I already exercise daily and eat lots of veggies, so when it comes to New Year's resolutions, I'm resolving in 2013 to get my home into shape — starting with replacing my tiled kitchen countertop.
This would seem like a an easy promise to myself to keep, but it turns out just selecting a new surface on which to cut those vegetables and place a toaster has become a maze of aesthetic, ecological and sometimes even political choices for a homeowner.
So after speaking with many a kitchen expert at some of the chain home improvement stores and getting a green building perspective from Jeff Kaplan and Fina Reisinger of the local green home store, New Living, I compiled a brief overview of the multitude of surfaces to choose from, if your own resolution involves a more beautiful kitchen.
Anyone who has watched more than 10 minutes of HGTV knows that whether it's buying an ice fishing shack in Siberia or allowing identical twins to find and renovate your new home, the kitchen has got to have granite countertops.
Anyone who has watched more than 10 minutes of HGTV knows that the kitchen has got to have granite countertops.
Pros: Granite is pretty, strong and heat resistant, and since it's essentially a chunk of polished rock, every finished countertop will be one of a kind. There are an abundance of fabricators and kitchen showrooms in town, including the big home improvement stores, that sell and install granite. It's the counter king when it comes to resale value.
Cons: Natural stone countertops come in almost as many prices as colors, and you practically have to earn a doctorate in geology to appraise what that chosen slab of earth is worth. Since granite is mined throughout the world, it can be difficult for a socially or environmentally conscious buyer to know the labor and ecological practices of the place of origin. Granite is porous, so the surface has to be resealed every year. There's also the remote possibility that your beautiful kitchen rock is radioactive.
The pretty, pre-manufactured step-sister to granite, these countertops are created by mixing crushed quartz into a polymer resin. Since the products are manmade, they tend to look somewhat more uniform than granite, but do come in many colors and patterns.
Pros: The non-porous surface does not need to be resealed every year and it keeps bacteria from growing. Several brands like Caesarstone and Silestone tout their green credentials. Quartz surfaces are becoming much more prevalent and can be found at chain and independent home stores.
Cons: Depending on the brand and installer, quartz can be more expensive than granite and many not come in as many colors and patterns. Granite appears to be winning the beauty contest against quartz when home buyers are the judge.
There are several different products that combine recycled materials, especially glass, with a resin or cement base. Eco countertops, one of the most readily available and therefore relatively affordable products, are created from recycled mirror, porcelain, glass, vitrified ash and resin.
If you're looking to buy locally and show that state pride with your choice of a countertop, Elements is a new brand out of Taylor, Tex., that mixes quartz with recycled glass. Unlike Eco, you're probably not going to be able to order this brand from Home Depot, but like all the resin surfaces, it never needs to be resealed.
TexStone is made in Houston with recycled Houston glass.
There are also several U.S. brands that mix recycled glass and cement to produce their surfaces. New Living's in-house brand, TexStone, is made in Houston with recycled Houston glass. Jeff Kaplan tells of one New Living client who went so far as to bring in his own saved beer bottles to be used in the creation of an extremely custom countertop.
Cons: These glass and cement mixed countertops can even beat the most exotic granite when it comes to pricing and it might be difficult to find local fabricators and installers. Cement is porous and so must be resealed regularly, much like natural stone. Some of the surfaces, like the ones by Vetrazzo, are so sparkling with color, you might feel the need to put a velvet rope around the perimeter, hang a "No Touching" sign and then build a completely new kitchen to do your actual cooking in.
Since everyone already wants stainless steel appliances, why not go for that extreme industrial look? Many of these counters are created from recycled steel, and it's certainly durable, though it will scratch. They're great for helping to create the professional chef fantasy every time you cook.
For that most basic and beautiful of the natural looks, reclaimed wood and butcher block countertops are becoming more fashionable. They, of course, can be burned and stained and require regular sealing, but are arguably the most environmentally friendly surface of all.
And the rest
This list just scratches the scratch-resistant surface of kitchen possibilities. Recycled plastics, bamboo and even recycled paper can make functional, yet beautiful and unusual countertops. The biggest challenge is deciding which kind of surface is right for you and your kitchen — and the toaster.