This article was previously published on Elemental Green as "10 Low-Maintenance Lawn Alternatives" and is reproduced with permission. Read the original.

There’s nothing quite like a big, lush and beautiful lawn. Is there any better feeling than walking barefoot through soft grass, or laying out a blanket on the lawn and feeling the sun on your face? The perks of traditional turf lawns, however, come with some serious costs—like fuel for mowers, fertilizers, pesticides and watering, just to name a few. And it’s more than just money out of your pocket. Standard grass lawns are extremely tough on the environment.

They need frequent mowing and maintenance, resulting in toxic emissions (e.g., 17 million gallons of gas is spilled annually while refueling mowers). And they’re total water guzzlers—most lawns require about 1.5 inches of water per week just to survive! The developing water shortage crisis in the U.S. has prompted many homeowners to turn to low-maintenance lawn alternatives. And there are plenty of options—everything from clover as an eco-friendly lawn alternative and managed meadows to ornamental grasses and flower beds, all sharing sustainability as a common denominator.

Minimizing your turf lawn—or replacing it altogether—can be a major undertaking. Getting rid of all the grass and planting a new ground covering, even in a small area, is not a small project. But we’re here to tell you that it will absolutely pay off. In fact, in some cases, you’ll see a return on investment before the growing season is even over! And no matter your lawn’s type, size or growing region, you’ll you have several different and unique lawn alternatives to choose from, each with their own set of perks. Without further ado, we present to you our 10 favorite low-maintenance lawn alternatives. Happy planting!

#1. Ornamental grasses

One of the best ways to reduce the area of your turf lawn: Transform part of the lawn into a gorgeous ornamental grass display. Ornamental grasses are drought-resistant and incredibly low-maintenance, thriving in nearly every type of soil with little to no fertilizers. They’re also naturally disease- and pest-resistant, so you can say goodbye to chemical pesticides.


  • No mowing—Ornamental grasses are very different than traditional turf. They grow into distinctive shapes, like tufts and sprays or shimmering sweeps. And they hold their shape, staying upright and attractive even under snow cover.
  • No spreading—This is one ground cover you won’t need to worry about keeping under control. Most ornamentals are clump grasses. This means their roots don’t put out rhizomes, the horizontal shoots that start new plants, depending instead on seeds for reproduction.


  • No foot traffic—Ornamental grasses are the perfect choice for a visual display in an area of the lawn that receives zero foot traffic. They’re not at all like traditional turf grass, and walking over them will cause serious harm.

#2. Moss

Moss is one of the easiest low-maintenance lawn alternatives around. Planting a moss bed couldn’t be simpler, and you won’t need to mow or water your moss bed, provided you choose an appropriate shady location. And who doesn’t love the thought of a huge, velvety-soft patch of moss?


  • No mowing—Moss stays very low to the ground throughout its life, never growing taller than roughly one inch, depending on the type of moss. No mowing = no emissions from the mower (and more time for you to relax!).
  • Resilience—Moss isn’t as hardy as traditional turf, but it can withstand occasional foot traffic.
  • Drought-resistance—Little to no watering is required for moss beds, so you’ll save water and money on monthly utility bills.
  • Variety—You can choose from dozens of different mosses, all with different textures, appearances and thicknesses. Combine several moss types together in one area to create some serious visual interest.
  • Easy installation—Moss spreads quickly until it forms a solid surface, often in just one growing season. To create a moss bed, simply press moss plugs (small pieces of moss with complete roots) into your soil about six inches apart and keep them damp and cool. You’ll have ground cover before you know it.


  • Shade-loving—This can be either a pro or a con, depending on your project, but moss doesn’t do so well in direct sunlight. Make sure you’re installing your moss bed in a cool, shady area where the moss sprouts will be safe from the sun’s damaging rays. It’s best for lower, cooler areas with limited foot traffic.

#3. Creeping Charlie

It may seem strange to recommend what’s commonly thought of as one of the most frustrating weeds around. True, Creeping Charlie spreads like crazy, presenting a total disaster if you don’t carefully choose your location. But this member of the mint family is actually a great option for thick, low-maintenance ground cover in partially shady areas.


