Painting the bathroom (They say the tortoise wins in the end, right?)

Hello world!  Happy new year!  With this delay, you probably thought that all of my tile fell off the wall and I completely gave up on the bathroom, not to mention the many other projects that await me.  In fact, the bathroom has been basically done since October, with the last pieces (shelves) taken care of in November.  I also did some landscaping and undertook yet another furniture refinishing project, but I digress.  Today’s topic is painting the bathroom, which took it from construction zone to almost-done.

The tiling was finished in early August, and Mark the contractor kindly came back and installed the shower fixtures in the nick of time for our friends from NYC to come and visit.  They got to use a freshly tiled shower in a completely hideous bathroom (imagine it with fixtures):

…at least there was a wall hanging…

Not as good as where this post is going:

photo 1

Paint’s done! Yay!  Curtain is from West Elm.

 

But still, that’s better than this original bathroom from last January:

unnamed

The next most ghastly thing to do, after installing a shower where there was none, was to paint the bathroom.  Masking off my fresh tile and the counter and the toilet without having plastic flapping around proved to be a pain in the butt.  Such a pain in the butt that I apparently did not take a picture.

Figuring that my tiling would be a bit rustic and I had a wooden countertop, I decided to theme this bathroom after a vintage Yosemite poster and even pick an object from which to pick a paint color.  Yosemite is quite possibly my favorite place on earth and appears in many places in our house.  This is the poster I liked, found at art.com:

yosemite poster

An aside on what this poster means: Camp Curry was (and is) basically a village in the park at the back of the valley with tons of campsites and tent cabins.  When the park opened, if you weren’t rich enough to stay in the luxurious Ahwahnee Hotel, you stayed in Camp Curry (named after the Curries, the couple who managed it).  The cliff you see behind it in the poster is Glacier Point, where there was another mountain house you could stay in (ironically: has since burned down).  In 1872, the keeper of that joint would put out his evening fire by kicking it over the edge of a cliff, right into a giant pine forest.  The campers below starting viewing it as an attraction to watch the fire fall off the cliff, and it remained a Yosemite practice until 1968 when the National Park Service put its hiking boot down and said no more.  (Read more.)

So, I admit a little scary that fire safety was that questionable, but it’s a cool piece of history.  I decided to paint the bathroom light blue (this was the last bucket of paint I bought before I got interested in whole house color schemes, like this method or this method), but I had a feeling that a dark green bathroom would be out of place and a bright orange bathroom would just be absurd – so I went for the blue of “Camp Curry”.  Our greenish wedding towels would also fit in well I thought.

Lesson #1: Yes, I frikkin’ learned it again: test the paint on the wall before you buy!  You see, this time I thought I had it figured out since I was just matching a poster.  I decided to try out Sherwin-Williams paint in Liquid Blue since they advertise mold/mildew-deterring paints and our old house didn’t come with bathroom fans (and I didn’t want to pay to add one in a guest bathroom).  I sprung for a quart of eggshell Emerald paint (answer to BM’s Aura) for the ceiling, this time going a shade lighter than the walls (instead of bright white) to test out this effect.  For the walls, I originally choose their Duration line because it was much cheaper. (Read the next lines really fast while I turn pink with embarrassment that no one but myself has caused….I’m choosing not to lie to give you, the reader, more confidence – you can’t possibly second guess yourself as much as I did!) Then I started putting it on the wall and it looked a whole shade lighter when wet.  I panicked.  The guy at the store offered to darken the paint a shade for free, so I took him up on the offer.  I put it on the wall.  I panicked again.  It was way-too-dark-neon-blue and the bathroom was claustrophobic.  I didn’t take a picture because I loathed the thought of revealing this publicly.  (At least I didn’t paint my garage doors pink, right, Dad?)  I crawled over to Home Depot in shame and bought Liquid Blue again (HD has all the famous brands’ colors in their computers) and slapped that on the walls, giving us this:

photo 1

This is pretty true to color on the left side of the photo.  You can also see our lovely Moen Caudwell fixtures.  The tile looks a little pinker than reality.

So, the color’s pretty cheerful (sky blue – like waking up in your Yosemite tent), but I think if I did it again (and I am not doing it again for a long while) I would’ve gone a little more teal to stay with the whole house color scheme or a little lighter so as not to shock sleepy guests!

 It may be ok to pick a color off of a thing to match the room to, but the house can end up looking like an easter egg if you tend to like very colorful things!  Fortunately, I can keep this in mind when I eventually repaint our hazelnut cream hallway and red office…oops.

