Category Archives: Countertops

The Latest (and Best) Sustainable Building Materials

As a retailer of green and sustainable building materials, we see and hear about plenty of new products every year. But what innovative products made our “best of” list for 2021?

The latest and greatest Sustainable Building Products - Greenhome Solutions's Top Pick of the Year and Beyond. Images include a dog chewing a toy on a Wicanders Cork Floor, a second image of a close-up of Valinge Hardened Wood Flooring with a small puddle of water and little surfer action figures, and a third image of a kitchen with a butcher block island counter and 3 bar chairs.

You may be wondering what makes a building material sustainable?  So before we jump into the list, we should clarify what words like “Sustainable” and “Green” mean in the world of building products. 

What Are Green or Sustainable Building Materials?

There are many features that combine to make a building “green”, including energy efficiency and the reduction of demolition waste, for example. Using environmentally responsible construction materials is just one component of the green building process, but it’s an important one. One main goal of green building is to minimize the impact of the building project on the environment and human health. So the materials used should do the same. In fact, according to the U.S. Green Building Council, materials should go a step further. Not only reduce that impact, but also “regenerate the natural and social environments from which they originate.” Reusing materials is an ideal example of this. So is using sustainable, planet-friendly materials that are:

  • Sustainably Grown – Decking and Siding from FSC-Certified forests
  • Locally Harvested – Butcher Block surfaces made from Pacific Northwest wood species
  • Made from Rapidly Renewable Materials – Bamboo and Cork Flooring
  • Made from Recycled Materials – PaperStone is a countertop made from recycled paper
  • Non-Toxic – Flooring and Cabinets manufactured without formaldehyde-containing adhesives and finishes
  • Reusable and/or Recyclable
  • Biodegradable
  • Durable, Long Lasting
Examples of Green Building Materials from left to right: Kebony Siding shown on The Burke Museum in Seattle, WA, Marmoleum Flooring in a Yellow and White tile scheme in a kitchen, and PaperStone countertop in Slate.
Examples of Sustainable Materials (left to right): Kebony Cladding at The Burke Museum of Natural History [Courtesy of Kebony® – Photo by Ben Roberts] / Marmoleum Flooring / PaperStone Recycled Paper Countertops [Courtesy of PaperStone®]

Why Should We Care about Sustainable Materials?

Before the pandemic, it was estimated that people spend up to 90% of their time indoors. At the end of 2021, many of us are still spending the majority of that time in our own homes. And “pandemic projects” like room additions, backyard offices, and kitchen renovations – all inspired by the need for multitasking rooms – haven’t slowed down. Rooms need to host a variety of activities since we’re essentially relaxing, eating, learning, working, and entertaining in the same space.

Connection between health and indoor air quality

More people are becoming aware of the correlation between poor health and poor indoor air quality (IAQ) due to volatile organic compounds, or VOCs. Considering how much time we spend indoors, it’s vital to do whatever we can to breathe the cleanest air possible. And there are many factors that contribute to the quality of indoor air – it’s a complex issue. A properly designed ventilation system and the reduction of indoor moisture levels are both important for good IAQ. But for the purposes of this discussion, we’re focusing on building materials and finish products which are also important potential sources of pollutants.

The fact is that most building materials emit gases throughout the life of the material. Some of them are toxic pollutants, including formaldehyde, which is a VOC that can be found in synthetic materials like carpets, vinyl flooring, and flooring adhesives and finishes. Paint is another finish material that has a tendency to be high in VOCs. Exposure to those chemicals inside your home can negatively affect your health, comfort, and ability to work. That’s why choosing non-toxic materials matter. If you want to enhance the quality of your indoor air, choose materials with zero or low VOC emissions. In other words, choose the least toxic materials. Search for natural and sustainable materials with the same positive characteristics as some of the higher VOC products, but without the harmful effects on the planet and our health.

Considering how much time we spend indoors, it’s vital to do whatever we can to breathe the cleanest air possible.

 

Benefits of Sustainable Building Materials

We like to say that what’s good for our planet is also good for our health. Sustainable building materials enhance the quality of your indoor air which in turn has a positive impact on your health, wellness, and comfort. But there are other benefits to building with sustainability in mind:

  • AFFORDABILITY – Rising popularity in greener materials have resulted in a wider selection of products and lower prices. So sustainable doesn’t automatically mean more expensive.
     