  • No mowing, fertilizing or watering—Creeping Charlie provides a truly hands-off alternative to persnickety turf grass. Seriously, you could plant your Creeping Charlie bed and never even look at it again, and it would probably thrive.
  • Durability—One thing’s for sure—this lawn alternative can take a serious beating. It’s at least as hardy as traditional turf, so anyone with pets or children won’t need to worry about damage from frequent activity.
  • Comfort—Plentiful rounded leaves and little blooms provide a thick, cushiony ground cover that’s perfect for casual strolls or those outdoor afternoon naps. And the lovely minty smell is definitely a bonus.


  • Spreads easily—Most of the time, the quick-spreading factor is ideal, since more growth means more ground cover. But Creeping Charlie takes this to a whole new level. There’s a reason it’s called “Creeping!” Make sure to plant Creeping Charlie in a contained spot, with a wide, impermeable border.

Image courtesy E. Dronkert CC BY 2.0

#4. Sweet Woodruff

Sweet Woodruff is an edible herb, said to taste something like vanilla, and it gives off a lovely fresh scent. Historically, Woodruff was used as an air freshener. It requires very little maintenance, and its star-shaped twists of leaves and delicate white flowers can add interesting texture to any sustainable landscape.


  • Weed-resistant—Forget the pesticides and weed killers; Sweet Woodruff is naturally weed-resistant, forming a dense canopy of leaves and flowers that stops new weeds in their tracks.
  • No mowing—Sweet Woodruff only grows to a certain height (about two inches).
  • No watering—Unless you live in a particularly dry region, you’ll rarely (if ever) need to water your patch of Sweet Woodruff.


  • Shade-loving—Again, this can be either a pro or a con, depending on your project. Sweet Woodruff doesn’t do so well in direct sunlight, so make sure to choose a shady, cool area. It’s best for spicing up shady areas, like narrow passageways, where mowing and maintenance is not ideal.

#5. Red creeping thyme

Red creeping thyme transforms any lawn area into a breathtaking scene—especially in the early summer, when bright reddish blooms appear. This thyme is something of an evergreen, turning a deep bronze in the winter months. Thyme forms a dense mat that can withstand moderate foot traffic, so it’s a solid choice for nearly any lawn project. Its lack of required maintenance, combined with its gorgeous appearance, has made thyme a huge favorite for low-maintenance lawn alternatives.


  • Drought-tolerant—Thyme can handle very limited amounts of water, so it’s ideal for dry regions or for homeowners with water conservation in mind.
  • No mowing—Thyme forms a solid mat of foliage, with no need for mowing or trimming.


  • Expensive—Thyme can be one of the more expensive lawn alternatives. To cut back on costs, choose a small area for your thyme bed. You can always plant more next year!
  • Demanding installation—Another downside of thyme: It’s not easy to get it into the ground! You will need to kill off the grass in the area you plan to plant your thyme, which can be a slow and labor-intensive process.

#6. Red clover

The benefits of clover are many—most notably, it’s extremely affordable and a natural soil fertilizer. In fact, clover is often planted by gardeners as a soil conditioner. Its nitrogen-fixing properties provide a constant trickle of fertilizer to surrounding grasses, so planting a patch of clover means your lawn as a whole will be healthier and greener. Red clover does best in poor soil, so it’s the perfect choice for yards with below-average soil quality.


  • No watering, mowing or fertilizers—Red clover needs little to no watering, and mowing can be done at your discretion. You also won’t need to fertilize your clover lawn, since it’s a natural soil conditioner.
  • Inexpensive—If you’ve got a total low-maintenance transformation in mind, you will definitely want to consider planting clover. It costs a mere $4 to cover nearly 4,000 square feet, so it’s ideal for large patches of lawn.
  • Spreads quickly—Red clover’s quick-spreading ability is another reason why it’s perfect for large areas.


  • Fragility—Red clover is easily torn up, so it’s not ideal for high-use areas of your lawn. Make sure you choose a spot where children and pets won’t be playing.

#7. Flower and shrub beds

Flower and shrub beds aren’t an ideal choice for a grassy lawn replacement, but they’re a perfect way to add visual interest to your yard while reducing the size of your traditional turf lawn. Choose native perennials, which require less attention and fertilizer, to maximize the low-maintenance factor. And we recommend keeping it simple—you can create big visual impact with just a few different varieties, and you won’t get caught up trying to keep track of the individual needs of many different plants.


