Mother Earth Living

Eco-Friendly Bathroom Tile Options

Dos, don'ts and everything you need to know for choosing the perfect bathroom tiles.
By Laura Daily
September/October 2005
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Oceanside Glasstile’s Tessera tiles in Midori—soft, beautiful shades of green—make this bathroom a restful retreat.
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When it comes to bathroom décor, tile isa great choice for eco-conscious folks. Made with clay, sand and water fired at a high temperature, tile is ideal for countertops, backsplashes, walls and even shower floors. For the homeowner who wants a choice (and who doesn’t?), tile comes in a rainbow of colors, sizes, and styles. These days, whatever you can imagine—whether it’s a spa-like ambiance, a cascading waterfall, or an old-world Roman bath—the right tile can bring your home-improvement dream to life.

Tile doesn’t produce gases or fumes, won’t support mold, mildew or bacterial growth, and can be maintained without using harsh chemicals. And, if your tile is made in the United States, there’s even more to love. “While American-made tile is of high quality, imported tiles are sometimes manufactured under less stringent conditions and may contain lead, chemicals, or toxic clays,” reports Andrea Rideout, a national home improvement expert and host of the CBS radio talk show Ask Andrea. “Still, most tile is safe, remarkably inexpensive, and doesn’t impact the environment.”

Green tile choices

Thanks to innovative manufacturers, some types of tile are more eco-friendly than others. In 2003, Crossville introduced its GeoStone Eco­Cycle tiles made from naturally occurring clays and minerals mined in Tennessee and neighboring states. What sets these tiles apart is the manufacturing process, which makes use of reclaimed raw materials, including dust particles collected from air-filtration and waste-water treatment facilities. Once the tiles are pressed for firing, any scraps are gathered and combined to make more tiles. Crossville even ships its tiles in easily recyclable, brown kraft paper cartons.

Other tile manufacturers including Sandhill Industries and Terra Green Ceramics use 58 to 100 percent recycled materials—mostly glass, according to Jennifer Languell, a green building consultant and president of Trifecta Construction Solutions in Naples, Florida. “The biggest benefit of recycled glass tile is that it’s made from post-consumer waste,”?Languell says “If you’ve ever wondered what happens to the bottles you recycle, they may be in your neighbor’s new kitchen or bath. These products help save the planet without compromising beauty, design, or aesthetics. And frankly, recycled glass tile is simply beautiful.”

The major drawback to recycled glass tile is cost. Some glass tiles can be ten times more expensive than their conventional counterparts. “If you’re worried about cost, consider using the recycled glass tile as an accent, mixing the pricier product with more conventional materials,” Languell suggests. “When conserving natural resources, every little bit helps.”

While locating “green” tiles can be a bit tricky (try specialty tile distributors versus home improvement centers), there’s a vast selection of shapes, styles, and colors out there. Regardless of the type of tile you buy, this is one area where quality pays. “When you go into a home that’s 80 to 100 years old, don’t be surprised if the tile is in perfect condition,” says Rideout. “Good tile will last as long as the house in which it’s installed, meaning you don’t have to replace it every five years and add to landfills.”

Know your grout

Tile is installed using grout, and installation is fairly standard across all product lines. The main ingredients of most grouts are earth-friendly sand and water. If you’re concerned about global warming, you should be aware that most grouts also include portland cement, which creates large amounts of carbon dioxide during production.

According to Marc Rich­mond, vice president of the green building consulting firm What’s Working, all grouts also have some latex additives for better adhesion and water resistance. Sand-free grouts—available for use in narrow bathroom-tile grout lines—tend to have more latex and other chemicals, he says. In addition, Richmond

cautions that epoxy grouts, which are becoming more popular for countertops and outdoor use, are high in toxic volatile organic compounds (VOCs). “Wet” grouts, which include antibacterial products or fungicides to keep them from spoiling, may also cause problems for environmentally sensitive people.

Grout sealers—used to protect grout from water and bacteria intrusion—range widely in VOC counts, Richmond says. If you’re concerned about outgasing, purchase a no-VOC grout sealer such as AFM Safecoat Grout Sealer.

Glitzy Recycled Glass

Be it Corona beer bottles, Arizona Iced Tea containers, or windshields, discarded glass is the new material of choice for glass tiles. Oceanside Glasstile uses fifty tons of recycled bottle glass per month to cast tiles with up to 85 percent recycled content. Earth oxides such as chrome, cobalt, and copper give the glass color. These iridescent tiles have a 'watery' quality ideal for bathrooms.

There are a few downsides to glass tiles. First and foremost is cost. Because they're hand-cast, hand-cut, and hand-finished, these labor-intensive tiles retail for up to $40 per square foot. Buyers may also have to contend with dye-lot issues in the lighter colors, which are more apt to show color differences. And because glass tiles are translucent, the substrate (or substructure) is visible (meaning air bubbles cause shadows under the tile), so installation is a bit trickier.

On the plus side, glass is impervious to moisture, making it terrific for baths and showers. And it's easy to maintain with soap and water.

Don’t wallpaper your bathroom walls and install a fiberglass shower or tub with high fiberglass walls.

Do consider adding sustainability and style to your bathroom with ceramic and recycled glass tiles.

RESOURCES

AFM
grout sealer

Bedrock Industries
Blazestone tile

Crossville
EcoCycle environmentally friendly tiles

Lyons Tile
ceramic tiles

Oceanside Glasstile
recycled-content glass tile

Sandhill Industries
100 percent recycled glass tile

Terra Green Ceramics
recycled-content glass tile


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Post a comment below.

 

Michelle DeAnne
3/14/2013 6:40:41 PM
Get your less-specialied tile from a place like ReSource, Habitat for Humanity, or other salvage stores. They also carry partial bags/boxes of mortar and grout. You will be keeping perfectly-good resources out of the landfill and saving a LOT of money. Then you can afford a few more beautiful, eco-friendly tiles. I've done 4 bathrooms this way, and the results are fabulous.

Anonymous
2/26/2013 2:15:02 PM
Serious lover of your blog, a considerable number of your blog posts have really helped me out. Looking towards updates!


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