Best New Green Materials for Your Interior
A dozen top picks for eco-friendly interior building materials from Greenbuild and the International Builders' Show
For a time, green building materials were basic in design and quite costly. Now, manufacturers are accommodating a growing demand for affordable and innovative eco-friendly products. The market for green materials is projected to expand to more than $80 billion over the next five years. We noticed the trend—and a few standout products—while making the rounds at recent trade shows Greenbuild and the International Builders' Show.
Here are 12 top picks that are not only eco-friendly, but also better-performing and more attractive than the green materials of yesterday.
Innovation in green building includes finding creative ways to reclaim by-products. Kirei leads the pack in this effort with a striking new line of textured coconut shell tiles. Typically, shells left over after harvest are discarded or burned, adding to landfill waste and air pollution. Now, some are repurposed into these decorative tiles with intricate basket-weave or scalloped designs, reminiscent of your last island vacation. Each tile is finished with low-VOC resin and set on a backer made of sustainably harvested wood. The tiles are easily cut with a dry tile saw and installed with panel adhesive and nails. Kirei doesn't recommend Coco installation in any room where food or other particles can get lodged in the tiles' grooves, or water can warp the tiles' wood backer. For basic cleaning, a dusting cloth or damp rag with a mild household cleaner will do the trick. Tiles are 11.8 inches square and panels are 47.2 inches square.
About $25-$45 per square foot; Kirei
Even luxurious leather gets thrown away; scraps from furniture, shoe, car seat, and other tanneries eventually make their way to landfills. EcoDomo gathers real leather scraps and stone-grinds them to make sheets for richly-hued tiles and panels. The naturally sound-absorbent tiles install like cork or vinyl (preglued tiles are available). For care and upkeep of floor tiles, use a damp mop to clean them; wax them three times a year, or use a topical sealer once every five to 10 years. Wall tiles do not need wax or additional maintenance. EcoDomo offers eight colors, four textures, and nine size and shape varieties. (Sage Buffalo tiles are shown here, but rectangular panels and rolls are also available.) Tiles range from 6 inches square to 24 inches square.
About $15-$30 per square foot; EcoDomo
Why strandwoven over hardwood? Derived from fibrous, interwoven strips of renewable bamboo, these panels from Green Choice Flooring International make an end-material that is two-and-a-half times as hard and more durable than oak. There are 15 shades, including two composites of light and dark strips for a marbled effect (shown here). Panels measure 72 inches long by 3 ⅞ inches wide.
About $4-$8 per square foot; Green Choice Flooring International
This luminescent material is 100% post-consumer recycled glass that's heated and compressed to create solid-surfacing slabs. It contains no binders, colorants, fillers, or other admixtures, and has no off-gassing. An interesting choice for floors, walls, and countertops, Bio-Glass by ECOverings features a satin finish with a slightly hammered texture. In fact, our sample still shows slight markings from the bottom of a recycled beverage bottle. To enhance the upgrade, lighter colors can be underlit to make agglomeration markings stand out in dramatic fashion. Bio-Glass is available in shades of green (Oriental Jade is shown) and in blue, brown, and white. Slabs measure 110 inches long by 50 inches wide by ¾ inch thick.
About $80 per square foot; ECOverings
With its toxic PVC and phthalate plasticizer content, and high VOC-releasing stripping and waxing maintenance requirements, there's probably nothing less eco-friendly than vinyl composition tile (VCT). Still, VCT is widely used for its affordability and easy installation. Migrations Biobased Tile, like VCT, contains limestone. However, Armstrong uses 10% preconsumer recycled limestone along with BioStride, a polymer containing rapidly renewable U.S.-grown plant ingredients that reduces reliance on petroleum and fossil fuels in the manufacturing process. For only slightly more than you'd pay for VCT, this alternative offers twice the indent resistance, five times greater resistance to impact, and greater resistance to cracking from uneven subfloors. Tiles are available in 28 colors and measure 12 inches square.
About $3 per square foot installed; Armstrong
A strong odor is often the price you pay for a fresh coat of interior paint. Zero-VOC paints combat that common complaint but at the expense of color choice, (since traditional colorants add to VOC levels.) Thanks to Benjamin Moore's patented waterborne colorant system, you can offer fast dry time (about 30 minutes) with virtually no odor in all 3,500 Benjamin Moore colors (Landscape #430 shown here). You can also expect easy application, excellent hide, and outstanding durability. What's more, in laboratory tests of indoor air quality, Natura released fewer total volatile organic compounds after painting than other zero-VOC paints. The series includes a primer and three sheens (flat, eggshell, and semigloss).
