Thursday, September 11, 2008
"Green" remodeling- our bathroom adventures
We are in the middle of planning a total remodeling job in our master bathroom, which was precipitated by leaks in the shower pan, shower drain, and sink drain in our 44 year old house. The room is small and has no windows, and we have decided to make this environmentally as low an impact as possible. To this end, I have been doing massive research on materials, designs, supply sources, etc. So far, here are some of the factors involved (what to look for and where I found it): 1. Cabinetry Looking for a renewable wood (companies that harvest trees in a sustainable manner earn the FSC certification). Bamboo can be problematic if it has to be shipped here from across the Pacific Ocean, so bamboo (and cork) should be checked for where they were harvested. Maple grows like a weed around here, so it is reasonably OK to use. Another factor is whether or not the manufacturing process includes VOC (volatile organic compounds) and/or formaldehyde. Most particle board contains both, which can be respiratory irritants or worse. Greenway Cabinetry, Inc. has a product line called Breathe Easy, using non-toxic water-based glues, formaldehyde-free plywood, and FSC woods or bamboo. I found a company in Baltimore and another south of here that will order these cabinets. However, due to design and space needs, I ended up ordering a different cabinet that is made from the remains of used-up rubber trees. Tile: Ceramic tile is available that is made with a high content of recycled glass and the remains of other ceramic processes. I found wall and floor tile in many colors and sizes at Amicus Green Building Center, 4080A Howard Avenue, Kensington. This store features all kinds of building materials, and the staff is very knowledgable regarding the sources and processes for the materials they sell. I will be using floor and wall tiles (matte and gloss) from Terra Green Ceramics, Inc., which I will order from Amicus. Glass tile made from recycled glass is trickier (also gorgeous and more expensive, but great for accents); the most common manufacturer is Oceanside, sold both at Amicus and at Home Depot's Expo. However, Oceanside moved its manufacturing plant to Mexico and uses a lower % of recycled materials with a production process that is higher in energy use that two other tile sources. Online, I found Sandhill Industries (www.sandhillind.com) and Stardust Glass (www.stardustglasstile.com). Both use up to 100% recycled glass (post-consumer and bits from windows, etc.) and a less energy-intensive process. These are stunning tiles. Sandhill is based in Idaho, and Stardust Glass is in Washington State. I will be ordering from Sandhill; they are sending me some samples. Neither of these companies has a local dealer, so I have told the owners of Amicus about them. Hopefully, they will expand their product lines. Other architectural-quality recycled glass tile manufacturers are Blazestone from Bedrock Industries and Aurora Glass Architectural Accents. I have not researched these thoroughly, so I can't comment on their product lines. Vanity countertop: We will probably be using a recycled plastic product called 3form (www.3-form.com). It comes in sheet of every possible color, texture, and thickness. The website includes instructions for cutting and modifying the material. I was looking for a thick material that is translucent, and find that I can even find scraps large enough for our purposes on the website. Lighting: We are installing an 18" suntube, which is an energy-efficient version of a skylight. We saw one installed in a friend's bath, and it delivers a lovely diffused light all day long (and will glow gently on moon-lit nights). As we move further along in this endeavor, I will report on our progress.