  • Beauty—Other ground cover options simply can’t compete with the visual interest of flower and shrub beds. Choose colorful flowers to add a bright pop of color to your yard, or a selection of taller shrubs to add height to an otherwise low-to-the-ground lawn.
  • Location versatility—Tired of struggling to mow those sloped or otherwise difficult-to-mow areas of your lawn? Plant flowers or shrubs in small spaces or in terraced beds on steep inclines to solve the problem for good.


  • Maintenance—Adding flower or shrub beds ups the maintenance factor of your yard because it minimizes the size of your traditional turf lawn—meaning less mowing and less lawn watering. Keep in mind that many flower varieties do require careful watering, and some shrubs may require occasional trimming. Choose hardy, resilient perennials to keep the maintenance factor to a minimum.

#8. Chamomile

Chamomile isn’t just low-maintenance and eco-friendly—it’s beautiful and delightfully scented, releasing an apple-like aroma with every step. Chamomile spreads quickly and can grow in direct sun or partial shade, making it an ideal candidate for nearly any lawn size or type.


  • Little to no mowing—Let your chamomile run wild, or mow occasionally to keep the herb in check.
  • Location versatility—Chamomile will grow on even the steepest slopes and in hard-to-manage areas. It’s an easy solution for areas where traditional turf is not at all ideal.
  • Soil-enriching—Chamomile is a great source of nitrogen, providing a steady supply of fertilizer to itself and surrounding plants.
  • Drought-resistant—No need for watering this hardy herb! Chamomile can survive even the toughest dry spells, so it’s perfect for dry and arid regions.


  • Toxicity—Some varieties of chamomile are toxic to animals, so make sure to choose safe varieties if you have dogs.
  • Sun-loving— Chamomile will thrive in direct or partial sun, but you’ll most likely only see partial coverage if you plant your chamomile in a shady spot.

#9. Snow-in-summer

Snow-in-summer earns its unique name from the dazzling array of white blooms that blanket the plants in spring and summer months. But it’s not just the flowers that give this plant a delightful appearance—the silvery-grey leaves and foliage are equally delightful. Its size and shape resembles that of ornamental grasses, so it’s not ideal for large-scale lawn replacements. But for adding visual interest and boosting eco-friendliness, this gorgeous perennial is an excellent choice.


  • Resilience—Snow-in-summer withstands difficult conditions that other plants can’t survive, like full sun and poor-quality soil. Regardless of lawn type or location, this perennial will likely thrive.
  • Quick-spreading—Though not as quick-spreading as some of the other options we’ve mentioned, snow-in-summer typically covers upwards of 12 inches of ground each year. Planting even a small patch can mean some serious ground cover within a few years.
  • Drought-resistant—New blooms should be watered to ensure proper growth, but once the plant is established, you’ll virtually never need to water it.


  • No foot traffic—Snow-in-summer’s beauty comes with a price: It’s fragile and easily damaged by foot traffic. Make sure to choose a location with limited activity.

Image courtesy Daryl Mitchell / CC BY-SA 2.0

#10. Dutch clover

You’ve probably spotted patches of Dutch clover, with its intricate white flowers, in meadows and fields. But this type of clover actually makes for an outstanding total lawn alternative. It’s thick and comfortable, highly drought-resistant and very durable—so it’s perfect for more heavily used areas of your lawn.


  • Durability—Dutch clover is one of the toughest lawn alternatives on our list, easily withstanding normal foot traffic.
  • Drought-resistant—This plant’s deep roots make it incredibly resistant to water shortages, so you won’t need to worry about watering it.
  • Little to no mowing—You can mow Dutch clover whenever you would like, but its slow growth as compared to traditional turf means that you’ll rarely—if ever—have to get out the mower.
  • Naturally pest-resistant—Common turf-destroying pests won’t bother with Dutch clover, as it contains naturally insect-repelling compounds. Translation: No pesticides or chemicals needed to keep this lawn in check!


  • A grazing favorite—While Dutch clover is excellent at keeping away unwanted insects, it does have a reputation for attracting deer. This may actually be a good thing, if you’d like to see more wildlife activity on your property—but over time, you may notice your clover lawn getting a little patchy from the frequent grazing.
  • Easily spreads—The only problem with Dutch clover’s quick-spreading ability is if you have other plants nearby. Over the course of a few years, Dutch clover will likely grow over any other plants they come into contact with, killing them off in the process. To protect the rest of your property’s flora, make sure you install impermeable borders around the intended Dutch clover space.

