Making Your Natural Stone Tile Flooring Green

by Matthew J. Goering

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Not surprisingly, stone tile flooring is a naturally green building material. It's moisture resistant, lasts a lifetime, and releases almost no harmful byproducts into your indoor air. There are steps you can take to make your stone tile flooring installation even greener, however, and if you're up for a larger remodel and a little more planning, a stone tile floor can easily be part of a larger green remodeling plan to reduce energy use in your home. Here's what you need to know about stone tile flooring if green is on your radar.

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 we possibly can. Johnston is the founder of the green consulting firm What's Working, Inc., the author of multiple books on green remodeling (including the Nautilus Award winner Green Remodeling: Changing the World One Room at a Time), and he's an expert on green tiling projects and working with natural stone. Here's a green guide to installing stone tile flooring in your home, drawn from the experience, wisdom, and writings of Mr. Johnston himself.

Green Remodeling 101: Calculating 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 traditional tiling project, and in many cases it can actually end up saving you money — initially and in the long run. In addition, Johnston is quick to point out that the true value of green remodeling is hard to put a price tag on. Things like low maintenance requirements (which equals more time for homeowners), high quality, 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 the real value of going green starts to come into focus.

How to Green Your Tile Project the David Johnston Way
So what can you do to make sure your new stone tile installation is as green as they come? Johnston has several suggestions, ranging from where you install your stone tile flooring to how you manage your job site and waste materials, all so you can achieve the greenest stone tile floor possible.

  • Think Thermal Mass—Thanks to its high thermal mass, stone flooring is a very valuable green remodeling resource when it comes to green heating and cooling strategies. A stone tile floor in the proximity of south facing windows will soak up passive solar heat on winter days and radiate it back into your home during the night, which will reduce your heating bills. The same goes for a stone floor that is cooled at night by means of a whole house fan during warmer times of the year. Finally, the high thermal mass of stone tile floors makes them a perfect complement to radiant floor heating systems, as well.
  • Install Recycled Stone Tiles—Consider reclaimed stone flooring tile for your project. Since stone lasts generations without experiencing significant wear and tear, you can find perfectly good discarded stone tiles that look as good today as they did on the day they were initially installed.
  • 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 in the process.
  • Choose a Low Toxic Sealer—Many types of natural stone tiles require a sealant to protect them from staining and other damage. Unfortunately, those sealers can off-gas harmful volatile organic compounds (VOCs) into your indoor environment that 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, or eliminate them altogether.
  • Seal Grout in High Moisture Areas—Grout can be a breeding ground for potentially dangerous mold and mildew. If you're installing natural stone tile in high moisture areas, such as a kitchen or bath, apply a low-toxic sealer to the grout to eliminate the problem.
  • 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 you're tearing up an old floor to put in a new one, be sure to reuse whatever you can (old trim, etc.), and send recyclable waste somewhere besides the dump.

Which Shade of Green is Right for You?
While thinking green when it comes to tile is a smart choice for your pocketbook 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, there's no need to worry. Going green isn't an all-or-nothing proposition, and any step you take in a green direction is a smart one, whether you purchase local stone, or install natural stone tiles alongside new windows and a radiant heating system.

If you do think green is the right choice for you, 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 that you can be sure your new tiling project is as green as it gets.