Tuesday, April 10, 2007

A Cautionary Tale

This may be an expanding post as we discover the “challenges” that some of these new products present. Having been in high tech for the past 15 years, I’ve grown accustomed to “beta” versions. And it is no different with these new green applications. While many of them are wonderful and ready to embrace, there’s bound to be a period of discovery about their wonderful idiosyncrasies.

As we begin to install the many green finishes that I’ve raved about in earlier posts, there are a few learnings the manufacturers don’t tell you about. I prefer tothink that the lack of information is oversight and not as a means of misleading customers. In fact, when brought to their attention, the manufacturers seem to appreciate the feedback. Let’s just hope these companies use the information to help educate their customers. After all, it’s always best to set expectations at the beginning of a relationship, right?

Several times in the past week or so Cemil and I have had some doubts about our choices. But in the end, we managed to find a way to work with the products and they are in the house. But, I hope this information will save you some of the frustration that we’ve experienced.

We really do like what this product, but there are some caveats in working with it. It is a countertop product that can be used in as many ways as Corian. It’s made of paper (see more about the manufacturing process here www.richlite.com). Our issues are:

Color. It changes, pretty dramatically…..much as what happens to newspapers when left in the sun or as they age in your attic. I’ve included an example with this color change with the photo. The small green sample is what my countertop “will” become over time. The larger sample is where it is right now. Currently the green has definite bluish tints, but is going to deepen with yellow tones into a rich olive color. And the olive color is the one that I anticipated with the rest of the finishes that I chose. The manufacturer’s representative said that it is the “organic” nature of the product and that one shouldn’t base a color scheme around it. And I grant him that wood, metals and some stones will age and burnish over time, but we can anticipate what happens to copper, as example, (because of past experience) and rarely do these products change their tonality (cool to warm tones—as in the case of this green).

Durability. By that I mean, how the product holds up to wear and tear. While I can’t comment on that yet, Cemil can. He’s had Richlite countertops in the baguette color in a home that his family uses. And he’s noticed that it will hold on to soap residue (particularly colored soaps) and other stains. Of course, this product can be sanded and re-polished, but that seems to be a lot of work for most people. For this reason, we both think the darker colors are the way to go in Richlite.

Organic floor adhesive from DriTac (DriTac 7500 Eco-urethane) www.dritac.com. In the end, we are pleased with the performance of this adhesive that is keeping our EcoTimber pre-engineered maple floors in place (www.ecotimber.com). As Cemil has commented…..should a tornado ever hit Sonoma, he can guarantee that the floors will be the only remaining part of the house. But it took several frustrating hours to discover the idiosyncrasies of this product and when we reported back to the manufacturer, they seemed surprised by what we learned.

First, the product uses way too much packaging. It’s just not green to use metal containers, extra thick cardboard boxes, and styrofoam to deliver these containers.

Second, the instructions provided with the product do not caution you about the following:

1- Transfer small amounts to plastic containers as the a) product dries quickly, becomes too thick to use; b) doesn’t stick to plastic in the end and cleanup means merely lifting out a latex looking mask; c) is impossible to apply in large containers.

2- Work with small amounts of the glue at a time—preferably only applying to floor one plank at a time. The adhesive dries very quickly, is thicker than most, and has a memory. So when putting your pre-finished floorboard in, you must put it in place quickly and don’t even think about moving it too much. Keep in mind the “thickness” of this adhesive and allow for that in your measurements.

3- Keep rechecking your work because of the “memory” aspect of the adhesive. If you need to shift a board, then you have to work harder to get the board back to where you ultimately want it.

4- Applying the glue seems to be much like frosting a cake with a very tacky frosting. I watched Cemil and Jim “twirl” the adhesive around so that they could then trowel it onto the floor. It takes some practice to feel comfortable with the application process.

EcoTimber pre-engineered maple flooring
. It's beautiful but there are a few things you should be aware of when choosing this particular product from EcoTimber.

* All EcoTimber is graded according to European standards so that means you get A/B not just A boards. And as such, you will find more knots, heartboard anomolies, and mineral streaks than what one might be used to (see picture for example). The company said that you can expect dime size knots and we found many more that were quarter size. Apparently they use computer equipment to "grade" the material and they are calculated for dimensions and size of dark material. Not quite effective, according to my untrained eyes! Most of this is generally calculated for when adding 10% for waste.

* The light maple is more of an issue. There are going to be more "organic" elements that can distract from the overall look. It means that you should count on another 5% of waste. That can really increase the cost of your flooring.

Ultimately, we are still pleased with these products, just not with the information that was provided by the manufacturers. And we all know that getting new products established and having them take hold is as much about ease of use as about how they look.

Monday, April 9, 2007

Tile Style

We've gotten to that stage of the project where the magic really starts to happen. The finishes are now getting installed and all the design planning is ready to be judged. So far, no real regrets.

The bathroom tiles are certainly living up to expectations.

In the guest bathroom, we used white subway field tile from Fireclay www.fireclaytile.com. There were several reasons in using this resource: 1)it is local (San Jose, CA); 2)none of the glazes contain lead; 3)the "Debris" series that I used is manufactured using 50% post-consumer and post-industrial recycled materials. I liked this effect because it gives a slightly less "finished" result and there's a warmth of the material that comes through the white tile. Those who have seen it agree, that the effect is quite compelling. I used a recycled glass contrasting band in green.

In the master bathroom, I can't do justice with a description of the glass tiles that I used from. As I look at my newly tiled shower stall in the cane iridescent 1 inch glass field tiles from Oceanside, www.glasstile.com, I think of a jeweled box. It's a lovely effect and again I really like the irregular nature of the the glass pieces. Constatine, a tile "artist" who installed the product, did complain that the transparent nature of the color I chose made his work a bit more difficult. He had to have a smooth (not troweled) based on which to lay in the glass tiles and in spite of their being held together by 12 x 12 inch sheets of paper, they were heavy and took great care in getting them to hold in place. He did a masterful job and I love the final look.

I paired this with a fabulous pebble rock flooring from Fireclay's collection called "jelly bean". Not only do the weathered pebbles feel wonderful underfoot but the effect is a bit like looking down through a clear water stream to a rocky bottom below. It was easy to install and the only hard part was picking and applying the grout so that it wouldn't be too deep to cover the pebbles up too much.

All in all, the choices were not only natural but beautiful. The price ranges were from $13 per sq. ft. for the pebble rock; $20 a sq. ft. for the field tile; to $28 a sq. ft. for the glass tiles.