Learn more

Learn more about sustainable lawns

This article was originally published by BrightLeaf Homes as "The Health Benefits of a Certified-Green Custom Home" on May 15, 2018, and is partially reproduced with permission. View the full article.

The home is where the heart is, so it's best to make sure your home is healthy. How so? Green construction, or energy-efficient home building, is more than just being environmentally conscious and eco-friendly. The materials, technology and practices used to build green is also healthier for your mind, your body and your family.

Building better homes means improving quality of life

With better products, such as low-emission materials, a radon mitigation system, sealed combustion appliances, the Indoor airPLUS program and an improved scientific approach to building, certified green homes can have a positive impact on your family's health. Improved heating, ventilation, insulation and air sealing also contribute to reducing risks and symptoms of respiratory disease, asthma, cancer, cardiovascular disease, depression, stress and infectious disease, and more. Check out the infographic below to see just how your new build home works to keep you and your family healthy.

Read the full article

A healthy indoor environment free from VOCs, formaldehyde, mold and other pollutants not only makes your home more pleasant to be in, it can also help prevent asthma or other respiratory illnesses. Here are four ways to stay on top of indoor air quality (IAQ):

1. Test for potential issues.

If you're experiencing respiratory symptoms and are not sure what the source of the issue might be, take a look at the list of questions published by the American Lung Association. This might help you pinpoint the problem.

You probably already know that smoking is the number one cause of lung cancer. But did you know that radon, a naturally occurring radioactive gas, is number two? It can be found anywhere, and like carbon monoxide, can't be seen or smelled. The U.S. EPA shares links to sources for radon test kits and information on its website.

With mold, if you suspect you may have problems, you can also test for its presence in your home without incurring much expense. If mold is already visible, skip to step two and take action to rid your home of this health hazard. Depending on the severity and type of the problem, such as whether it's just moisture in your HVAC system or you have major flood damage, the solutions may be different, so consult a professional or refer to the EPA's mold guide for homeowners.

2. Be green in your home improvement practices.

One of the best ways to ensure good IAQ is to be careful in how you take care of your home. Using green or even DIY cleaning supplies, minimizing use of sealants and purchasing furniture with low risk of off-gassing can help you keep the air you breathe healthy.

Choosing environmentally sound green flooring and countertop materials will help you manage air quality, as well.

3. Use adequate ventilation.

Keep windows open when using products that have strong fumes—and point floor fans toward the windows to push fumes outdoors even more. In fact, open your windows more often in general, and let the fresh air circulate in your home.

Make sure your ducts are cleaned as needed, to avoid buildup of mold, pollen and fungus. Lessen the need for full professional duct cleaning by doing routine maintenance like replacing air filters and ensuring that joints are sealed.

4. Bring the outdoors into your home.

Building a green wall, setting out plants or growing herbs in your home creates more oxygen, filters out pollutants and may even boost your mood. Making design choices that respond to our biophilia—the human inclination to seek connection with nature—can be as simple as adding some literal green to your living room with a plant or two.

Want to learn more? Read our in-depth article on improving IAQ, from simple to more complex strategies.

Learn about LEED credits related to IAQ.

Learn more about IAQ strategies

Home builders and developers, we want to show off the amazing work you did in 2017! If you used LEED in a spectacular way in 2017, consider nominating your work for the LEED Homes Awards.

The LEED Homes Awards recognize architects, developers, home builders and projects that have demonstrated leadership in the residential building marketplace.

Project categories include:

  • Outstanding Single Family Project
  • Outstanding Single Family Developer
  • Outstanding Affordable Project
  • Outstanding Affordable Developer
  • Outstanding Multi-Family Project
  • Outstanding Multi-Family Developer
  • Project of the Year/Outstanding Innovative Project

The awards also recognize the LEED Homes Power Builders,which USGBC developed to honor an elite group of developers and builders who have exhibited an outstanding commitment to LEED and the green building movement within the residential sector.

In order to be considered as a Power Builder, developers and builders must have certified 90 percent of their homes/unit count built in 2017. Homes at any LEED certification level—Certified, Silver, Gold or Platinum—are eligible for consideration.

To be eligible for an award, the project needs to have been certified between January 1 and Dec. 31, 2017.

Nominations will be accepted until May 18, 2018. Any questions with this form please email Matt Libby.

See last year’s winners.

