The Small Home, Big Decisions series follows Jennifer and her husband, Tyler, as they build a self-reliant homestead on a piece of country property in northeastern Kansas. The series will delve into questions that arise during their building process and the decisions they make along the way. The posts are a work in progress, written as their home-building adventure unfolds.
Often, products made with recycled, sustainably harvested, or otherwise “green” materials are more expensive than standard, conventionally produced options. We have been shocked at the sticker price of some products, made with recycled materials, that we were considering for our home — we kept thinking, “Weren’t the base materials free?” This price conundrum proved to hold true in the case of countertop options: The tops made from recycled paper, glass or reclaimed hardwood were multiple times pricier than more common options, such as laminate or most quartz. We were feeling somewhat deflated, as we really didn’t have the budget to justify investing so much into this one part of our house project, but we hated not being at all conscientious about our countertop sourcing.
Luckily, we were put in touch with the right people to help us solve our dilemma. Taking a cue from our DIY-savvy, upcycling readers, Lynda, the representative we worked with at the Countertop Shoppe, suggested we start by repurposing the remnant pieces the store had in stock, and then fill in with some of the pricier recycled options. The remnants came from other construction or remodeling projects that had ended up with leftover countertop sections. We were able to “shop” these leftovers, and put what would otherwise remain as excess waste in the store’s warehouse into our future home. Plus, the price was greatly reduced, because the shop had already gotten some payment for the materials from the original project’s owner.
The remnant shopping was actually incredibly fun — such an adventure! We compared the measurements of the countertop space we needed, and looked for a material the shop had enough of stored away (and that we liked enough to use). We found a beautiful quartz and a lovely recycled glass that would fit perfectly (the former in the kitchen and the latter in the master bathroom). I’m pretty proud of the double recycling we’ve achieved with the recycled glass remnant piece!
The savings were enough to install PaperStone, which is a product made from compressed, post-consumer recycled paper, for the remaining kitchen countertops. The shop is also going to polish and cut down a salvaged piece of quartz we snagged from a Habitat ReStore earlier this year, which means all of our countertops will be upcycled and/or made of recycled materials. And we stayed within our budget limits. Talk about a win-win — and now we have yet another example of how to choose an environmentally responsible option that's also fiscally responsible.
Photo of sample kitchen with PaperStone counter by PaperStone Products.
Jennifer Kongs is the Managing Editor at MOTHER EARTH NEWS magazine. When she’s not working at the magazine, she’s likely in her garden, on the local running trails or in her kitchen instead. You can connect directly with Jennifer and Tyler by leaving a comment below!
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