Answers to your questions about gardening, energy, homesteading and other sustainable living topics.
What is a green, low cost, stylish and low maintenance product for tub and shower enclosures? We'd like to avoid tiles and grout, due to the mold buildup in the grout.
Pleasant Hill, California
Well, this is my first go at answering an “ask the expert” question for MOTHER EARTH NEWS, and you’ve come up with quite a doozy! Finding a shower surround that is not tile and meets all of your requirements was tough, but I’ve got a few good suggestions for you:
1. Concrete: A concrete shower surround is going to be quite inexpensive and can look excellent. On the eco-friendliness scale, concrete is middle-of-the-road. You can generally find it locally made and it is low-energy to produce; that is except for the Portland cement, which is energy-intensive to produce. Concrete with fly ash, which replaces a portion of the Portland cement, is much more environmentally friendly, but also more difficult to find. You would have to use some kind of water-proofing finish on concrete, as it becomes porous when it dries and this might run into some more environmental problems. One solution would be to use water-resistant concrete such as Hycrete
2. Mortar: Our winner of the Natural Home Bathroom of the Year contest last year had an innovative shower solution: She molded the shower out of red-tinted mortar (much like concrete but with a finer grain) and, after the mortar dried and cracked, sealed the cracks with a soft black grout. The result was a beautiful and durable shower.
3. Recycled plastic: Parkland Plastics out of Indiana produces PLAS-TEX waterproof, fiberglass-free, chemically inert and recyclable shower surround walls made of 95 percent recycled resins and designed for easy installation and low maintenance. They also offer a VOC-free structural sealant for installation.
4. Soapstone: Finally, soapstone is naturally nonporous and makes for a gorgeous shower surround, but it’s going to cost more. Hart Stoneworks in Colorado makes environmentally conscientious soapstone tiles. They will involve grout but much less than traditional tiles because the individual soapstone tiles are quite large.
I hope this helps you find what you are looking for.
— Jessica Kellner, managing editor, Natural Home magazine