Nominate a project or Power Builder

This article was previously published on Elemental Green as "DIY Planting a Living Green Roof" and is reproduced with permission. Read the original.

One of the most important decisions when building a green home is choosing a roof type. Because the energy efficiency of a home often comes down to heating and cooling, it is of utmost importance that a green home has the right roof to provide insulation rather than letting valuable hot or cold air escape. In addition, a roof that requires frequent maintenance and replacing will contribute negatively to the environment by adding waste to landfills.

Heat-reflecting recycled metal roofing, recycled roof tiles, and other green roof products are all great options for energy-efficient and earth-friendly roofing. But what if your roofing choice could be all that and more? Living green roofs are not just eco-friendly and energy-saving—they come with a huge abundance of benefits that other roof options simply can’t compete with. And unlike other roof options, planting a living green roof is something you can DIY-install on your own!

What is a living green roof?

The General Services Administration (GSA) has designed and maintained green roofs for decades, currently maintaining at least 24 green roofs in 13 cities around the country. Green roofs are defined by the GSA as vegetated roofs consisting of “a waterproofing membrane, growing medium (soil) and vegetation (plants) overlying a traditional roof.”

This roof system provides numerous eco-green perks. Green Roofs for Healthy Cities (GRHC) lists both public and private benefits to green roof installations: Public benefits of green roofs include neighborhood aesthetic appeal, better air quality, helping landfill diversion and added stormwater management, while private benefits include energy efficiency, natural fire resistance and durability.

Benefits to planting a living green roof


Properly installed green roofs more than double the number of years typically needed before a roof must be replaced when compared to traditionally installed roofs. A conservative analysis by the GSA puts the average life expectancy of a living roof at about 40 years, as compared to an average expectancy of 17 for a conventional roof. GRHC adds that a green roof protects waterproofing membranes from temperature fluctuations and UV radiation, extending the life of the membrane.

Energy efficiency

A study published by the National Research Council of Canada showed that in the summer months, a green roof will reduce cool air loss by 70–90 percent, greatly reducing the demand for air conditioning. The GSA found similar efficiency figures, stating that green roofs can act as an insulating layer and reduce heat flux (transfer of heat through a building’s roof) by up to 72 percent. Using the Green Roof Energy Calculator, co-developed by GRHC with the University of Toronto and Portland State University, you can compare the yearly energy performance of your home as is to your home’s potential performance with a green roof installation.

Improved air quality

The plants living on green roofs, especially leafy plants and flowers, can capture air pollution and filter toxic gases from the air. The energy efficiency factor of green roofs also reduces demand for power, thereby decreasing the amount of CO2 being released into the atmosphere.

Noise reduction

Peck & Co’s analysis of green roof benefits showed that green living roofs have superb noise insulation, especially for low frequencies. Green roofs can reduce outside sound penetration by 40–60 decibels. Sounds like peace and quiet!

Property value increase

Increased efficiency means increase home value. In addition, green roofs are a marker of the popular green building movement. For this reason, a living roof can help with home sales, lease-outs and lower tenant turnover.

Water retention

On a green roof, rainwater is retained in order to sustain the plants rather than flowing to storm sewers. Living roofs can retain 70–90 percent of precipitation in the summer and 24–40 percent in the winter. To put that into perspective, a green roof with anywhere from 2–8 inches of growth can hold 4–6 inches of water.

LEED credits

According to Green Roof Technology, installing a green roof can add as many as 15 LEED credits to your home, adding resale value in the future.

Curb appeal

A green roof means added biodiversity, aesthetic appeal and more green space for relaxing, stress relief and even gardening.

DIY planting a green roof

Emmanuel from shows the process he used to DIY install a living green roof at Edelweiss, the Eco-Home Demonstration home. As Emmanuel states, homes in both rural and urban areas can benefit from a living roof.

Emmanuel’s is a great example of the perfect roof for a DIY green-roof install—a low-pitched roof for safe walking without safety equipment. The roof features a stone perimeter, which acts as an expansion joint for when the soil freezes in winter.

Watch the video:

For more on DIY green roofs, check out the DIY Green Roof Guide.

For non-DIY green roof options, check out some featured green roof products:

Learn more about installing green roofs

Feature image: The Valdemarin project in Madrid, Spain.

LEED has been a much sought-after certification for commercial real estate projects in Europe for years. The Green Rater European Network (GREN) is working to increase the market focus to include residential projects as well.