  • DURABILITY – A big part of sustainability is longevity. Materials considered sustainable and green last longer because they’re durable. A good example is solid hardwood flooring. They add value to the home because they’re meant to last a lifetime.
     
  • REFLECTS YOUR VALUES – Our homes and spaces are reflections of who we are. If you value the health of our planet, investing in sustainable building materials essentially puts your money where your values are.
     
  • CONNECTION TO NATURE – If you’re someone looking to bring the outdoors in, natural materials such as cork and wood provide warmth and comfort in addition to that feeling of being more connected to nature.
     
  • LOWER UTILITY COSTS – A benefit of one of our favorite sustainable materials, cork, is its natural thermal insulation properties. Thermal insulation works to create a barrier between cold concrete subfloors and your comfy indoor temperature. And bonus – we’ve noticed the added benefit of lower utility costs because of it.

OUR FAVORITE SUSTAINABLE BUILDING MATERIALS OF THE YEAR

Now that you’re all in on green building materials, let’s find out what products we’ve discovered that have our customers raving…

Valinge Hardened Wood Flooring with Woodura is one of our favorite sustainable building materials this year - available at Greenhome Solutions. Image of a close-up of Valinge Hardened Wood Flooring with a small puddle of water and little surfer action figures, an image of the flooring in a honey color with a wood chair and a leather pouf, and an image of a carton of the flooring.

Välinge Hardened Wood Flooring

From Sweden comes an innovative new hardwood flooring product that’s not only water-resistant, but also 3 times stronger than traditional wood flooring. Valinge is best known for their locking flooring installation systems. In fact, it’s their 5G® Dry™ fold down glueless locking system that also provides the flooring’s water resistance.

Some other things we like about Valinge Hardened Wood Flooring:

  • 100% Real Wood – Ash, Oak or Walnut with natural imperfections, knots and streaks. No vinyl printed “wood looks”
  • Stronger Impact Resistance – The wood layer is hardened by high pressure and temperature. And gives the flooring major dent & gouge resistance that outperforms traditional solid and engineered hardwood floors.
  • Wide and Even Wider Planks – Valinge’s hardwood planks are currently available in a 8 1/4″ width and (coming soon) in a 10 3/4″ width. Plus, no random lengths – each plank is over 7′ long.
  • Affordable – we like that this is a real wood flooring product for significantly less than traditional engineered or solid wood flooring.
  • Floor & Wall Applications – OK, trust us, this is cool. They offer an install system that coverts flooring to wall covering without glue!
Valinge Hardened Wood Flooring in Mineral Grey Oak (a brownish-grey color) shown on the floor as well as on the wall encasing a gas fireplace insert. Demonstrating their installation system for converting flooring to wall covering.
Make your floor climb the wall with Valinge’s 5G® Climb™ system (shown in Mineral Grey Oak)

SUSTAINABILITY FACTOR: This engineered hardwood flooring is made with 100% real wood from responsibly managed forests, which is then manufactured nearby. Their Woodura technology maximizes the floor surface from every log. By using sliced wood instead of solid wood, 10 times more flooring can be produced from the same amount of lumber compared to traditional engineered wood flooring. And 30 times more flooring compared to solid wood flooring.

Butcher Block solid wood surfaces are one of our favorite sustainable building materials this year. Shown in Pacific Madrone. Courtesy of Targa Homes - Photo by Cora Brown Rock.
Pacific Madrone Butcher Block. Courtesy of Targa Homes – Photo by Cora Brown Rock

Stocked Butcher Block Surfaces

OK, so butcher block isn’t exactly new. Solid wood surfaces have been around for a very long time. The big news about our butcher block is that we’re now stocking ready-made slabs in popular countertop sizes! There’s nothing like warm, natural wood to cozy up a room.

Some other things we love about our butcher block:

  • Pacific Northwest Wood – Local to our region, our butcher block is made from sustainably harvested wood species. They include Douglas Fir, Big Leaf Maple, Pacific Madrone, Myrtlewood, and Tanoak.
  • Stocked in Common Countertop Dimensions – available in two widths and several lengths: 4′, 6′, 8′ or 12′
  • Finishing – Our slabs come unfinished and sanded to 120-grit finish with square edges.
  • Custom Sizes and Finishing Available – We still offer our full line of butcher block surfaces, including plank-style, end-grain, and custom widths, thicknesses and lengths. Perfect for all kinds of applications, like table tops, kitchen islands, bathroom vanities and shelving.

