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It is easy to take our country’s obsession with granite for granted. Turn on HGTV, and it's “Oh my god, granite countertops!” over and over again. What’s with all the hype? Where did this desire for granite come from?
Like most standard housing trends, the idea of a granite countertop was originally associated with luxury. Unlike today, granite was not nearly as cheap in the early 90s. This was due to its mostly domestic sourcing. Since the 1990s, countries like Brazil, India, and China began quarrying granite for cheaper costs. Such low costs are made possible through cheap labor and shipping fuel. In addition, computerized systems make cutting out details, such as sink holes, much more efficient. Granite’s popularity among celebrity kitchen remodels has trickled down to everyday suburban standards. Now, it seems that granite is the standard for a quality kitchen.
However, granite become popular in step with the housing bubble of the 2000s. As trends in houses changed and were implemented on a massive scale, the concept of what a “good” kitchen looked like evolved in turn. Granite’s popularity soared as interest rates dropped. While Brazilian granite may seem alluring in its exoticism, this stone leaves quite a large carbon footprint during its lifecycle. As it travels from a quarry in Brazil to your kitchen, at least two petroleum-powered modes of transportation -- trucking and shipping -- are required.
According to Marine engineer Brian Norohnha, BCIT, many container ships run on “bunker fuel,” the residual dregs of the crude oil refining process. Add in the fuel needed to get it out of the ground in the first place, and you’re looking at a massive amount of non-renewable energy expended. In addition to its environmental impact, granite does not fair well in the long run without maintenance. Regular sealing is required for it to resist cracking.
The good news is that granite is not the only option for a countertop! Many alternatives exist and are manufactured in the United States, thus reducing fossil fuel consumption. Countertops can be made from paper, recycled glass, and even cement. As you consider your kitchen remodel, consider materials other than granite. Some examples are listed and linked below:
All of the Above:
Most of us don’t bat an eye at the smell of a newly constructed building. “That’s just how it smells. It will fade,” we think as harsh odors smack our nostrils. However, this “new house smell” is an indicator of toxic chemicals present in the air. For example, traditional primer, paint, glue, and other sealants contain VOCs.
V oh what? VOC stands for “Volatile Organic Compounds,” -- chemical compounds released as paint and glue dry and age that negatively impact your respiratory health. These chemicals include: Formaldehyde, d-Limonene, toluene, acetone, ethanol (ethyl alcohol) 2-propanol (isopropyl alcohol), hexanal.
Here’s the thing. Home improvement doesn’t have to smell. In fact, it shouldn’t. Now that you are in control of your environment, you can reduce the amount of toxic materials you and your family come into contact with on a daily basis. Health and comfort go hand in hand, so as you consider paint, flooring, and sealants, consider the chemical impact of each material. Your home is as much a financial investment as it is an investment in the quality of your health.