Ultra Touch 100% Recycled Blue Jean Denim Insulation: Working with cotton insulation is a dream compared to using fiberglass. It is not itchy, it is not toxic, and it is not messy. The cost is about double that of fiberglass but on a whole house budget, going from $500 for insulation to $1000 is not significant. This was one of the few no brainer decisions.
Synthetic Gypsum Board (100% recycled from waste materials): We had to do a lot of research about Gypsum Board to figure out what can be environmentally friendly about it. We learned that Gypsum is the most abundant solid compound on Earth, so they say.
It is a combination of calcium and sulfur which can be manufactured from the waste products of coal burning factories at the same price as strip mining the Earth for it. So when you hear about recycled or synthetic drywall or Gypsum board, they are referring to distilling out the calcium and sulfur from the waste of coal burning factories to create it. This is good since that is taking a waste material and making a new use out of it.
The downside to that choice is transportation costs. The embedded energy of transporting the recycled Gypsum board can be higher than the embedded energy associated with digging new Gypsum out of the Earth.
Our choice in using recycled Gypsum meant contacting our local hardware store, finding out who provided their Gypsum board, contacting that manufacturer, finding out where the closest factory is and putting in a special order to have our shipment of recycled Gypsum board sent to our hardware store. This did require some negotiating with the manufacturer because our location would normally receive a shipment from one of their strip mine facilities. Fortunately it was agreed and each piece of the Gypsum board is labeled and we could verify that our Sheetrock indeed came from one of their recycling facilities.
AFM Safecoat Non-toxic Biodegradable Paints: There are two issues with paint…toxic emissions and toxic components. At the time, the leading manufacturers all have figured out how to cover up the emissions so they can label their products as Zero VOC, volatile organic compounds. The part they miss out on, that AFM Safecoat figured out brilliantly, is that the others still have toxic, read carcinogenic, materials in their paint. AFM Safecoat not only has no toxic materials, it is also non-combustible. The others all have flash points.
Do not take our word for it, get the MSDS, material Safety Data Sheets, from the paint suppliers and compare them yourself. This was a no brainer decision. All paints should be as safe as AFM Safecoat. Thankfully since construction, many major brands have reformulated their paints to be as good a choice as well.
Trex composite decking (50% recycled plastic, 50% saw dust): Our choice for decking is more of a statement. Trex decking, and just about all the composite material decking choices are more expensive than wood. The advantage we saw in Trex is that is requires no maintenance or staining, ie chemical input, to fully enjoy and make it last. Of all the composite material decking choices, we found Trex as the only one that did not use PVC as its plastic source. So having a deck that is 100% recycled materials, 50% recycle plastic, 50% sawdust, means a lot to us. Even more so, having a material that requires just cleaning it to last as long as a natural product, but without any of the chemical inputs to endure life exposed to the elements, meant even more so and was worth the extra cost.
Trex was as easy to work with as any wood decking product with two exceptions. Trex is a lot heavier than wood. Second, Trex is a plastic compound that if scratched or gouged cannot be buffed without ruining the finish.
Timber Trek/Timber Pro UV waterbased natural stain: This exterior stain company was recommended to us by our paint supplier. We were very happy with the stain quality and their commitment for creating an environmentally friendly stain product. Instead of being petrolium based, it is a water suspension base. To be honest, we are not so sure what that means, but our choices were limited and they at least had a commitment to the environment.
Staining is definitely a better choice for exterior protection since you apply it in three layers and the stain gets absorbed into the wood. Paint merely sits on top of the wood. We love the stain since it retains the wood texture and grain patterns.
Poured Concrete Counters by CounterCultureConcrete.com: Choosing a counter for our kitchen was not as simple a task as all the other projects. It was clear we wanted a solid surface for one simple reason, we wanted something easily cleaned (tile counters have all the grout spots). I had pieced together a simple tile counter made from the left overs from the rest of the building, but that just emphasized that I wanted something easy to clean. So our choices for environmentally friendly solid surfaces were investigated.
Any product that was strip-mined and non-renewable or had zero recycled content was eliminated immediately. That removed, Granite, Marble, and Soap Stone. Stainless steel was too industrial/modern looking. Engineered stones (such as Quartz and other really fun options that used the left over bits and mashed them together to form new building materials) were eliminated because they used some pretty toxic stuff in the epoxies and resins to hold the stone material together. Corian and other synthetics were eliminated from our list because of their high petroleum based content (we are trying to stay away from supporting the petroleum industry due to its non-renewable status and high pollution).
We were left with recycled Glass counters, reconstituted paper counters from Richlite, and Poured Concrete. We chose poured concrete for two major reasons. First it can be affordable depending on how much work you are willing to put in yourself. Second, it has a very organic and calming appeal. Oh, and third, it has a nice percentage of recycled fly ash and other aggregates thrown into the slurry that bump up its recycled content a good deal. Best of all, you can make it what ever color you want!
The texture is a nice smooth finish with the color of the ocean taken from a satellite.
We had an amazing experience with Counter Culture Concrete in Woodstock NY and highly recommend checking them out.