The Low Down On Green Living
November 14th, 2007
Not too long ago, the only time you’d think about concrete in residential construction was when you were talking about driveways, slabs and walkways. Well, those days are gone – you can now use concrete products to create beautiful and sustainable interior elements such as flooring and countertops. So, read on to learn more about the latest green developments in concrete.
Concrete is a strong construction material typically made of a mixture of Portland cement, a coarse aggregate (such as stone), a fine aggregate (such as sand), and water. The knock against traditional concrete is that Portland cement production uses huge amounts of energy (and cement plants can burn very dirty fuels) and the aggregates can come from mining in ecologically sensitive areas.
Today, many eco-friendly concrete products incorporate recycled materials in the mix, making them much more sustainable. Recycled fly ash, which is a byproduct of coal fired power plants, can be used to replace some of the Portland cement. Green concrete vendors also add recycled chips of glass or metal to concrete for a more decorative look and to increase the recycled content. They also add organic pigments rather than standard chemicals for color variation. Last, you can buy concrete that is manufactured locally. This cuts down on transportation and packaging compared to decorative stone options, which are often quarried and shipped from overseas. And finally, eco-friendly concrete is itself recyclable – the broken up pieces of old concrete can be used as the aggregate in new concrete!
In terms of performance, concrete compares favorably to more traditional stone flooring and countertop materials such as granite, marble and limestone. Typically, concrete is stronger and more durable than any of these natural quarried stone options. Standard stones are porous and can stain easily from acidic substances like red wine or coffee, and do not handle hot or cold variation well. Concrete performs very well by comparison, although you should always seal concrete to increase its resistance to stains.
As for cost, these latest in green concrete products are a still a bit more expensive than traditional stone alternatives. Pre-cast countertops are 25-50% more per square foot than stone such as marble and granite. This is partially because much of the shaping work for concrete is done at the factory while stone is done in your home – the material cost is more, but the installation can sometimes be less. Concrete floor tiles range from par to 25% more than standard alternatives. Often it is the pigments and additives that increase the cost of concrete, rather than the base material.
So, Where Can I Get it?
There are many concrete surface options on the market. Standard pre-cast sizes and forms are typically lower cost, but you can also have things poured in place if you are set on a custom design. You can find concrete countertops here at Low Impact Living. Examples include Lithistone, which is a manufacturer of concrete countertops and vessel sinks and Syndecrete, which makes recycled concrete surfaces and uses recycled glass, metals, and organic pigments. Other manufacturers of concrete surfaces are Artflor, which makes countertops and flooring tiles with recycled glass and metal, Squak Mountain Stone for countertops, and Fuez which also makes countertops and tiles. You can find local countertop vendors in your area here on the Low Impact Living website.
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