Lesson#2: Of course, paintbrushes do not fit behind a toilet.  I am sure there is more than one way to deal with this, but I found that using an edger (which I did not like for actual edging) worked well.

edger

An edger from Home Depot. There’s a little fuzzy, washable pad that snaps into the other side.

 

Start at the bottom and work your way up, moving the edger back and forth behind the toilet by sliding it from hand to hand.  This way you don’t cover your arm in paint.  Probably a paint stick duct-taped to the back would do the trick nicely too.

Lesson #3: Painting your bathroom at night is a great reason to consider green energy.  The guest bathroom was the one room we hadn’t changed out the incandescent lightbulbs for LEDs or CFLs yet, and the plastic that I wrapped the fixture in sort of melted around the heat of the bulbs.  You’d think it wouldn’t take more than a PhD to figure this out, but apparently it does…  In case we forgot, that’s an awful lot of electrical energy getting wasted as heat.  I have since replaced the electricity-and-plastic-burning bulbs with CFLs.

I actually bought CFLs enclosed in globes, like these, which look just like regular lightbulbs (instead of funny curled up fluorescents).  These look great in the fixture, but do take 30-60 seconds to warm up completely to have full light.  I was surprised because this is the first time I have seen such significant delay.  My dad loved it when he visited: he said that when he got up in the dark to go to the bathroom it was great because it gave his eyes time to warm up to the light.  I find it minorly annoying since I’m impatient, but then I again, I’m also one of those people who type 33 seconds into the microwave because it’s faster than typing 3-0.  Anyway, once the bulb warms up, it looks great.

Lesson #4: I had more trouble with the SW Durable paint leaching under blue painters tape than Behr or Ben Moore Regal paint.  This paint seemed a bit thinner than these others.  Maybe this same property made it a bit more mold resistant?  Personal preference.  I’m not anti-SW though: The SW paint store has better hours, discounts, better brushes and a little sprayer thingy you can load any kind of paint into (not used for this project).

To check in after the paint job, we went from this:

No way around it.

To this:

photo 3

still more to go…

 

The vanity does not belong, the mirror is just in place so our guests could see themselves while I bought a new mirror and I ended up adding a few more features for convenience.  Stay tuned (or rather, tune back in):

Want to catch up?

Tiling: parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5

Bathroom countertop and the dud

 

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Refinishing a pic-a-nic table

“I say there, Boo Boo, I am in the mood for a pic-a-nic … table!”  -paraphrasing Yogi Bear

Everyone does know who Yogi bear is, right?  If he and his little pal were to take a trip from Jellystone and visit our yard, they would find a nice space for dining with their stolen pic-a-nic baskets.  Here is the saga of sanding and refinishing (and selecting a finish) our picnic table.

When we bought our house, the former owners asked us if we would like to keep their picnic table.  It was purchased circa 1952 from gypsies for two cans of peaches, two cans of tomatoes and five dollars.  Considering its rich history, its perfect fit to our porch, and the fact that it is in good condition and will probably seat 12 people, keeping it was a no brainer.  It might have even been made of a giant redwood that wasn’t protected by government yet, so all the more reason to keep it in service.  We found ourselves eating there a lot while we were doing some renovation before moving into the house and we like have dinner out there when it is still light.

Image

Yes, that is our kitchen table sitting behind the picnic table.  It was hanging out on the porch during the kitchen renovation.  And, if I ever finish tiling our bathroom, I have plans for it too!

There are two benches, but you get the idea in the photo.  The surface was worse for wear and pretty dirty – but since the surface was so rough, we couldn’t get it clean either.  After going in this circle a couple times and forcing guests to eat at it, I decided it was high time to refinish it.  Besides, nobody needs a splinter in their tush either.

Once again, sanding was the first step of the refinishing process*.  After my sanding experience with the bathroom countertop, my goal was to only sand this project once.  I fired up my little plug-in hand sander and went to town.  The light area on the left in the photo below is sanded and the other area is unsanded.

photo 2 (2)

First lesson: I have this 1/4″ sheet Ryobi hand sander.  It comes with two surfaces: a foam meant to soften the blow of sand paper that is clipped on, and a hard plastic piece that is for sticking adhesive sand paper to – at least I think that is the point of the hard plastic.  I can tell you that you should NOT stick adhesive sand paper to the foam pad, because it will remove the foam, especially at the corners.  And then your hand sander will cut nice circular groves in the wood, even if you cover the exposed hard corners with painting tape.  Fortunately, you can replace this assembly (or almost anything else you can figure out how to break) for about $1.00 by buying the spare parts here.  The fix took me all of 5 minutes and led to much higher quality surfaces.

sander

See how everything is kind of orangey?  That’s this dust AFTER I shopvac’ed the whole thing.