Unlike the commercial rating system, LEED certification for homes requires third-party verification in the person of a “Green Rater." Green Raters are individuals who have not only demonstrated an understanding of building science fundamentals, but who have also undergone training, testing and mentoring in the LEED rating system for homes.

If you are a building professional in Europe seeking to certify a single-family home, multifamily building, or even a manufactured home, the Green Rater European Network can put you into contact with Green Raters in your area who will assist and guide your project team through the certification process. They will help you integrate the rating system requirements into your project’s planning, design and construction, as well as perform on-site verification of the completed work and conduct performance tests.

During the last 12 months, members of the Green Rater European Network have worked on a growing number of residential projects pursuing LEED certification. In a very short period of time, the network members have shown that LEED can not only work in Europe for residential projects, but that it can also be used on virtually all types of residential construction and in all market segments. Projects completed or in progress cover a wide range, including multifamily, single family, new construction, rehabilitation, luxury and affordable housing.

Here are a few examples:

Holt Haus

The home of American architect Marc Holt aims to be the first home in Germany to obtain LEED certification. The home was selected from one of the builder’s standard plans, and with very few modifications, was adapted to meet LEED specifications. Charles Nepps, a GREN member, recently completed the final construction visit and is now preparing the project documentation for certification. The project hopes to achieve LEED Platinum status in the spring of 2018.


Valdemarin, in Madrid, comprises 10 luxury homes by Spanish developer Caledonian, and is pursuing LEED Gold certification. GREN member Valeria Fiorentino recently completed the project’s mid-construction inspection and intends for the project to achieve certification next summer. In addition to Valdemarin, several single-family projects in Spain have recently registered for LEED certification, demonstrating the growing interest in LEED in the Spanish residential market.

Palazzo Novecento

In Torino, Italy, this project involves the renovation of 47 apartments in a historic building, and is seeking certification as a midrise dwelling. Also pursuing certification under the Midrise category is a second, publicly funded project in Milan, which will provide 39 affordable housing units in two buildings. Paola Moschini, a GREN member, is the Green Rater for both projects.

Palazzo Novecento is seeking LEED certification in Torino, Italy

The Palazzo Novecento project in Torino, Italy.

Cal Guerxo

Cal Guerxo, in Catalonia, Spain, involves the complete restoration of a medieval home that is hundreds of years old.The home will be upgraded to modern standards of comfort without negatively impacting the environment. The project is pursuing LEED Platinum certification, as well as Living Building Challenge certification. Valeria Fiorentino, a GREN member, recently performed the mid-construction inspection. This inspiring project intends to demonstrate it is possible to renovate an existing home and to make it a regenerative and truly sustainable place.

The Cal Guerxo project in Catalonia, Spain, is seeking LEED Platinum certification

The Cal Guerxo project in Catalonia, Spain.

The variety of projects in different countries pursuing certification demonstrates that LEED is a flexible rating system that can be successfully implemented in very different market places. It also shows the commitment of European residential developers to sustainable construction.

The European Green Rater Network is in the forefront of making LEED homes certification in Europe more accessible, and its members are committed to continue working with SGBC to make the rating system even more user-friendly in their local markets.

Thinking of pursuing LEED certification on your next residential project? Go to the Green Rater European Network website to find out more about the LEED certification process and to find a Green Rater located in your area.

Learn more about Green Raters

This article was originally published on Houzz on July 16, 2012, as "Green and Clean: Ecofriendly Bath Countertops" and is presented here with permission. Read the original article.

For countertops subjected to splashes and steamy shower moisture, durability is the name of the game—and recycled content adds to their green credibility. Thankfully, neither of these features mean having to compromise on looks. Whether your taste runs toward sophisticated or sassy, modern or traditional, there's a sustainable countertop for your bath.

Photo credit: Lindy Donnelly; original photo on Houzz.

Recycled glass with cement

Vetrazzo. Made of 100 percent recycled glass with a binder of cement, additives, pigments, big and bright chunks of glass, and other recycled materials, Vetrazzo is no shrinking violet. Fun options abound, including "Alehouse Amber," made of recycled beer bottles, and "Cobalt Skyy," made of recycled Skyy® Vodka bottles. As with any cement-based counter, it's porous, so you'll want to follow the manufacturer's recommendations for ongoing sealing.

