Q. We plan to remodel our kitchen next year. We need to replace the cabinets, countertops and floors (installed in 1973). Do you have suggestions for choices for the countertops and floors that are the least harmful to our environment?
A. There are many products for kitchens and bathrooms that are environmentally friendly – and unfortunately a lot of fraud as well. Recycled products are essential, but must be certified to have no degassing properties. Countertops can be glass, concrete, and even recycled paper or wood. Quartz is the most popular; it can be made to look like granite, but doesn’t have the environmental impact of quarrying. Cabinets can be bamboo, recycled wood laminate, and composites (again, no outgassing). We donate kitchens that we have removed to install new ones, and the old ones can be purchased through local co-ops. There are many flooring products that contain bamboo, cork and laminates that have also been screened for outgassing.
You are lucky that you are trying to carry out a sustainable renovation in this era. There are quite a few local sources and retailers that specialize in eco-friendly materials. Many of these can find everything you’re looking for, as well as paint, tile, lighting, and more. We partner with a company in Newton that source not only eco-friendly materials, but also from companies that are good corporate citizens: they pay a living wage, give back to their communities and generally take care of their employees and families.
Q. Our house was built in 1925. Under the older part of the house, the basement is dirty and a visible ledge. Our winter heating costs are very high. An insulation contractor suggested covering the entire area with closed cell spray insulation. I’ve read a bit about it, but I’m not sure. The area gets very little foot traffic except for the occasional electrician or plumber. Is this the right course of action?
A. In this case, I wouldn’t recommend closed cell insulation anywhere except under the floorboards and around the sill beam where the wood molding meets the foundation. That is a notorious place for drafts. As for the basement floor, it is a constant source of cool moisture and I would recommend a vapor barrier and poured concrete floor.
Mark Philben is the project development manager at Charlie Allen Renovations at Cambridge. Send your questions to [email protected]. Questions are subject to editing.