Choosing a Green Countertop that Works with Your Style and Your Life

Readers who have evaluated, installed and lived with green countertops share their advice about selecting a countertop material that works with your lifestyle.

GreenHomeGuide readers share tips from their experiences living with and maintaining green countertops.

Appreciate the green patina

"The biggest challenge is finding something that’s relatively stain- and scratch-proof, or one has to simply accept that some of the green materials may develop a ‘patina’ over time," says Gail Brager of Orinda, California. "Because many of the green alternatives are relatively uncommon, a nice side benefit to a green countertop is simply being different—more people will notice the unique beauty of your material choice."

Marie DeVries of Mount Vernon, Iowa, says many people comment favorably on her recycled paper countertop—"especially when they learn it is environmentally responsible. To give the countertop a richer look, we occasionally apply a food-safe wood oil."

"We Americans want the top to look as nice in 20 years as on the day it was installed, regardless of how we treat it—and it shouldn't require any maintenance, such as resealing," says Lydia Corser, an interior designer at Eco Interiors in Santa Cruz, California. "The most important thing to realize is that nothing is foolproof. Stains on concrete or stone are the great stories of the kitchen or bath: ‘Remember that New Year’s party when so-and-so tipped over the glass of wine and we didn’t realize it until the next morning?’ Over time, they blur together and voila: we have patina, and we are living like Europeans."

Decide what types of wear you can—and can’t—live with

"The truth is that there is no such thing as a burn-proof, scratch-proof, stain-proof countertop material—green or conventional—no matter what some manufacturers will claim," Corser says. "If folks are worried about staining, I’d steer them toward Richlite or Paperstone, in a dark color. Nothing seems to penetrate that stuff. For scratch resistance, choose a composite, like the terrazzo-style type with recycled glass in a concrete base. Green alternatives that are the most heat resistant include concrete composites with high recycled-glass content and fiber cement materials like SlateScape. Tile resists heat, scratches, and stains, and is worth considering if you can handle the grout, which stains, chips out, and eats sponges. I recommend tiles as large as you can get, with the smallest viable grout width.

"In addition, Brager advises: "Think about if and how the material can be repaired or refinished if there are significant scratches, stains, or dents over time. This is clearly preferable to having to replace it."

Consider how you can minimize wear

"Different types of things stain different types of countertops, but the worst culprits for concrete composites and stone are oils, which are used both in the kitchen and bathroom," Corser says. "Keeping lotions and oils in the bath on trays helps a lot with that, and looks beautiful. In the kitchen, you could put them away in the cabinet or store them on trays. Lemon and mustard are also notorious. The best advice is clean up after yourself promptly."

If you’re worried about heat effects, Corser says, "move the hot pot to a cool burner, and use a trivet or at least a hot pad for things coming out of the oven. People love to tell me that granite is heat-proof, and it’s simply not true, because the penetrating sealers on stone and concrete tops are marred by super-hot pots as easily as countertops that are rated for less heat tolerance."