SUSTAINABILITY FACTOR: Our butcher block is manufactured from Pacific Northwest hardwood and softwood species, sustainably sourced from our region’s many fertile forests. Our supplier partners with small mills throughout the region to cut and kiln-dry the lumber and manufacture the solid surfaces. And we’re happy to say that we can share the story behind each piece.

Wicanders Cork Flooring and Wall Coverings are one of our favorite sustainable building materials this year. Shown here in Charm (left) and Desire (right).

Wicanders Cork Flooring and Wall Covering

Wicanders has been in the business of making cork products since 1868. What started as bottle cork stoppers soon turned to furnishing and flooring products. And today, over 150 years later, cork flooring is still a recycled by-product of cork bottle stoppers. What makes Wicanders Cork Flooring one our favorite sustainable building materials of the year? On its own, cork is an ideal material for flooring. But when combined with Wicanders’ Corktech technology, cork becomes a flooring product packed with undeniable benefits: comfort, warmth, durability, and beauty. Best of all, it’s affordable.

Some other things we love about Wicanders Cork:

  • Corktech Structure – Wicanders employs an engineered multilayer structure to build a strong and durable flooring plank. It consists of a quality core layer of cork, an integrated cork underlayment, cork veneers and a protective, eco-friendly (and non-toxic) surface finish.
  • Glueless Floating Floor Install – the locking install system makes for a somewhat easy DIY install that you can float over an existing subfloor or glue down for a more permanent application.
  • Hypoallergenic – Cork is a great option for allergy sufferers because it’s naturally mold and mildew resistant, anti-microbial and doesn’t collect dust like carpets.
  • Durable – Cork has been used as flooring in buildings like the Library of Congress because it holds up to traffic. The finishes used today protect against cracking and scuff marks and adds a great deal of strength and longevity. When properly maintained, cork flooring can last for years. And years.
  • Inherent Cork Characteristics – The benefits of cork are pretty incredible and a lot of that has to do with its cell structure. Its acoustic insulation properties can reduce foot traffic sound up to 53% and act as a noise buffer between floors. Thanks to its thermal insulation properties, your floor maintains an optimal temperature all year round. Its cell structure also allows for elasticity and compressibility which means it can spring back from impacts. And it’s more flexible so it’s forgiving on your legs and back. This makes for an ideal kitchen floor, where you’re often standing for long periods of time.

SUSTAINABILITY FACTOR: Cork is one of the most renewable and versatile materials in the world. The cork bark is harvested without cutting down or destroying the cork oak tree. And there are strict time limits on the extraction period. During its long lifetime – upwards of 200 years – the tree is continually regenerating bark. As we mentioned before, cork flooring is a by-product of cork bottle stoppers. The material that’s left over after the stoppers are punched out is ground up to make other products, including floors. Many of the factories even utilize the cork dust from the processing plants to co-generate electricity.

Wicanders Cork Flooring is one of our favorite sustainable building materials this year. They also make a wall covering called Dekwall as well as glue-down cork tiles.
Wicanders makes a wall covering called ‘Dekwall’ (shown at left) as well as glue-down cork flooring (shown at right, top and bottom). Courtesy of Wicanders®

Summary

Sustainable building materials combine long-lasting style with eco-friendly function. And you don’t have to sacrifice either for a healthy indoor environment. It’s been an inventive year for green building. Thanks to the latest technology, brands continue to innovate and create more advanced products. We are fortunate to live in a time where people are generally more concerned about their personal wellness as well as that of our planet’s. We’re demanding healthier products – organic food, non-toxic cleaning products and “clean” skincare. We should be demanding the same healthfulness from our building materials. We hope this list of sustainable building products inspires your future healthy spaces!


Greenhome Solutions is a family-owned, Seattle-based green building product supplier and showroom. Our friendly, knowledgable and down-to-earth team is happy to introduce homeowners and contractors to the latest sustainable building materials to fit their needs – just ask! But some of the products you have to see to believe. If you haven’t been to our showroom (or browsed our website), it’s worth the visit. If you’re thinking about a remodel or new construction project, take a peek at our selection or give us a call today!

