natural materials for walls, floors, and countertops
Photo: Alison Rosa

What You'll Learn

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Hardly a day goes by when we here at This Old House aren't sent some new environmentally friendly product to review. And we see dozens more throughout the year at building trade shows and so-called green expos. But for the homeowner who's trying to decide which countertop material or tube of caulk to choose, it can be hard to separate the truly innovative options from mere green window dressing. So we've done some of the work for you. Here are a handful of choices for walls, floors, counters, and workshop that have a big design impact but make a small demand on earth's resources.

Forest-friendly Paneling
Two versatile new paneling products are made from renewable materials. The first is Kirei board, an engineered panel made by heat-pressing the discarded stalks of harvested northern Chinese sorghum plants, a cereal crop. The result is a stylish wood substitute that can be used for walls, floors, ceilings, and cabinetry. It comes in three thicknesses—3/8, 3/4, or 11/4 inch. About $9 per square foot;

Plyboo's 3/4-inch-thick Neopolitan board is also made by made by compressing stalks, in this case bamboo, with a low-VOC adhesive, to the point that they become twice as hard as red oak. But unlike oak, ­bamboo can grow to maturity in just four years, which makes it a popular sustainable substitute. The blend of natural and "caramelized" bamboo—so called because pressure-heating causes the sugar compounds to darken to a deep amber ­color—gives this stuff, which can be used for flooring, paneling, or furniture, the look of an exotic species without the harvesting. $190 per 2.5-by-6-foot sheet;

Recycled Greenbacks
The name—Counterfeit—is almost absurdly clever, since this sturdy countertop material is made with actual shredded cash, straight from the Federal Reserve. The paper fibers are mixed with a nontoxic adhesive, then pressed into a scratchproof, waterproof, and stain-resistant slab. It's great for countertops, sink surrounds, or tables. Since it machines like Corian and other countertop material, you can saw, drill, screw, or rout it. $45-$65 per square foot (about the same as solid surfacing);

Born-Again Porcelain
When it comes to performance, it's hard to beat porcelain. It's tough, scratch and stain resistant, impermeable, and, in the case of Eco-Gres Ultra porcelain tiles, earth friendly. Eco-Gres is made in Italy using 30 to 50 percent post-industrial porcelain—material that was broken or discarded during the manufacturing process. The colorful, 3⁄16-inch tiles are as strong as granite thanks to a fiberglass-binder backing, and can be used on walls, floors, and counters. About $16 per square foot, sold in 39-by-118-inch sheets ($511 per sheet);

Fume-free Polish
The best part of any refinishing project is when all the stripping and sanding and staining is done, and you make your handiwork gleam with a final coat of polish. Daddy Van's new line of natural furniture-care products, made with pure, unrefined beeswax and "aromatherapy grade" lavender oil (no synthetics here), can make buffing your furniture an uplifting experience. Literally, since lavender is touted for its mood-elevating properties. $11.95;

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