Environmentally Friendly Counters & Soapstone

Brandywine72October 15, 2013

My husband and I really try to walk the walk when it comes to our environmental footprint. Normally we wouldn't even be re-doing our kitchen and just living with what we have, but we needed to put in a powder room for aging parents and it necessitated taking space from the kitchen. We are able to reuse almost everything in our kitchen that was here before but we do need new countertops because of reconfiguring the cabinets.

Every kind of countertop I look into seems an eco-disaster to me. I cringe at quarrying, which isn't a huge loss because I'm not a lover of granite to begin with and don't think marble will look right in our kitchen either. I think a black soapstone might look very nice, and there is a quarry in VA, so I like the local aspect as we are in PA, but I hear entirely mixed info about how well it holds up. I don't mind oiling and putting care into it, nor do I care if it has a bit of dings here and there, but I don't want it to turn milky or have big water stains. The reviews are so conflicting I just want someone to tell me if soapstone is right for me given how I just described what I am willing to put up with and not.

My first choice would be butcher block, but the floors and cabinets are wood and I think it is just going to be wood overload.

Most other "eco-friendly" countertops just seem a bit wasteful to me. They either have so many chemical binders and resins in them, or they are made from coal ash, which creeps me out, or their production uses a ton of energy.

As you can see, I am picky, picky. I just want to make sure I am checking out all my options, and I know that there is no better place to come for great opinions about this stuff than this forum!

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What about recycled stone countertops that have been salvaged? Or remnants? Those are both using otherwise discarded material. If you like some of the more common and easy to match stuff, you could probably easily get a few remnants that match pretty good to do your counters.

There are a few here that have used concrete. I don't know off hand how Eco friendly it is, but seems like it would be miles ahead of some other materials.

Could you post a quick sketch so people can see what amount of material is needed and in what sizes, in relation to one another? You might get some great ideas that way.

    Bookmark   October 15, 2013 at 12:48PM
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I'm sorry I don't have a good answer for you. I too have often wondered about just how environmentally friendly the countertop materials marketed as "green" really are. As you mentioned, even if they are made of some recycled materials (paper, glass, etc), they are bound together by resins and potentially other chemicals. Not to mention the energy to manufacture these products.

Another option might be trying to find recycled materials to use for countertops. For example, at my local ReStore, I've often seen tile (that has been removed from some other installation). You could re-install a product that someone else has discarded that otherwise might end up in a landfill.

I did a little searching online, as this is a question that interests me as well. I found this page that compared some products.

    Bookmark   October 15, 2013 at 1:23PM
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I think that laminate would be the most environmentally friendly countertop second to butcher block. The particle board and paper substrates come from a renewable ressource. They don't require a lot of energy for production. As they weigh less than any stone/solid surface countertop, they need less energy for transport. And you can select an E0-rated laminate to minimize formaldehyde/COV emissions.

    Bookmark   October 15, 2013 at 1:27PM
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I have had soapstone from Alberene in the kitchen, bathroom, and laundry for over 4 years and it has held up well. But... you cringe at quarrying? They are cutting up the earth to get this stone out so you will not be avoiding the quarrying. And if you choose to oil it you will want to consider something other than mineral oil as there are environmental concerns with it.

The issues that some have with soapstone- water rings, cloudy appearance- would be a result of the the oil or wax that is used so if you do want to use soapstone you should order the samples from Alberene and try out some oil or wax on them and then use them as a coaster. My counters are sealed with an enhancing sealant and I have not had any issues at all but that is not the most environmentally friendly approach.

There are a lot of counter products that range in eco- friendliness. Some are very conscious of the production process as an important aspect too.

Here is a link that might be useful: apartment therapy article

    Bookmark   October 15, 2013 at 1:48PM
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I have been keeping my eyes open for recycled materials at salvage stores in Philly and Baltimore (when I was passing through) as well as on craigslist. I have not come up with much. But I do think we have a Re-store Habitat for Humanity shop here and I have not yet checked there so thanks for the heads up on that.

I do need to check out laminate. I had not known to look for E0 rated. Great suggestion. I had been concerned about the formaldahyde off-gasing with laminate but will see about the E0 option and how that might suit me.

I want to call Alberene as I had seen something on their website about them using reclaimed or reused soapstone from their old quarry. I'm not sure what that means or that I am recalling the language correctly.

I recall reading a Sierra Club article online that had a low rating of concrete as far as eco-friendliness because the energy it takes to make Portland cement. (I guess I blew that one when we re-did the foundation on part of our 1851 year old house. Sometimes there are no other options...)

    Bookmark   October 15, 2013 at 1:59PM
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Fori is not pleased

How about copper or stainless steel? At least it's recyclable (and probably recycled). Ask Circuspeanut about how lovely copper can be. And stainless is pretty darn nice too.