Anyway, I digress.  When I started sanding this picnic table, I really had no idea what type of wood it was even made from.  After removing the first couple layers, I concluded that it was redwood.  It seems that not all approve of using power tools on redwood, but I had a lot of damage to erase and a lot of area to cover so I just sanded away.  I actually didn’t have any of the issues I read about online – once again, there is no right answer for home improvement.

Lesson #2: Soft wood is much softer than hardwood.  🙂  I sanded the oak bathroom countertop in the garage for one of the repeats and didn’t generate noticeable dust.  My wrath on this picnic table, however, left piles of dust all over the drive.  I actually had to shop vac the driveway after the top AND the bottom of each bench and the table.  My clothes were also pretty gross.  I definitely took off a good 1/16-1/8″ of wood and damage in practically no time at all, which could be why folks don’t use power tools on soft woods.

I always wear a respirator and safety glasses when sanding since dust masks don’t fit my face well and I don’t like to breathe wood dust (nor 50-year-old gypsy paint dust).  It is surprisingly not good for you, especially in the large doses that this project generated.  This is kind of funny in a way since we visited Redwood National Park the weekend before undertaking this project, which is full of decomposing redwood dust!

After sanding, quite a bit of this dust clung to the table.  I did not have tack cloth, plus there was a complete coating of dust so I think it would’ve been futile.  Instead, I hauled the stuff into the yard and hosed it down with a jet attachment.  Again, I’m quite sure that I violated the many Rules of Handling Soft Woods, but it was very fast and efficient.  I have noticed that logging companies hose down the piles of logs, presumably to prevent fires, so one dose of water can’t be that bad.  I then toweled down the pieces and let them dry overnight.  The furniture seemed no worse for wear afterward. Here is a before (right) and after (left):

photo 3 (2)

Lesson #3: Redwood discolors after sanding.  The difference in the photo above is a dead giveaway, but that is 50 years.  What surprised me is that the sanded surface actually discolored slightly after only the week between sanding and refinishing.  It wasn’t too noticeable so I just plowed forward, but I did make an effort to sand and refinish the other bench and the table on the same weekend.

Lesson #4: There are many types of finishes that one can apply to wood.  I’m not an expert by any means, but here are the options I considered (read more here):

  • Polyurethene – oil-based coating, hard finish that goes over the wood.  Protects from scratches, hardens by cross-linking polymers (which means an actual chemical reaction leading to hardening), nasty to deal with
  • Poly-acrylic – water-based coating, hard finish, dries quickly, required sanding between coats, protects from scratches, hardens by cross-linking polymers
  • “Varnish” – this word is a general name for clear coatings, but also means a specific finish based on resin dissolved in solvent.  It dries and hardens as the resin evaporates.
  • Shellac – similar to varnish, but the resin is specifically derived from a insect’s secretion
  • Drying wax – hard finish, ingredients seem to vary – maybe like a drying oil?
  • Drying oil – naturally derived oil, dries as reacts to oxygen.
  • “Exterior wood finish” – typically oil-based (above), soaks in (won’t peel off), semi-transparent stain colors or no colors, weathers a little and protects the wood.  I am not totally sure what falls into this category or how they all work, but think naturally-colored porches.  I have found one water-based version.

My goal for finishing the table was to give it a durable (remember Tilley, who has no idea what is and is not hers?  Everything in our home must be “durable”) and water-resistant finish.  The table is under a covered porch so it will not see rain, but it does see pollen and want to be able to wipe that off with a wet cloth.  The durability was also important since I don’t want to redo this project anytime soon.  Along the same lines, I did not want to apply more than 2 coats of my chosen finish; while I’m sure tung oil looks nice, I was not up for 12 coats with a month of dry time.

I also wanted to try out a finish that is environmentally friendly.  Water-based products have more environmentally friendly options (and you don’t have to deal with flammable, hard-to-clean oil-based products).  I have come across two options of water-based sealers through searching around the web.  The first, Safecoat Acrylaq,  I found out about here.  I couldn’t tell how well this would weather.  When I emailed the company, I expected that I would be staining this wood (didn’t know it was redwood yet).  They were very helpful but they actually recommended another of their products, WaterShield, for outdoor furniture.  I couldn’t find this product locally so I can’t comment on it.

