Thursday, October 7, 2010

When aesthetic values and ecological values clash

Sigh. I knew it would happen sooner or later. I have to decide between looks and eco-cred. Here's the abridged story. It might seem to branch out on several tangents, but stick with me, it will all come together at the end.

Our concrete benchtops dude has fallen through - going on a long holiday, not sure when he'll be back etc. (For which I bear him no grudge; we hadn't actually got as far as placing an order with him, just had a tentative price. Hope he has a nice rest and gets back to making his very cheap and quite good quality benchtops asap.)

So late in the piece, we have needed to arrange kitchen benches and tops and basins for two vanities. Frown.

This task was complicated by the fact that we had already chosen (though not ordered) our bathroom tiles: Ecotech. They're gorgeous, expensive ($100m2), have pretty good eco-credentials, but come all the way from Italy. See them here:

So I was resigned to getting an engineered stone bench top. There are some nice colours around, and they don't rate too badly on ecospecifier. The main problems as I see them are that the product can't be recycled, and that it's probably not that great OHS wise for stone masons (though if they take proper safety precautions, I don't think this is a huge issue). Oh, and I just discovered Caesarstone is made in Israel, which automatically precludes it on human rights grounds.

A while back, we found some alternative tiles, called Huestone, made in Australia, that claimed to tick all the boxes environmentally. Unfortunately, at the time, their marketing was crap and it just seemed too hard to go find them when we already had tiles we liked.

Over the weekend, Rodney (bless him) had another look at them and we decided that we couldn't in all conscience just ignore them. Took a while to track them down, but when we did, we discovered that they don't just have tiles, they also have benchtops!

So I spent this morning out at the Sadlerstone ( showroom deep in darkest industrial Footscray.

And now I have some decisions to make.

I like the benchtop enough to use it in the kitchen. There's basically only one colour that would work: a very light base with lots of quartz and a bit of marble as the agg, but that's fine. And the cost seems to be less than the other engineered stone products on the market. All good.

The benchtops and tiles are pretty much the same thing looks-wise. This means that we could have matching tiles and benchtop in our bathroom and get a really streamlined look. As a bonus, we could use an offcut from the kitchen, which would save us money.

The problem though is that as much as I don't mind the look of the benchtop, I don't really love it enough to want it on the wall of my beautiful bathroom.

To compound my confusion, the tiles are hideously expensive: RRP is $175m2 for tiles 300mmx300mm!!! We have been offered a considerable discount "just cos", and the area we need to tile is really small - only about 5m2. So the actual cost isn't that daunting. But we have selected most of our finishes on the basis of reasonable cost. We don't want to build a house that is so lush and expensive that it seems unattainable; we also don't want people to get distracted by the trimmings and ignore the core values of the house. And finally, we don't really want to showcase products that are beyond the reach of all but the very affluent.

Oh, and to be purely selfish about it, I am feeling resentful about paying a whole lot of money for something I don't love! It feels unfair. }:

I've been fretting all afternoon. Basically, I like what we had already chosen, but (a) they come from Italy and (b) I have to find a benchtop that would match. But (c) whilst they are expensive, they are not insanely so ... at least, not for a relatively small area.

For the bathroom, the dilemma boils down to this:
  • Sadlerstone wins on eco-cred and convenience
  • Ecotech wins on looks and money.

I have to decide immediately. Am going to talk with our site manager about whether I could tile the vanity top with Ecotech. That would take convenience out of the equation at least. And at this point in the build, I have a sneaking feeling that might actually be our tipping point. :)

Stay tuned for the next exciting episode.


Builders said...

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Anonymous said...

I found out about your blog through homeone. The timing couldn't have been any more perfect. I'm at my wit's end finalising requirements with a volume builder. I will most definitely check out Positive Footprints

I commend your zeal & commitment to the environmental cause. Your blog inpires me. Keep up the good work.

fibonaccistone said...

Congratulations on your commitment to enviromental construction. I work with Fibonacci Stone & our range of terrazzo tiles use ISO 14001 technology & post industrial bi products as our main ingredient. Our product is available in sizes upto 600x600mm and our prices are significantly cheaper. Please have a look at or look us up at If you have any interest in what you see call me on 1300342662 or email I would love to help out.
Lee Kenos

Elizabeth said...

Thanks for your lovely comments folks.

Lee, your tiles look absolutely gorgeous. I wonder why nobody has mentioned them to me. I'll call you to discuss.

(I'm intrigued that someone from the trade is reading my blog ... anyone else out there with great products I should know about?)

Phil said...

Hi Elizabeth,

I am also just designing my new eco house I will be aiming for 8+ stars.

For your info one of my good friends makes concrete benchtops among other things. If you were still interested in going down that road I could ask him about it, his business partner who makes the benches is German which makes it a good product! We are going to be using him for our benches, walls and windows.

Elizabeth said...

Hi Phil

Great to hear from others who are aiming high for sustainable building.

I was planning to ring Sadlerstone to order our kitchen benchtop tomorrow! I think I have been convinced that what I wanted for the kitchen - white concrete - just really isn't that practical anyway.

But if your friend can do inset basins, I am interested in hearing from them ...immediately! :)

The space in our upstairs bathroom for our vanity is only 380mm deep and I have been having huge problems finding a basin to suit. Semi recessed will protrude too far into the room and undermounts are just not viable. I've ended up with a vessel, but it's not ideal. Would love to have somebody who could make something to suit the space.

Thanks for making contact.


Phil said...

No probs I will have a chat to him, it is good that more and more people are getting on the sustainable band wagon. I work for an LED lighting company so I thought it was the responsible thing to do since I am selling the "sustainable" life every other day.

kitchen ceiling said...

Using sustainable building materials can really help you save money. Eco-friendly building is the way to go nowadays.

Hill said...

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