Archive for Recycling & Waste

Recycled Bathroom Reno

Sometimes a room needs a little TLC right away, just to hold everything over until the real renovation can begin. Such was the case for the past two years with the second floor bathroom, which was doing just fine with a few minor upgrades until a leak proved to be the tipping point.

This has been a total – and unexpected – gut job, removing over 100 years of plumbing, tile and flooring. Thankfully the amazing crews that have been here for the rest of the house stepped up to the plate and worked around hectic holiday schedules, from Thanksgiving well past New Year’s. Bringing everything from plumbing to structural framing to electrical up to code has taken time. Now that it’s almost spring, we’re a few weeks from completion.

This is always the sweet spot in a project, when the environmental testing is long over with, the layers of debris are peeled away, the permits have been applied for, and municipal inspections have been passed. Here’s a few highlights of the processes and products used:

– As with any reno, I started with environmental testing. Lead testing was done before moving in, so that was already crossed off the list. I tested old floor tiles and wallboard for asbestos, which can be found in hundreds of building products. The EPA has a full guide here to asbestos information and resources.

– Having found asbestos in the old PVC floor tiles, I hired a certified firm for removal. Air sampling came back the same day showing all was well, and the firm provided documentation. Note…before any asbestos removal job, the state may need to be notified (as is the case in NJ) with a 10-day wait period. The delays and cost definitely ate into the budget and timeline, but the upside was knowing it was getting done right.

– I chose recycled denim insulation from Bonded Logic, which my carpenter loved. The town inspectors liked it, too and it became a talking point of the project. It runs pricier than conventional fiberglass insulation, but it’s a healthier product with out the toxic flame retardants or respiratory risks as with other insulations.

– With the recycled-content Florim USA tile in the downstairs bathroom holding up beautifully, I bought it again for this bathroom. At under $5 per square foot (uninstalled), it’s domestically made and purchased through a family-owned local store.

The other finishing touches such as paint, window framing, and built-in cabinetry are still in the works, so more on that to come.

Bathroom Makeover: From Vinyl to Recycled Tile

One of the most fun aspects of renovating a home is shopping for materials that will take a room from conventional to beautiful. The vinyl tile in one bathroom is from the 60’s and completely worn. Vinyl flooring (or polyvinyl chloride – PVC) can contain harmful lead, phthalates and other toxins, as found in a study from the nonprofit So replacing it with something healthier is great for kids, who tend to spend a lot of time crawling and playing on the ground.

Because older vinyl or composite tiles can also contain asbestos, I had these tested. The lab evaluated both the tile itself and the mastic (adhesive). Thankfully, both tests came out clear, and it was time to demo the floor. The tiles came up easily, a welcome surprise.

Big box home improvement stores have a wide selection of ceramic and porcelain tiles, but many are manufactured overseas without recycled content. After plenty of searching, I found Florim USA tile at a local, family-owned store. It’s made in the USA, has 40% pre-consumer recycled content, and is certified by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC). At about $4 a square foot (uninstalled), it’s an affordable “green” option. Other great choices are Oceanside Glasstile, which I’ve used (and loved) in a previous home and stunning Fireclay Tile, made in California.

For the tub surround, I found a treasure trove of neutral wall tiles at Green Demolitions, similar in concept to Habitat for Humanity resale stores. The tiles are inherently recycled since they came to this nonprofit store as leftovers from someone else’s big project. They were a fraction of the retail cost and are in-the-box new. All proceeds go towards charity, so it’s a win-win way to renovate. With the vinyl out and the recycled tile in, this bathroom space just got a little healthier.


Like to learn more? See info on vinyl floors and kids’ health at the Center for Health, Environment and Justice.

How to have an (almost) plastic-free kitchen

With all the buzz about going “plastic-free” I decided to give it a try for The Healthy Home Project. This goes fairly quick and is a great step in detoxing the home by starting with one of the most-used rooms. There are three easy steps to ridding plastic from the kitchen:

1. Get rid of BPA and other polycarbonate plastics. What’s polycarbonate?  It’s clear, hard plastic (that can also be tinted, but still transparent). Think baby bottles, water bottles, disposable party cuttlery. An item marked “BPA-free” doesn’t mean it’s safe! In order to produce polycarbonate plastics without BPA, another chemical has to be substituted in. That “other chemical”, such as BPS, usually looks and acts much like BPA, and is just as toxic, if not more so. According to Environmental Working Group, BPA has been linked to a wide variety of health effects, including infertility, breast and reproductive cancer, obesity, early puberty, diabetes, behavioral changes in kids and resistance to chemo treatments. Thankfully, reducing exposure is something everyone can do. (Also look out for BPA in thermal paper receipts and the linings of food and soda cans).

