By Irina Zhorov
Remodeling a home is the process of remaking or restyling existing structures or designs, updating the existing fabric of the home into something new, whether it really is new or just fresh in the setting of your house. People remodel for various reasons – to update failing structures, to renew old styles, to revive stale spaces, to make investments in their home.
When beginning on a project, people will often have function and aesthetics in mind – they will think about shapes, colors, longevity, and price – but not as much about material, which of course if the source of all of the other factors.
The material you use to carry out your home remodeling project, no matter the size or extent of it, will inevitably determine the outcome and future use of the space. With more materials than ever available on the market now, people are finally starting to think about them more fully. This has led to not only discernable trends in remodeling but also a surge in new and traditional materials coming to life.
Let’s, for example, take another trend that is raging in product advertisements and buzzing around in all sorts of articles – sustainability. (Sustainability, the practice of being able to continue the harvesting, extractions, etc., with minimal long-term effects on the environment and people, is hopefully not a trend but an enlightened form of doing things.) Although sustainability has not affected all companies or businesses, it is picking up steam and it has already had an effect on the way people shop for remodeling materials for their homes.
Surfaces like floors, walls and countertops are a good example of this. Traditionally, natural materials like wood and stone have been used on surfaces. This has been because other materials were simply not available. Man-made ceramic tiles have been around for 4000 years and they, too, have been used extensively for all three surfaces.
More recently, however, materials like plastics in the form of Formica and laminate floors and man-made organic materials like linoleum floor made it big in the market, touting versatility, durability and affordability. However, problems with degassing, particularly in linoleum, became a problem in some homes and people realized that although plastic had come a long way, compared to natural products it still had some issues to work on.
Slowly but surely, people have returned to natural materials like wood and stone when remodeling their homes. Hardwood flooring, natural stone flooring, granite slabs and other stone materials like travertine and slate for countertops and floors, and even decorative touches in stone, like mosaic medallions and decorative borders have regained their appeal.
Aesthetically, a wood’s grain or granite’s multilayered crystals simply cannot be replicated or matched in individuality or beauty. Functionally, these materials have survived for centuries in ancient palaces and homes and will remain as durable in a modern home, lending their beauty while sustaining their strength and permanence in any home.
And then of course, we come back to sustainability. Plastics usually cannot be and are not recycled or reused, nor do they last as long, making the waste cycles more prominent and rapid. Wood, on the other hand, will last longer and can be reused in new homes or recycled for other purposes. Hard stone is unwavering and does not alter or weather when thinking about it on the human time scale. In function, then, these materials will not have to be replaced as they have proven themselves time and again to be strong and resistant to wear and tear. And in style too, although fashions change the appeal of these materials has mostly stayed constant.
Issues of sustainability inside your home are clear cut – there is less turnover and less waste with these hardworking, strong materials. The extraction of these materials is murkier. Deforestation and quarrying are long running problems in many parts of the world that contribute to environmental and human health problems as well as poor labor practices. The practice of taking prime materials from poorer countries and using them to build luxurious homes in richer countries isn’t exactly dead.
The following are some ideas and products that will not only provide you with quality, sustainable products to remodel your home and keep it beautiful for a long time but also take the greater question of sustainability into account.
Bamboo has been used for centuries for many purposes, including as a construction material and a home decorating substance. Recently it has begun to be used as a hardwood flooring material. It is a very hard wood, especially when seasoned, perfectly comparable to more traditional hardwoods like oak and maple. It is made by steaming bamboo pieces, flattening them, gluing them together vertically, horizontally or by twisting the strands, finishing it much like a regular hardwood and cutting it into pieces. Bamboo can be harvested safely every 4-5 years and grows stubbornly in many different environments, making it easy to cultivate and harvest without damage to the environment. In your home, it does not need to be refinished as often, it is water resistant and it has some bounce, making it good for your feet and back. Bamboo floors come natural and look similar to beech in color, or carbonized, a slightly softer variety more reminiscent of oak. And bamboo hardwood flooring is beautiful, to boot.
Cork comes from the bark of the Quercus suber tree, stripped from it about every 9 years in a safe manner that does not affect the tree or its functions. It is ground up then pressed into sheets with a non toxic resin. Cork floors are bouncy, making them good for you knees and back, naturally anti-allergenic, insulating for both heat and sound and durable. Although they are softer than many hardwoods, cork floors can be used as vigorously and for just as long with minor precautions like putting furniture pads beneath furniture legs, for example. They come in many shades and can also be painted, making the design options virtually limitless.
If you want to stick to traditional hardwoods for you flooring needs, just take some precautions to make sure that the trees are being harvested in a sustainable manner. Many companies are introducing healthy environmental measures of their own accord and many governments are also instituting rules for the lumber industry. There are also third party organizations that overlook the process to assure that in practice harvesting is done as well as in theory. The Forest Stewardship Council, http://www.fsc.org/en/, is one such organization that provides the FSC seal to products from properly managed forests, assuring the consumer that their product is sustainably produced. Unfortunately, FSC certification, even among major flooring companies, is not prominent. You can seek out floors that will be ecologically healthy by checking the brand’s environmental pledge and policy and choosing floors made from non exotic species. Exotic wood flooring often comes from places like South America, Brazil in particular, and Southeast Asia, from Thailand and Myanmar, for example. Their legislature is often not as developed or enforced, making woods that come from there more likely to be harvested unsustainably and to contribute to destructive deforestation and poor labor practices.
Stone, Glass and Ceramic Tile:
Stone, Glass and Ceramic tile are some of the most durable materials used when building or remodeling a home. They are easy to clean, not absorptive and very, very long lasting. Technological advances in ceramic and porcelain tile have made the production process less noxious and more companies are starting to recycle in every step of the process. Stone is durable and again, if you avoid exotic granites, you are more likely to get a product that is manufactured in a sustainable manner where the working conditions are appropriate and the quarry is remediated after use according to mining legislature.