Dear Green Builder: I’m obsessed with granite countertops . . .

Granitesquares2. . . but I'm also obsessed with green building. Do I need an attitude adjustment?

For some new ways of thinking about this, I consulted a green builder:

Question: My dilemma is that I love granite counter tops and yet I want to do a green remodel. I've heard that granite is out of style and that it's definitely not green at all. But I Iove having a natural material for my counters, one that came from the earth without a lot of processing. Is there any circumstance where granite can be considered a green material? Or another kind of natural stone like slate? What if it was quarried locally? Or recycled from another job? Or should I just give up my desires for granite counters if I want to consider myself a friend of the earth?

Answer: From Karen Feeney, green resources manager at Allen Associates in Santa Barbara:

Green countertops are a tough one. I have a hard time recommending one as they all have issues.

I assume that you are trying to find a countertop for a kitchen, where cutting with sharp utensils, placement of hot or cold containers, and presence of water are all important things to consider when selecting your surface. There are a few “green” countertop products (for instance. those made with paper fibers/resins or others made with concrete), however, we have found that they are shipped from across the country, are difficult to install, and just as expensive as traditional natural stone products. So we are not as enamored with those products as we had hoped we would be.

As far as other alternatives to traditional stone countertops, you might want to check out a couple of “composite” products such as Caesarstone or IceStone. Rather than quarrying large slabs of material, they are made from smaller, composite materials. IceStone, containing 75% recycled glass and concrete, is (according to the manufacturer) a highly durable surface that is as strong as granite, less porous than marble, has the heat resistance of stone, and is installed and maintained like natural stone. Caesarstone is made with crushed granite combined with polymer resin and pigments and is stain, crack, scratch, chemical and heat resistant. Both of these products come in a variety of colors and prices are comparable to granite.

When it comes to natural stone and specifically granite — your original question — finding a locally quarried or a recycled material would be the greenest option. This would offset the quarrying and transportation impacts that you mention. The good news about granite is that it is aesthetically pleasing, highly durable and will last for decades. You ask about slate countertops. Slate is very durable, both to mechanical and chemical abuse. Slate would be uniformly softer (relative to the major minerals in granite), but should still hold up well. Both products will chip if abused. Aesthetic taste would most likely be a determining factor between choosing granite versus slate. The transportation impacts may be reduced somewhat as there are slate countertops originating in Vermont as opposed to granite products that come from Russia, India, Brazil, Yugoslavia, and other faraway places.

1 Comment on Dear Green Builder: I’m obsessed with granite countertops . . .

  1. Rich

    I found this question and answer rather uninformative–first of all, why would natural stone countertops not be a “green” product? Transportation costs seem to be the only factor mentioned, but if that’s the real problem, you need to put a whole lot more thought into just where ALL the materials used in your house come from. The cultured stone products are byproducts of other industrial quarrying and may not represent any smaller a carbon footprint or pollution profile than natural stone. It’s like the people who want electric automobiles because they can’t fathom that plugging it into a wall socket to charge it up just hides the energy source rather than changing it.
    One of the unfortunate trends I see being fueled by the home improvement and house-buying programs on HGTV is the relentless promotion of current fads such as granite countertops at the expense of other economical, attractive alternatives. A shameful number of well-made tile countertops have been ripped out by renovators at the behest of the realtor show hosts insisting that only granite will sell. And textured ceilings, wrongly all labelled “popcorn” and unthinkingly scorned by the featured buyers, are actually a fundamental design choice that greatly improves the aesthetic of low-ceilinged rooms and were a favorite with Frank Lloyd Wright himself.
    I predict in 10 years people will be chafing at their stodgy black stone countertops but will feel compelled to keep them, like those stone Victorian fireplace mantles that generations of homeowners dare not tear out because they know how expensive they were in their day…