Heavy cement-based slabs such as Vetrazzo can consume a lot of transportation-related energy, so it's worth being aware of where the product is manufactured. Vetrazzo is fabricated in Georgia.

Cost: $100 to $160 per square foot installed.

Photo credit: Divine Design+Build; original photo on Houzz.

IceStone. Countertops made of recycled glass with cement vary greatly in appearance. IceStone, manufactured in Brooklyn, New York, has smaller glass particles than Vetrazzo and provides a more subtle and refined character. It too boasts 100 percent recycled glass, to which only cement and pigment are added.

IceStone has earned one of my favorite certifications, Cradle to Cradle, due in part to its reutilization potential. Cradle to Cradle's industry-independent approval is given to products that are safe for both people and the planet, and are also designed for a long life cycle.

Cost: $40 to $54 per square foot for the material only.

FUEZ. Manufactured at a wind-powered facility in Portland, Oregon, FUEZ is a mix of low-carbon cement, 100 percent recycled glass and natural aggregate. The company's products offer an unusually broad range of aesthetics, thanks to four different product lines featuring either large or small glass chips, stone or a monolithic colored cement. With 50 different products and options for customization, you're sure to find a countertop that matches your style.

Cost: $20 to $50 per square foot for the material only.

Photo credit: BioGlass Oriental Jade, original photo on Houzz.

Recycled Glass

Bio-Glass. Bio-Glass, made of 100 percent recycled glass, achieves Cradle to Cradle certification and has an ethereal, translucent appearance. A simple but thoughtful application of Bio-Glass elevates this bathroom with its showstopping glow. Beyond beauty, glass is nonporous, so the countertop is more hygienic and needs no ongoing sealing and maintenance.

Cost: $85 to $115 per square foot for the material only.

ThinkGlass. Our Canadian friends are behind the lovely and luminous ThinkGlass, an all-glass countertop made in part of recycled glass. In addition to ThinkGlass' recycled content, the company works hard to green the production line, such as using rainwater to operate their glass-cutting equipment.

Cost: $200 to $400 per square foot for the material only.

Photo credit: Starlight Countertop ECO by Cosentino; original photo on Houzz.

Solid surface

ECO by Cosentino. ECO, made by the same folks behind Silestone, is the go-to for sustainable solid surface countertops. Most solid surface countertops use a petroleum-based binder, whereas ECO has replaced that binder with a corn oil-based product. And the remainder of their makeup includes 75 percent recycled content from postindustrial and postconsumer sources: porcelain, mirrors, glass, stone and crystallized ash.

Once installed, ECO's kindness continues with a nonporous surface that's hygienic and requires less maintenance over time. And with certification from both Cradle to Cradle and GreenGuard, which certifies building products for low chemical emissions, you can be sure that ECO is the real green deal.

Cost: $68 to $118 per square foot installed.

Photo credit: KUBE Architecture; original photo on Houzz.


3-Form. My stash of 3-Form's samples, with countless colors, finishes and patterns, is a toy box for design-minded grownups. Their recycled-content, resin-based products are all PVC-free, and GreenGuard has certified the Varia EcoResin, Chroma, 100 Percent and Alabaster lines. The company walks their green talk by working toward zero waste and being carbon neutral./p>

Cost: $28 to $105 per square foot for the material only.

Photo credit: Agrestal Designs; original photo on Houzz.

Recycled glass, paper and cement

Squak Mountain Stone. Squak Mountain's countertop replicates the warmth and natural irregularities of stone with a matrix of recycled paper, glass and cement. This is a stout and durable countertop; however, as with concrete, it is susceptible to staining and etching. Either use extra care or embrace the patina.

Cost: $30 to $40 per square foot for the material only.

Related articles

Learn more about sustainable countertops

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), through its Office of Lead Hazard Control and Healthy Homes, and in partnership with the National Environmental Health Association, has announced its annual HUD Secretary’s Award for Healthy Homes.

HUD recognizes achievements in increasing the health of indoor environments through healthy homes research, education and program delivery, especially in low- to moderate-income communities. The awards, which cover four categories, share results from a range of housing and indoor environmental health programs nationwide, highlighting significant work on the relationship between living environments and resident health.

Awards categories

  • Public housing/multifamily housing
  • Policy and education innovation
  • Cross-program coordination
  • Research

Get more details from the awards announcement.