    Bookmark   October 15, 2013 at 2:29PM
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I don't know if PaperStone (similar to EcoTop) fits all your criteria, but I like mine very much. This is the best closeup that I have:

    Bookmark   October 15, 2013 at 3:24PM
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As you are finding out choosing eco-friendly countertops can be challenging. When researching the different countertop choices it comes down to weighing the positive and negative environmental factors in your own eyes and which material will best suit your wants and needs. For instance you mentioned fly ash, which is the waste product of coal burning, as something that creeps you out where as other environmentally conscious people would look at the use of fly ash as a positive because less fly ash would be deposited into landfills. There were a few mentions of butcher block which could be a solid contender depending upon the wood species used in the butcher block and the level of sustainability that species possesses as well as how and where that species is harvested.

With all this said here is a list of countertop materials that are generally regarded as eco-friendly:

Recycled Aluminum Countertops: A company named Eleek is leading the way in this field. Their products contain between 50%-90% recycled aluminum. Furthermore their products are finished with reusable abrasives, recycled wanted and a clear coat finish which is food safe and non-toxic. Lastly these countertops could be easily recycled when they are no longer in use. These countertops do tend to be pricey.

Recycled Glass: Discarded glass waste is put to good use. These products generally contain fly ash which you mentioned concerns you however as I pointed out above using fly ash helps to keep the material from filling up landfills but also helps to decrease greenhouse gases produced during cement manufacturing.

Recycled Paper: This is generally a resin based product. However there are companies that ensure the resins used do not contain petroleum or formaldehyde. These materials are often replaced with cashew nut shell liquid. These countertops are reasonably priced.

Some specific avenues you may want to explore are; Squak Mountain Stone, IceStone, Durapalm, BioGlass, Eleek and Renewed Materials Alkemi.

If lessening your carbon foot print is the goal when choosing your countertop don't forget to take into account the ancillary environmental factors such as shipping. I wish you the best in your search and if you need more information on any specific item don't hesitate to ask.

    Bookmark   October 15, 2013 at 4:08PM
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You could try for some local stone - there's stone just about everywhere.

PA has good slate, so perhaps you could look for local slate. NY certainly, and perhaps northern NJ, would be a source for Bluestone. NY and VT have lovely slate, MA has some really pretty schist. VT has marble.

And of course there's Alberene soapstone in VA.

So you've got choices if you want stone. If more people ask for local materials, more will be available..

Then there's metals and wood (if locally and sustainabbly harvested).

For my kitchen, I'm using VT slate near the stove (quarried less than 50 miles from my house), and recycled wood and probably metal around the sink so I can easily sanitize it. (I do some dairy processing at my sink.)

Some of the "green" and recycled materials sound interesting, but any made with petroleum- chemical resins would be a non-starter with me, too.


    Bookmark   October 15, 2013 at 9:18PM
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We have recycled glass countertops from glassrecycled.com

    Bookmark   October 15, 2013 at 9:18PM
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Fouramblues, how long have you had your PaperStone countertops? I have read mixed reviews about people's happiness over the long run. If I lived in the NW I might be more inclined as I think that is where they are produced.

I am going to search the archives to see if I can find pictures of people's laminate countertops. Will go check some out in person too.

My carpenter is putting in a temporary countertop tomorrow - plywood. Maybe it will be good enough to use for a few months allowing me to search longer for some salvaged materials. I have been doing so for months already. You never know what will show up when.

I love the look of copper - saw it at a bar in my neighborhood the other night. But I think the color will really clash with my reddish cabinets and floors. I really do adore the look though.

Here is a link to the green home website from Sierra Club where I read about a few different countertop ideas: http://www.scgh.com/go-green/cabinets/eco-friendly-countertops/

    Bookmark   October 15, 2013 at 9:45PM
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Also, Eco by Cosentino is recycled glass in a corn-based resin.

    Bookmark   October 15, 2013 at 10:52PM
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We've had the counters for over a year. PaperStone has a "living finish", so there are spots that show that a heavy pot was dragged over, slightly darkened rings where I leave my cast iron Dutch oven to drip dry overnight, etc. The manufacturer says stuff like this can be sanded out, but I rather like the patina. The tops still look great and feel so nice (soft and warm, if that makes any sense)! We have Cambria quartz for the workhorse island, which is cold and hard, but withstands much abuse. I don't know if I'd be happy with the patina the PaperStone would have if it were on the island.

FYI, I have one seam, and it's pretty obvious when you look at it. (Thankfully it's in an unobtrusive spot.) I'm not sure if that's because I had my GC fabricate and install it, or if it's the nature of the beast.

    Bookmark   October 16, 2013 at 8:10AM
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Saw these last year at KBIS- overisze ceramic sheets- the advantages of tile without seams, very cool sinks too.

Might want to investigate how eco further. I tend to be a skeptic but this one appears decent.
It is listed as Greenguard, LEEDs eligable, "complies with every European environmental safety standard. The producct has been designed and manufactured in accordance with sustainability criteria and a commitment to the environment and society"

Here is a link that might be useful: Neolith

    Bookmark   October 16, 2013 at 8:41AM
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We have recycled glass from Curava. I'm not sure if it meets the greenest of all standards, but it sure is beautiful!