About $50 per gallon; Benjamin Moore
Cork has long been a green building staple: The material is sustainably harvested from cork oak trees every nine years. Expanko goes the extra eco-friendly mile by using 80% to 100% post-consumer waste generated from wine stoppers and other cork production. Since cork floor tiles are 80% air, they can recover dimension after impact, serve as sound insulation, and provide shock absorption while still being durable enough for everyday use. Add the fact that this coated veneer doesn't easily stain, is hypoallergenic, and offers slip-resistance, and you've got a great flooring option for kid- and elder-friendly designs. Spinato (shown here) and Pesca are first in a series of handmade Italian veneers that bring a fresh, new aesthetic to cork flooring. Each tile measures 12 inches square.
About $9- $10 per square foot; Expanko
These Saint-Gaudens art tiles are "cradle-to-cradle" recyclable products, meaning they can be repeatedly refined for reuse, like gold or silver. They're made of recycled copper and other materials, and can be installed using thinset, industrial adhesive, or epoxy adhesive. Regular water-mix grout is your best bet, as grouts with a stain guard will chemically react with the metal, changing the color of both grout and tile. Personalize backsplashes or tiled walls by punctuating patterns with these intricate accent pieces. There are 33 Classic Collection Bronze Tiles, ranging in size from 1-inch squares to 8-inch squares. Barcelona large tile, shown here, measures 4 inches square.
$20 to $230, depending on size and design; Saint-Gaudens
Gypsum drywall hasn't changed much since it was invented over 100 years ago. Now, Serious Materials presents this green, gypsum-free alternative. EcoRock is made of 80% post-industrial recycled materials and requires 80% less energy to produce than its counterpart. If and when you choose to remove EcoRock from your structure, it can be used as a pH additive for soil and, unlike regular drywall, is safe to dispose of in landfills. EcoRock also outperforms other mold-resistant drywall by 50% and offers a cleaner score and snap that emits 60% less dust. Boards are tile-backer-board qualified and ceiling-sag resistant. They're available in ½-inch-thick and ⅝-inch-thick sheets that measure 8 feet by 4 feet.
The company promises EcoRock will be competitively priced, similar to other mold-resistant premium drywall; Serious Materials
Porous cork probably isn't the first thing you think of for the bath. This new mosaic flooring from Sustainable Flooring—created with 100% post-industrial recycled wine cork slices—holds up in wet and high-traffic environments. Quarter-inch-thick cork pieces are assembled on paper backing for quick and easy adhesion to subfloor. Once the sheets have been set and grouted (sanded grout is best for wet installations), they're sealed with a water-based polyurethane finish that keeps out moisture but offers the resilience and underfoot cushion of uncoated cork. Each sheet measures 12 inches by 24 inches.
About $10 per square foot; Sustainable Flooring
Walls can be boring, the Varia interlayer system from 3form transforms plain walls into art pieces. This customizable material is made of 40% post-industrial recycled resin and can be ordered from any of 10 design categories, including Organics, which has natural specimens, such as thinly-sliced bamboo, carefully arranged within (shown); and Pure Color, which offers 50,000 color combinations. Panels can be layered over existing walls or used for other architectural dividers, such as shower doors or privacy screens. Various layering combinations and finishes allow for light transmission without transparency, and easy-to-maintain panels wipe clean like glass with 40 times the impact strength. A design splurge, EcoResin upgrades are a sound investment that will last as long as the house does. Sheets are 4 feet by 8 feet or 4 feet by 10 feet, and vary in thickness from 1/16 inch to 1 inch.
Starts at about $400 per sheet; 3form
Engineered Timber Resources (ETR) is tapping into China's abundant mulberry resources—100% post-industrial by-products from the silk and pharmaceutical industries—to create composite wood panels with intense patterns. Each year, silkworms ravage mulberry leaves to create silk fibers, and branches are trimmed to facilitate regrowth. Once the bark has been stripped for medicinal remedies, the branches are diverted from the landfill to ETR for compression. A variety of natural dye-stained (surface color only) or infused (solid-body color throughout) shades are available. You can even put a modern twist on your order with a blue infusion. ETR's engineered composite wood can be customized to resemble and replace popular and endangered wood varieties for interior flooring, architectural paneling, and furniture. Product is made to order, so dimensions vary.
Flooring (one thick wear layer on top side) is about $8-$9 per square foot; paneling (one thick wear layer for walls, and two thick wear layers on either side for furniture and other building projects) is about $12-$14 per square foot; Engineered Timber Resources