde-free MDF, which are healthier alternatives.
  • Seal Exposed Particleboard, MDF, and Interior Grade Plywood—If you choose to use MDF or interior grade plywood, be sure to seal all exposed areas with a low- or no-VOC paint or sealer prior to installation. Doing so will help to reduce the amount of VOCs that are released into your home.
  • Seal Grout in High Moisture Areas—Grout can be a breeding ground for potentially dangerous mold and mildew if you install tile countertops. In high moisture areas like kitchens and baths, it's smart to apply a low toxic sealer to the grout to keep the moisture out.
  • Choose a Low Toxic Sealer—In addition to sealing grout, many types of natural stone requires a sealant to protect it from the stains and spills that go hand-in-hand with countertop applications. Unfortunately, those sealers can off-gas VOCs into your indoor environment, as well, and can contribute to a number of potentially serious health issues. By using a low-toxic, low-VOC sealer, you can limit your exposure to these VOCs, and even eliminate the threat all together.
  • Use Solvent Free Adhesives—Solvent based adhesives off-gas harmful VOCs into your indoor air for months after they are applied. If you use adhesives at any time during your countertop installation, use a solvent free, environmentally friendly product.

Which Shade of Green is Right for You?
While thinking green when it comes to stone tile countertops is a smart choice for your pocketbook, your health, and the environment, it's not unusual for homeowners to feel a little overwhelmed when presented with the full scope of green remodeling options. If you're feeling unsure about how green you're willing to go with your stone tile countertops, there's no need to worry— going green isn't an all-or-nothing proposition. Any step you take in a green direction is a smart one, whether you opt for a healthier substrate material instead of using particleboard, MDF, or interior plywood, or decide to go green from top to bottom with your new (reclaimed!) stone tile countertops.

If you think going green is the right choice for your stone tile countertops, talk with your contractor about adopting a green remodeling philosophy, find a contractor who specializes in green building and remodeling, or seek out the services of a green consulting firm so you can be sure that your new stone tile countertops end up being as green they come.