Finding the Eco-friendly Option and Doing It Affordably

As a proprietor of design showroom that sells eco-friendly interior finishes we battle one assumption fairly often and that’s the premise that because a product has sustainable attributes it’s more expensive than its traditional counterpart. The confusion mostly lies with folks outside of the construction industry and that’s understandable; after all, how many time does a person who isn’t involved in the construction/design industry spend looking at interior finishes? The truth is that Eco friendly materials can be found at all sorts of price points and I hope this article can provide a handy starting place in that search.

Countertops

The Highest End ($130/sf +) It’s easy to make the green choice when your budget is on this level so I’m not going to spend a lot of time here. Most of the time countertops get in this range when you’re laminating big drop edges on already expensive material. The latest “Calcutta Gold” quartz from Caesarstone does a beautiful job mirroring Calcutta Gold Marble and is going to come in around this price range. You might have seen the solid recycled glass countertops from Interstyle or ThinkGlass and those are easily in the $200+/sf range. Solid wood countertops in a butcher block construction (also called end grain construction), if artisan made (i.e., the countertop is not purchased in a pre-made slab form), will most likely be over $130/sf.

The High End ($80/sf -$130/sf); This range is for your artisan crafted concrete counters, the custom manufactured 3” thick walnut wood countertops, 95% of all quartz options, most recycled glass aggregate countertops, etc… I particularly like the US made quartz countertops from Cambria. Cambria offers some very unique styles and it’s a nice change of pace from some of the other name brands which offer a lot of similar styles. Concrete countertops are an extremely trendy option but be careful- the quality of the countertop is going to depend on the skill of the artisan creating the counter. Concrete is the most abundant man-made material on earth and there are a lot guys out there jumping into this industry so be sure to do your research.

The Middle Way ($55/sf – $80/sf); You might notice that I’ve been mentioning quartz quite a bit and it’s because quartz counters are my favorite. Extremely durable, non-porous (very difficult to stain), man-made, and they have price points all over the board. You can choose from countless colors and patterns, choose either 2cm or 3cm thickness and make it into this range pretty easily. The quartz counters that replicate marble are very popular and believe it or not, usually cost more than authentic marble countertops (you’ll know why when you get that first red wine stain on your new Carrera marble counters!). Most of these quartz “Marble” styles fall into this price range as do some of the very popular “pure white” quartz countertops. There’s a new recycled glass aggregate product out from WilsonArt called “Geos” that will mostly fall into this price range which is a nice change from most recycled glass options which typically land in the $100/sf + range. Like quartz countertops, Geos is considered non-porous so it’s going to be pretty resistant to staining. It’s available in 20 styles.

Most affordable ($55/sf and below); This is the range I like discussing the most. We love helping folks achieve a high end design while staying on a tighter budget. We enjoy the challenge of value engineering a project and delivering finishes that can substitute for more expensive options while still delivering the overall effect. At this price point you can still choose from over 25 Caesarstone and Silestone options in a 2cm thickness with colors ranging from consistent neutrals to the popular marble and granite replicas. A helpful tip; Ask your local countertop showroom if they have any countertop styles on sale. House+Earth teams up with different fabricators to bring in bulk slab purchases on select popular colors which we’ll run monthly specials on. Even if the style you want isn’t on special we’re usually happy to try and work some kind of break to make sure you hit your price point. If wood countertops are more your style the pre-made Teragren bamboo countertops are sold by the slab. If you’re looking to add that wood countertop to your island it might be as simple as making a few table saw cuts and you can really save. If the application is simple and you’re open to doing a little work you can install a beautiful Bamboo top for around $28/sf. Obviously you’ll want to call in the pros if the application involves undermount sink cuts, radius curves or mitered drop edges but even with the little amenities you can still land under $55/sf.