Relevant dates

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Multifamily housing is continuing to move in the direction of green building and LEED certification. AMLI Residential, a 2016 LEED Homes Award winner for Outstanding Multifamily Developer, has been building all new construction to a minimum of LEED Silver standards since 2006. In 2016, AMLI’s portfolio grew to 25 LEED-certified projects, more than a third of the developer’s total properties.

To increase understanding of sustainability goals, AMLI also provides the residents of each of its communities, in several different locations around the U.S., with guides to the green features of their home and the ways in which they can help maintain its performance. The AMLI residential blog even has a category for green living updates and articles.

Erin Hatcher, Vice President of Sustainability at AMLI, shared some of the sustainability features recently achieved through LEED at AMLI properties.

Creating a healthy landscape

At AMLI Wallingford in Seattle, the landscaping design included flowers and foliage specifically selected to attract bees and butterflies. Not just an appealing visual element for residents of the community, the garden areas take concrete action in helping pollinator species that are struggling in the modern urban environment.

AMLI Wallingford uses landscaping that attracts pollinator species

Pollinator landscaping in Seattle.

A larger sustainable landscape feature AMLI created recently was the public Marie Sims Park, in Atlanta's Buckhead neighborhood. Adding green space to a developing area and collecting stormwater runoff, the park is situated between two of AMLI's apartment communities, but is open and accessible to the entire neighborhood.

Explore the LEED credit Site Development—Protect or Restore Habitat.

Hatcher cited indoor air quality and energy usage credits as the most challenging for recent projects to attain. "We’ve learned a lot over the past decade, and the real challenge is pushing ourselves to do more across our portfolio," she said.

At AMLI Piedmont Heights in Atlanta, the company achieved the best blower-door tests they've had to date. "We built with a high-performing building envelope, installed Energy Star windows and high-quality insulation, and issued energy efficiency upgrades almost across the board," explained Hatcher.

Explore the LEED indoor environmental quality credit category.

Marie Sims Park aids in stormwater runoff

Marie Sims Park in Atlanta.

Healthier homes, lower bills

"Residents can lower their carbon footprint just by moving in," said Hatcher. Through energy-efficient equipment and careful building design, the apartments reduce overall energy use as well as cutting residents’ utility bills.

In addition, the company's clean air initiatives in air filtration, building materials that don’t off-gas and smoke-free policies help make the communities healthier for their inhabitants.

Advice for LEED project managers

Hatcher's number one tip for those seeking to build a LEED home or residential community is to start aiming for LEED early in the process.

"The extra time allows you to truly engage with people all throughout the scope of the project and find opportunities to work together," she said. "Collaboration is key and is what allows the building to reach its optimal potential. It also helps align everyone on the project’s goals so that you can stay committed with a clear vision for the final project in mind."

Explore the LEED credit library

Last year, John Marshall Custom Homes received recognition as one of two Outstanding Single Family Developers in USGBC's LEED Homes Awards. The firm's “pocket neighborhood” of 15 houses in Davidson, North Carolina, already count 12 LEED Silver homes among them, with others still in process. The community's walkability was a major goal of its design—it is situated within a five-minute walk of the elementary school, park, shops and a public library.

John Marshall Custom Homes LEED Silver

The owner, Rodney Graham, who worked on the project along with his wife Melissa, believes that homes located in walkable locations offer many benefits for residents and the community.

"I recently met with the person who is responsible for monitoring air quality in our county (Mecklenburg County, home of Charlotte), and she said the best thing communities can do to improve air quality is to create walkable communities," said Graham. "With this neighborhood, we've done that. And as I observe our customers walking to and from town, the benefits to the homeowner are obvious."

John Marshall Custom Homes LEED Silver

The company's belief in green building is reflected in its commitment to building homes to LEED and Energy Star standards. As shared on its website, John Marshall Custom Homes places intense focus on using environmentally friendly building tactics such as:

  • Infill sites
  • Compact lot design
  • Passive solar
  • Efficient use of lumber
  • Low-VOC materials

Graham's advice for other builders hoping to achieve LEED certification is to just go for it. "Don't get hung up on the costs, which aren't that great. Don't be discouraged by the thought that to be a green home you have to have solar panels, wind turbines and go dumpster diving for materials. Just focus on the energy and water efficiencies and use local resources, and you'll make a positive impact on yourself and the environment (and if you can do solar panels, wind turbines, and scour the landfills for building materials, that's icing on the cake)," he explained.

Explore credits for LEED homes