LEARN MORE (Sources)

Välinge Flooring | valingeflooring.com

Wicanders Cork | wicanders.us

Green Building 101: Sustainable materials and resources | usgbc.org

About Green Building | worldgbc.org

Indoor Air Quality & Environmental Health | environmentalscience.org

Protect Indoor Air Quality In Your Home | epa.gov

Targa Homes: Shoreline 5-Star DADU | builtgreen.net


PaperStone – The Unique Countertop That’s Both Sustainable and Affordable

Looking for an affordable and sustainable alternative to cold granite countertops? Discover PaperStone – a recycled paper countertop that’s surprisingly warm.

PaperStone’s surface is a unique composition of recycled paper and non-petroleum resin with origins in the aerospace and marine industries. But don’t let its strength and durability fool you – it’s also warm and luxuriously smooth – making it an ideal kitchen countertop or bathroom vanity.

PaperStone Recycled Paper Surface in Slate (Black) in a kitchen designed by Rock Paper Hammer.

PaperStone Counters in Slate are featured in this kitchen designed by Rock Paper Hammer.
Courtesy of PaperStone® – Photo by Sara Rounsavall

What is PaperStone?

PaperStone® is a paper composite surface made with 100% post-consumer recycled paper, petroleum-free resins and natural pigments. Sheets of paper are essentially saturated with the resins and pigments, then compressed using heat and pressure.  This process creates an extremely durable, structurally sound, and non-porous surface product that looks like stone, but is surprisingly warm and soft-to-the-touch.

Origins of Paper Composite Surfaces

Paper composite countertops aren’t new, in fact they’ve been around for decades, originally developed for use in science labs, industrial kitchens, and fabrication shops.  Aerospace and marine industries use the material — we’re talking heavy duty applications.  These are the types of commercial and industrial environments that typically value durability and structural integrity over aesthetics.  Although, PaperStone is an attractive surface with a modern look and feel.

Not just for countertops, PaperStone can be used for a variety of applications, like this coffee shop tabletop. Photo courtesy of PaperStone®

Not just for countertops, PaperStone can be used for a variety of applications, like this coffee shop tabletop.
Photo courtesy of PaperStone®

Look and Feel of PaperStone Countertops

PaperStone is often compared to soapstone or slate, thanks to its warm, soft and smooth-to-the-touch feel.  Sheets of PaperStone are shipped raw and un-sanded with an organic micro-textured surface and matte finish.  Since it’s a green product made entirely from natural raw materials, it will naturally age similar to a fine hardwood. The aging process develops over time and produces a worn-in feel and natural patina.  For example, you may notice deeper luster in areas of heavier use.  However, as one commenter on Houzz noted, “Some slight changes to that visual texture over time don’t bother me – it feels like it’s more alive that way..more like wood.

PaperStone’s color comes from the natural pigments used combined with the natural color of the recycled paper.  The color is not a surface treatment – it runs through the entire depth of the product.

This PaperStone recycled paper countertop features a waterfall edge. Photo courtesy of Curbed NY. Photo by Matthew Williams.

This PaperStone counter in Slate features a gorgeous waterfall edge.
Courtesy of Curbed New York – Photo by Matthew Williams.

Cost of PaperStone

The price of PaperStone varies depending upon the color and thickness of the slab, the layout of the installation, as well as the cost of installation in your area.  You should plan to spend about $65 to $100 per square foot installed, which is comparable to a high quality quartz or granite product.  But, the benefit to PaperStone is that it’s DIY-friendly, which is rare in the world of countertops.  Fabrication can run you around $40 per square foot, which can save a skilled DIY-er a pretty penny.

We also like to talk about yield when we talk about the cost of PaperStone.  If you can maximize the yield of the material you’re using, you’re not throwing away dollars.  Since it’s available in several unique lengths, you can minimize product waste.  This means less waste for the planet, and less dollars wasted by you.

Installation Options for PaperStone – DIY-ers, rejoice!

