by Heather Rae
The dry wall was hung last week and the mudding of the new kitchen has begun. A cloud of compromise hangs over each step in attempting to make this renovation “green;” the kitchen is no exception.
The stud cavities of the gutted space received a spraying of two-part foam, not the ‘greenest’ material. (The smell of chemicals stuck around the house for several weeks.) And, now that I have done the final scraping of the nubs of foam that protruded past the cavities to make way for the dry wall, I wonder if air sealant and then dense-pack cellulose, the ‘greenest’ of insulation materials (shredded newspaper and boric acid packed tightly behind a mesh tacked to the studs) might have been a better choice. Once you foam, you’re committed.
Substitutes for dry-wall there are, perhaps (local wood, wheatboard or a non-toxic plaster and lathe replacement) but availability, aesthetics and price kept my choice at quick-measure dry wall. It’s been hard to convey the concept of ‘green’ to the hired contractors and carpenters who are not familiar with ‘green;’ amidst a new marriage to a husband recovering from a neck broken from a car collision — as well as a full-time job and other obligations –insistence on a ‘green’ wall material was beyond my powers.
This being Maine, the options for countertops are a bit limited but promising, nonetheless. I’ve poured over ‘green’ building directories but have this need to feel and see something prior to purchase. Bouncing in and out of building supply stores I pass, asking about ‘green’ materials, I have found a few (that do not specialize in sustainable supplies) which have begun to carry recycled or low-toxic alternatives, but they are few. (The big box stores remain a let-down on ‘green’ building materials; shelves ofCFLs are a start but a very small start.) A building supply store in Rockland carries IceStone, the recycled glass with non-toxic resins…sapphire, cobalt blue or pistachio, the stuff of my dreams…but so is the price point. The alternative would be the far less expensive product, PaperStone with its far more subdued hues. The mystery countertop will lay atop cabinets made from local (or near local) pine.
The floor is the next big job. It’s made of two and a half inch wide maple that has been beaten up with coatings of all kinds. Hard to find the same material, we used pine in the patches. All of it will be palm sanded and will receive coats and buffing of the Eco-House brand (Natural Chemistry Products) that I purchased at a green supply store for $100 (for a gallon). Looking at the ingredients, I wonder if I should have simply used the same linseed oil mixture that I had used on the upstairs floors, for a fraction of the cost. Consider it my contribution to ‘the cause.’
Paint is tricky because ‘the girlfriends and I’ are partial to Benjamin Moore and talk about their color palette as if it were the menu at our favorite bistro. I had used EcoSpec, their low-VOC line, in the biobus, but the closest hardware store to my house doesn’t carry it. This I discovered when purchasing paint for the upstairs hallway. I could have burned some more fuel to track it down that day, or switched to milk paint or the AFM line of non-toxic paints (at a higher price and a good drive away), but chose not to. Major brands of paint lines, by law, have reduced VOCs; applying a first coat of “Oriental Silk,” the nose-singeing smell so noticeable in previous paint jobs is gone. That doesn’t mean the VOCs aren’t there now, nor that the low-VOC EcoSpec line is chemical and toxin-free. The paints still contain VOCs and the EcoSpec line contains chemicals and toxins that effect indoor air quality. I’m also holding out for the low-VOC line from C2 paints.
Back in the kitchen, the walls will likely get some standard line paint like C2 or Benjamin Moore; the pine cabinets will likely get a coat of milk paint.
Although these compromises subdue the ‘green’ fervor — and chances at a any kind of LEED designation though that is not the goal here — I remind myself that the house has been through an investment-grade home performance evaluation, and the costly measures already taken to air seal and insulate far outweigh the choices made in coatings and countertops.
That’s what I tell myself, anyway, as I part company with my dream of a blue recycled glass countertop!