2. PVC plastics are some of the most toxic around. According to the Healthy Building Network, chlorine is needed to manufacture PVC, and burning this plastic at the end of its life cycle creates carcinogenic dioxin. Some PVC plastics contain phthalates to “soften” the product, making it more pliable. Phthalates are endocrine disruptors, which disturb the body’s hormone system. PVC plastics are labeled with a #3. I was surprised to find a water bottle made of PVC that was given away at a kids birthday party.

3. Say good-bye to any scratched, worn or old plastic. Plastic does break down over time. The older and more worn it is, the greater the chance of toxic chemicals leaching into food.

What to do with all this plastic? Check to see which are recyclable locally. Good Housekeeping has an easy guide to numbered plastics that can also help sort it all out. And just in case there’s still some plastic lurking around, avoid heating it as that’s when more toxins are released. Avoid putting any plastic in a microwave (which isn’t healthy in itself) or dishwasher. Even the top rack gets hot.

With all or most of the plastic gone, there’s more space in the kitchen for healthy alternatives. More on that in the next post!

Buying Recycled: Twice as Nice

While picking materials for the Healthy Home Project, I’ve discovered a jewel in Fairfield, NJ: Green Demolitions. The store is a non-profit selling gently-used building products that would otherwise get tossed during a renovation. The showroom is expansive, and stocks everything from gourmet kitchens to lighting, furniture and bath fixtures. Proceeds support two drug and alcohol rehab programs in the area.

The store employs a small army of experts who help customers plan how to use their products in a new space.  Contractors and homeowners donate cabinetry, furnishings and fixtures in exchange for a tax donation receipt. The concept of “recycling luxury” fits just right.  I bought eight light fixtures in my first trip, and have been back numerous times, netting everything from air conditioners to custom drapes. I didn’t find the window shutters or screen door I was hoping for, so it’s essential to stay flexible when shopping this way.  It’s hit or miss, but most of the time it’s a home run at half the price of retail. 

Habitat for Humanity has similar stores called “ReStores” around the country:

Habitat for Humanity ReStores are nonprofit home improvement stores and donation centers that sell new and gently used furniture, home accessories, building materials, and appliances to the public at a fraction of the retail price.  Habitat for Humanity ReStores are proudly owned and operated by local Habitat for Humanity affiliates, and proceeds are used to build homes, community, and hope locally and around the world. 

At places like this, it’s best to have all measurements on hand as Green Demolitions doesn’t allow returns except a few days’ allowance on appliances. Make sure it’s what you’re looking for, and take photos of items if needed.  On a busy Saturday, I was advised at Green Demolitions to remove the sale tags from items I wanted, or point them out to a salesperson to ensure they’re not taken by another customer. Most items are one-of-a-kind, and things can get kind of competitive when there are several customers vying for the same item. Happy shopping!

New Life for Old Carpet

Wall-to-wall carpet can trap allergens and other environmental contaminants, such as stain repellents and pesticides tracked in from outdoors. When young kids play close to the ground, where contaminants often settle, they can more easily absorb them. The Healthy Home Project house was filled with old carpet, running from the first floor to the third. The rainbow of colors from the 60’s and 70’s included lime green shag, dark brown, blue, and a green/cream combo.

When the flooring team removed it all, they uncovered horse-hair padding in some rooms, which means some of the carpeting was easily 50 years old.  That would have been an allergy nightmare in our household! Instead of heading for the landfill, I called an innovative carpet recycling company, so that it can be made into new products. The CarpetCyle website states:

“With more than 2.5 million tons of carpet discarded each year and landfill capacity declining, there is a social necessity and responsibility to recycle and reuse carpet. In addition to reducing the burden on landfills, carpet recycling and reuse provides other benefits… Carpet is a petroleum-based product. It is estimated that carpet recycling programs can save more than 700,000 barrels of oil per year, conserving 4.4 trillion BTUs of energy. Energy savings translate into reduced pollutants as well, minimizing air and greenhouse gas emissions.”

The photo here shows the trailer filled with our house-full of carpet, ready to be sent to the recycling facility.  With it gone, we can all breathe a bit easier, and start on the next phase of renovation.