The ease of fabrication and installation of PaperStone lends itself to being DIY-friendly.  Working with PaperStone is much like working with fine hardwoods or butcher block – it installs with common woodworking tools. If you are comfortable working with carbide-tipped tools, saws, and routers, you really can have a successful self-install on this product.  We even provide a detailed FABRICATION GUIDE.

However, many of our homeowners see the value in the cost of a professional install, which includes fabrication, templating, delivery and installation.

So, professional install or DIY – the choice is yours.

Finishing of PaperStone – Should you Buff or Sand?

At Greenhome we encourage our clients to simply buff  their PaperStone slabs, rather than sand them, to stay as true to that original, micro-textured surface and keep the matte finish. And BONUS…that matte finish creates less glare, which in turn shows less imperfections – like oily fingerprints and dust – than glossy, sanded counters.

At its heart, PaperStone is a natural wood product – it’s made from paper after all.  And like finishing fine hardwoods, you also have the option of sanding when finishing it.  Sanding effectively removes the textured surface giving the slabs a smooth, more mottled appearance.  But note that over-sanding can create an extremely mottled pattern, which is especially noticeable in the Gunmetal and Sienna colors.

Those who prefer the shiny, polished look that sanding creates should be aware that with that finish comes additional maintenance. Because once you sand – and essentially cut – the surface in order to obtain that polished look, you’ll need to treat it with the sealant more often so it’s not as susceptible to stains and scratches.

Finishing of PaperStone – Should you Buff or Sand? Sanding effectively removes the textured surface giving the slabs a smooth, more mottled appearance. But note that oversanding can create an extremely mottled pattern, which is especially noticeable in the Gunmetal and Sienna colors.

Be cautious when sanding PaperStone because mottling becomes more apparent. This is especially noticeable in the Gunmetal and Sienna colors as seen above.

Cleaning and Maintaining PaperStone Surfaces

Although PaperStone is ultimately a low maintenance surface, an initial sealing finish is highly recommended to enhance the natural color and protect it against oils and stains.  We prefer a natural oil and wax based Soapstone Sealer which provides a low luster finish without the continuous reapplication that is often required with mineral oil.

Day-to-day cleaning is a cinch, thanks to PaperStone’s low porosity which means it resists stains, abrasions and water.  Simply wipe clean with a damp cloth.  For deeper stains use a non-abrasive, eco-friendly kitchen cleaner as dish soap and harsh chemicals can dull the surface.

Soapstone Sealer by The Real Milk Paint Co is available at ghsproducts.com. An all-natural protector for PaperStone and Soapstone counters, Soapstone Sealer is made from food grade Walnut Oil and Carnauba Wax. It provides a low luster finish without VOC's or added fragrances.

We like an all-natural protector for PaperStone like this Soapstone Sealer made from food grade Walnut Oil and Carnauba Wax. It provides a low luster finish without VOC’s or added fragrances.

Time between applications of the sealer will vary.  PaperStone recommends a yearly application to protect against stains and scratches, but ultimately it’s up to the individual owner.  Some folks, like our Pro Sales Associate Pieter Sundgren, don’t mind the chalky or “thirsty” look a PaperStone counter can develop.  He’s currently in year 2 and hasn’t resealed his tops yet because they’re still performing great and holding up well.  But if you’re noticing that water doesn’t seem to bead up anymore or the luster is a bit diminished, the oil & wax sealer is a great way to refresh your countertops.

For more detailed information on care & maintenance, see our guide on How to Care for Your PaperStone Surfaces.

Sustainability of PaperStone

PaperStone as a material is truly deep green.  From Forest Stewardship Council-certified recycled paper and natural pigments to non-petroleum resins made in-house from industrial by-products that would otherwise go to waste.  But they don’t just make an environmentally friendly product, they also walk-the-walk in their Hoquiam, WA manufacturing plant.  Committed to a clean manufacturing process, all raw materials used to create PaperStone are also from the U.S.