 

Flooring

The Highest End ($15/sf+); at a $15/sf material budget the world’s pretty much your oyster. My favorite wood flooring manufacture, DuChateau, offers over 40 styles of engineered hardwoods. With multiple levels of etching, an incredibly versatile hard wax finish and huge 5mm wear layer it’s understandable while this manufacturer is installed at most of the homes on your city’s designer home tours. At this price point you’ll be able to select just about any porcelain or ceramic tile available and if carpet is your thing, choose from the heaviest loop pile wool carpet you can find and throw a party with the difference. Just be sure to find the products with recycled content and if you can stick to US or European made, go that route. A truly select grade vertical long leaf pine can easily run in the $15-20 range just for the material.

The High End ($9/sf – $15/sf); You’ll still be able to find top tier manufacturers offering beautiful solid and engineered hardwoods that meet the world’s strictest criteria for emissions content. Look online for Porcelain and Ceramic options that meet your aesthetic preference but have high recycled content and then seek out a showroom that sells the product and get quotes. You can get cork or bamboo prefinished in custom colors, choose from just about any reclaimed solid wood option, have your slab diamond polished and stained in intricate patterns, etc… Definitely a lot of possibilities if you can afford to purchase eco-friendly materials at this cost.

The Middle Way ($5.50/sf – $9/sf); This price point allows for many options from Cork to Bamboo to certain engineered hardwoods and most solid reclaimed hardwoods. I will caution that purchasing solid reclaimed hardwoods, while affordable at a face material cost, require on-site sand and finishes that typically run $6-8/sf for the labor. Linoleum, specifically, Forbo’s Marmoleum, for the most part, will be priced in this range. Linoleum might conjure images of the yellowish peeling product from the 1960’s but the modern version is extremely durable and the color options are plenty. Marmoleum is about nine times as hard as vinyl tile and doesn’t shrink at the seams like the vinyl tile did in your highschool cafeteria.

Most Affordable ($5.50/sf and below); Here’s the area where you need to get creative. You can find engineered wood options at this price point but you’ll probably be shopping at a discount supplier and recent revelations have shown that the third party emission testing for formaldehyde and VOC levels might not be the most trustworthy. A very popular option at this level is strand bamboo which has unmatched hardness and many different colors and styles. EcoFusion Flooring and Cali Bamboo are two manufacturers that produce a premium solid strand bamboo product that comes in right around $5.50/sf. EcoFusion also offers a click together floating strand bamboo floor that utilizes an HDF sub-core which can bring the product down into the $4/sf range. As always don’t be shy to ask if any manufacturers are running sales; the $3/sf range is not unheard of but obviously there’s going to be some limits to the options available.

We discussed Forbo’s Marmoleum in the previous category and while most of their glue down tile and click together floating floors are priced outside of this range, they do have one commercial grade linoleum tile called “MCT” that runs around $4.75/sf. It’s offered in about 20 different colors but you have to purchase in higher than normal square foot quantities (about 50sf per case). If you take measurements and factor in overage and your total square footage requirement is near a factor of 50 then this might be a really great option. Reclaimed long leaf pine and the very popular 2-1/4” oak can be purchased for $4.50 and $3.75/sf respectively but again, you’ll have to come out of pocket for the onsite sand and finish. We once sold a reclaimed long leaf pine that came out of a building in Dallas, TX that was famous for having been the apartment building Lee Harvey Oswald occupied. When we received the flooring it had multiple coats of paint and lacquers accumulated on top. After a fairly rigorous sand and finish job, the homeowners were pleased to find a very high quality grade of long leaf pine that could have easily cost $15/sf so there’s some hidden upside in choosing a reclaimed pine.