    Bookmark   October 16, 2013 at 8:49AM
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Jakuvall, do you know anyone who's used that or how it's priced here? It seems like Kerlite, but without the microban, which is the one thing that keeps me away from Kerlite.

    Bookmark   October 16, 2013 at 9:31AM
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I am a fabricator.

There are a variety of "green" countertop materials out there but most are an energy intensive manufactured product with some recycled material in them to provide the "green" attribute. Also, virtually all of the ones I am aware of sell at a substantial premium to more conventional materials.

Your soapstone idea is a good one. soapstone is actually a very durable surface if you are willing to deal with the occasional scratches with sandpaper and re-oiling. re: staining, there is a reason soapstone is a popular choice for chemistry labs, i.e. it's practically impossible to stain it. If you can go one step farther and use recovered/recycled soapstone you will truly have a "green" material. (Note: we once made tops for a customer that had blackboard slate recovered from a school demolition.)

The promotion of the various quartz brands as green is ludicrous. The quartz is mined, the resins are petrochemical based, and the production process is energy intensive. The artificial slabs then have to be ground and polished just like natural stone. It is a triumph of deceptive marketing that the quartz manufacturers have convinced much of the industry that manufactured quartz is more green than natural stone.

Hope this was helpful.

    Bookmark   October 16, 2013 at 9:33AM
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athomeinva, what do you mean by an enhancing sealant? I'm looking at soapstone & would be interested to hear about this.

Don't mean to hijack the thread, sorry!

Thank you,

    Bookmark   October 16, 2013 at 9:54AM
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I don't know anyone who has used it yet. I'm planning on using it on the next display we put in but that will be a ways out.
When I talked with them at KBIS I was left with the impression that is prices a little below granite. I'd say that the fabricator is very important, but then I always think that.

    Bookmark   October 16, 2013 at 10:34AM
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Thanks, jakuvall. Yeah, fabrication concerns me, since I'm a good long ways from any distributor.

    Bookmark   October 16, 2013 at 10:54AM
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Susan- enhancing sealants such as Miracle 511 darken soapstone and keep it dark. Sealants do not make the stone look more perfect or shiny, they just keep the dark look without needing to oil or wax. I initially tried oiling the stone and tried wax on the small area that is in the laundry room but I did not like the time it took to do it or the slightly gummy finish even after buffing. My kitchen counters have been in for over 4 years and I have only reapplied sealant once around the sink, mainly because we have very hard water and I have to scrub that area the most.

This post was edited by athomeinva on Thu, Jan 29, 15 at 18:55

    Bookmark   October 16, 2013 at 2:59PM
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Atho - It is inspiring to see your picture. I have wood floors and wood cabinets and have been thinking that soapstone would look good and yours certainly does. Now if a salvaged piece would fall into my life, I would be in business.

Off to check out laminate countertops. Never thought I would be doing this. I think my husband will cringe at the suggestion.

    Bookmark   October 16, 2013 at 4:36PM
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I have seen old pool tables or the slate from same on Craigslist several times. One table would have provided enough slate for my kitchen --- -perhaps another option for you.

M. Texeira also sells soapstone and slate remnants, although most of their product is imported I think.

    Bookmark   October 16, 2013 at 5:32PM
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I've heard recycled glass counters like Ice Stone and Vetrazzo are prone to chipping. I actually saw a chipped one in a kitchen showroom.

    Bookmark   October 16, 2013 at 6:02PM
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I just found these slabs of slate from a pool table on craigslist. I am wondering what thoughts you all have about the fabrication process, how they will hold up, or any other general considerations I should think about. I kind of like how messed up they are: less pressure on me to keep them pristine. I do, however, want to make sure that the surface is food grade. Should I be concerned about what those white blotches are?

They measure 32 x 51 and are 3/4 inch thick. All have pocket cut outs. My counter space is very small. I will include some pictures below, as I'm not sure if I can figure out how to attach them all at once.

    Bookmark   October 16, 2013 at 10:56PM
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My kitchen is small. I have two countertops:

* To the right of the stove 24 x 25
(Currently covered with a remnant of granite from the previous incarnation of our kitchen. We just have it up temporarily and plan on donating it to Re-store.)

* To left of stove and along the long wall:
90 long
36 on return end near stove
24 on end near fridge

I would obviously need to use two pieces on the longer countertop if I went with this pool table slate. Are the seams going to fall in awkward places?

    Bookmark   October 16, 2013 at 11:04PM
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Other pic.

    Bookmark   October 16, 2013 at 11:05PM
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This can be done. There are a few things to consider when thinking about taking on a project like this, such as if slate is the right material for you. From there you should explore the type of slate in the pool table you are considering for use. There are basically two types of pool table slate, single slate pool tables and 3 piece slate pool tables. This will lead to further considerations such as taking in to account exact countertop sizes. We did an outside bar with repurposed pool type slate that worked well. The process of making the reclaimed slate work as a countertop was not difficult. If this is not a project you want to take on finding a fabricator may be a little challenging but can definitely done. I have included a few links for you below that you may want to look at.




    Bookmark   October 16, 2013 at 11:30PM
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