With PaperStone, you can have a gorgeous countertop AND feel good about it. Find out why we love PaperStone Recycled Paper Countertops at Greenhome Solutions

Courtesy of PaperStone® – shown here in Pewter
USING RECYCLED PAPER VS. VIRGIN PAPER MAKES A DIFFERENCE THAT YOU CAN FEEL GOOD ABOUT.
ONE TON OF RECYCLED PAPER:
Saves 24,000 gallons of water
Eliminates 3 cubic ft. of landfill space
Eliminates 60 pounds of air pollutants
Conserves enough energy to power a home for 6 months
Saves about 20 trees
Saves 4 barrels of oil

PAPERSTONE BENEFITS

  • Environmentally sustainable and responsibly manufactured
  • Durable – heavy-duty solid surface that’s harder than wood, lighter and less brittle than stone or engineered quartz.  You’ll even find PaperStone used as cutting boards and food prep stations in commercial kitchens.
  • Stain Resistant – nonporous, resists food and water stains
  • Certified Food Safe – certified safe by the National Sanitary Foundation and won’t harbor bacteria, mold or mildew
  • Easy to Maintain – simply clean with a damp cloth or natural soap and water;  apply soapstone sealer once every 1-2 years
  • Warm, Soft and Smooth-to-the-touch – similar to soapstone
  • Easy to Install – easy to fabricate and install by professionals OR DIY-ers!
  • Larger Sheet Sizes – unique sizes to fit large or small kitchens with less waste
  • Virtually Seamless – the large sheet sizes (up to 5′ x 12′) makes it possible to have fewer or even no seams; for larger applications that require adjoining two pieces together, joint gaps can be filled and sanded to make a seam virtually disappear.
  • Multiple applications – PaperStone makes an ideal countertop but is also great for bathroom vanities, conference tabletops, window sills, partitions, furniture, benches, signs and displays. You can also use it in vertical building applications such as wall panels.
  • Affordable – pricing is comparable to a quality quartz or granite product.
  • 10 Year Warranty

THINGS TO CONSIDER

  • Heat resistant, but only to 350 degrees – we recommend using a trivet or hot plate
  • Medium to dark color pallet – no hues lighter than a platinum gray and no white (at time of publication).  This is due to the source raw materials including the high recycled content of their paper and non-toxic resins which aren’t clear.  The resin combined with the recycled paper creates a product that’s closer to an amber yellow in color, which makes white or even light-colored sheets difficult to achieve.
  • Requires a sealant – we love this walnut oil + carnuba wax Soapstone Sealer
  • Perfectionists Beware – PaperStone is an organic raw material that will develop a natural patina over time

PaperStone can withstand 45,000 pounds of compressive pressure per square inch, making it both beautiful AND strong!

Look at all those layers…PaperStone can withstand 45,000 pounds of compressive pressure per square inch, making it both beautiful AND strong! Shown here in Azure and Sand.
Courtesy of PaperStone®

Summary of PaperStone Countertops

We are big fans of the recycled paper PaperStone countertops because they’re durable, affordable, water resistant and easy to work with.  Despite the availability of lighter white hues, their range of colors (including their new lighter design collection colors) and price-point have made it a favorite choice for homes, restaurants, offices, universities and laboratories.  They’re also stain and nick-resistant.  If you do happen to scratch the surface, you can refinish it time and again, as the color goes all the way through the product.

Availability of PaperStone Counters – Ready to Buy?

Want to feel the warm, smooth texture for yourself?  Single color samples are available in our Seattle showroom. If you live in Washington state, please call us for fast, free shipping on samples at 888-447-9877. Or, click here to locate a supplier in your area.

PaperStone Countertop Samples - Purchase Single Color PaperStone samples and enjoy fast, free shipping.

Call us to order SINGLE COLOR PAPERSTONE SAMPLES and get fast, free shipping: (888) 447-9877

At Greenhome Solutions, we typically stock PaperStone sheets in SLATE (black) due to its popularity as a color and its lower price-point.  The Slate product appeals to customers that are attracted to slate and soapstone countertops, but not the maintenance that comes with them.

If you’re looking for another color or additional sheet sizes, the turnaround time is only about 2 weeks.

For more information on PaperStone recycled paper countertops, visit our product page or call us at (888) 447-9877.

Learn More

PaperStone Products – The Earth’s Surface  |  paperstoneproducts.com
Modern Surfaces – Collection of Sustainable Surfacing Brands  |  modern-surfaces.com
Follow @wearepaperstone  |  instagram.com


Looking to update your floors? Read What Flooring Do We Put in Our Own Homes? to discover our favorite sustainable flooring option right now.

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