My favorite option is the most affordable and if you pride yourself a do-it-yourselfer or have a friend in the plaster business that owes you a favor, this can be the best money you’ve ever spent. The product is a cement overlay called “Deco-Poz” by a manufacturer called Eco Safety Products. The idea is that you can achieve the look of stained concrete without the pricey diamond polishing that’s usually required. It’s a product best suited to renovations as it’s the older homes where stained concrete just isn’t going to be an aesthetically pleasing option due to years of old flooring adhesives and tack strips from occupants past. Prep that old floor all you want and there’s a good chance you still won’t be happy with the results. Enter Deco-Poz, the cement micro-topping that will bond to virtually any surface. It’s applied in two thin layers and it will take some elbow grease to make sure the substrate is free of adhesives and excess oils but once applied you have the look of fresh concrete ready to be stained and sealed. If you purchase all of the floor prep products, the Deco-Poz, concrete stain and an industrial level zero VOC polyurethane topcoat the total material cost comes out to approximately $1.85/sf! You heard that right, the clean look of modern stained concrete for below $2/sf. Of course, the quality of the job will depend on how much time you devote to doing it right and if DIY isn’t your bag then paying someone to install is going to be around $4-$5/sf.

 

Backsplash Tile (we covered large format tile in the flooring section)

The Highest End ($50/sf+); Oceanside Glass tile has long been the leader in handmade decorative glass tile and they’re currently incorporating a high percentage of post and pre consumer recycled glass into their product lines. Several of Oceanside’s lines hit above this price point and their new water-jet cut glass series called “Devotion” can get in the $80+ range. Decorative ceramics purchased by the individual piece usually in sizes ranging from 6”x6” and greater.

High End ($30sf-$50/sf); Oceanside glass tile, Fireclay’s crush glass tile, and recycled glass tile from Interstyle are just a few lines that incorporate high contents of recycled glass into a beautiful hand-made options. Clayhaus Ceramics produces a number of unique patterns and arrangements in a color palette that features both matte and glossy options and you’ll find most options in the low $30/sf range. It’s important to note that most of the tile options that are found above $30/sf are typically from hand-made tile lines so lead times are almost always longer than three weeks. Hand painted encaustic tile lines from just about every manufacturer fall in the low $30’s. For a look that can complement both traditional and modern interiors, check out the hand painted reclaimed teak tile options from IndoTeak Design. The line is called “Cinta” and they have a great online design tool.

The Middle Way ($15/sf-$30/sf); I know that a lot of folks will argue that $30/sf for backsplash/accent tile isn’t necessarily a price point that should fall into budget of most home owners but I’m going to suggest that it can and should be if you’re going to be shrewd about your budgeting elsewhere. The accent tile is one of the first design aspects that people notice and most people only need 15-25 square feet of it in a kitchen. If you can shave $10/sf off of your countertop choice then it might not be a huge leap to spend a little more on a tile you really love. A great reclaimed wood tile line from Everitt & Schilling typically runs in the low to mid $20/sf range and it’s being used quite a bit on accent walls and furniture pieces such as head boards and bar facades. Recycled aluminum tile lines from ACP Tile can be hand scored for easy installation and the formats include standard subway dimensions as well as more modern 1×2’s and hex patterns. Cork mosaic tile typically runs about $17/sf and Oceanside has a ready ship line called “Blue” that comes in nine standard mosaics for about $20/sf.

Most Affordable ($15/sf and less)

It’s going to be tough to find any hand-made options at this level but plenty of great alternatives exist. The American manufacturer, Marazzi, is typically known for their large format floor tiles but they also have a smaller format subway tile called “Sistem-C” that is available in 13 different colors. The Marazzi “Middleton” collection contains 4×12 subways with a polished, textured face that’s perfect for contemporary designs. Both options contain enough pre-consumer recycled content to contribute towards LEED credits. Trend Tile is well known for their ¾”x ¾” Mosaics that are available in hundreds of colorways and most of their collections including “Vitreo” and “Brilliante” fall in the $10/sf range. Trend tile incorporates up to 70% post-consumer recycled glass into their products.

 

There are thousands of options at each of the above price points. If you know what look you want then finding the environmentally friendly option is just a matter of research. Be sure to check manufacturer websites and download the product data sheets and MSDS sheets to determine the recycled content, origin of manufacture and the emissions testing. Don’t stress out if you’re on a tight budget and feel like you can’t achieve the look you want. I’d be willing to bet that you can create exactly what you want if you know where and how to look. Call us up anytime and feel free to bounce questions off of us or companies like ours. This is what we do for a living so I’m sure we can steer you in the right direction!