Instead, I used the other option that I found, Polywhey ExteriorWood Finish by Vermont Naturals in Caspian Clear.  I also found it to be a good sign that Vermont Naturals had a picture of folks finishing a picnic table on their website!  This product I COULD find locally in a paint store, except I think their stock was out of date so my can looks like this:

photo 3

On the website, it is labeled “Exterior Wood Stain”, which is perhaps a bit confusing since stain is not usually clear.  I emailed Vermont Naturals to ask about the discrepancy and they assure me that it is the same product.  It is actually made from whey, a cheese-making by-product that is usually waste.  So, we get double environmental points for repurposing waste AND not harming the environment with toxic chemicals in a paint finish.  For this surface area, I used two quart cans completely.  I applied it with an angled Purdy paintbrush in the middle of the afternoon.  I mention the time of day because it was HOT in direct sunlight.  The finish dried quickly on the furniture but it also left my brush a little tacky, even after cleaning, since it was drying at the top while I was finishing.  I would recommend using this finish out of direct sunlight for the comfort of your paint brush.

The finish went on purple and even milky in some places, which was a little scary at the time.  After drying, it had a nice clear color.  The wood looked a little darker than right after sanding, but this is standard for clear finishes.

photo 2

The purplish tint only lasted about 10 minutes before drying away.

I liked this product.  It was quite easy to work with, did not smell at all (no respirator needed for terrible fumes!), dried quickly and left a nice coating.  More like an exterior porch finish than a polyurenthene, the polywhey soaked into the wood (that’s the “penetrating” part) and left a subtly shiny finish.  This particular finish is not supposed to be as “hard” as a polyurethene finish, but it is perfect for an unassuming, outdoor picnic table with a history.  As to appearance, the coating isn’t as reflective as the Minwax polyacrylic that I used on the bathroom countertop.  I did not sand between coats like I would’ve with the hard finish and had no issues.  In fact, this finish did not bubble at all.  The can says to wait 2-3 days for the second coat to dry before using, but we put a water glass down after 5 days and it left a ring 😦 .  I would recommend waiting a week to avoid any issues – water glasses do not leave marks anymore.  Spilled water even beads up, as advertised:

photo 2 (3)

Here’s the finished product:

photo 1 (3)

Much nicer than the before.  (The kitchen table moved back in and now there’s backerboard there…)  Here’s a direct before and after:

photo 1 (2)photo 1 (3)

*Want to read about my first experience refinishing and appreciate what is possibly the ugliest piece of re-finished furniture in the blogsphere?  Try here, here , here and finally here.  I’ve published every mistake I’ve made so you can get off scot-free.

Physics in the kitchen – our induction stove and other appliances

Our kitchen is finished.  And it’s awesome.  And a lot of that awesome is our induction range!

Before and after:

2014-01-22 08.26.42 photo 5

Yes, it looks much cooler, but it is also way more practical.  A big part of that is the appliances that we bought.  We actually had to buy these before the cabinets.  Although we ordered fairly standard-sized appliances anyway, the cabinets have to fit around them.  Our priorities were:

  1. Saving energy (more of that whole I-lived-in Berkeley)
  2. Increasing cooking speed (we weren’t sure this was actually possible with appliances.  Spoiler: it is.)
  3. Fitting a turkey in the oven come Thanksgiving.
  4. Supporting American companies when possible.

Our most exciting appliance purchase was our GE induction range.  In fact, if it wasn’t for the range, this post would be a waste of time.  Induction cooking is really fun: instead of applying thermal energy (aka heat), the stove has AC current in a coil below a ferromagnetic (think iron, steel NOT copper) pot.  Through induction, the magnetic pot begins to have eddy (or swirling) currents within the sides, which heat up the pot.  The stove itself only heats up because it is in contact with the pot.  While I like physics, equations have never been my thing so we will stop here before the math…sorry Maxwell.  Induction stoves used to be very expensive but have gotten much cheaper over the last few years.

photo 4There she is – right in the middle!  Note that a glass top electric range looks pretty much the same from this angle.

This induction stove means FAST cooking – this I can say firsthand.  It now takes us literally 2 minutes to boil a dutch oven full of water for pasta.  This cuts off at least 10 minutes from dinner if we are boiling anything!  In terms of energy efficiency, induction stoves are even more responsive than gas, but over twice as energy efficient (government’s evaluation here) coming in at 84% vs. 40% for gas.  I have had no problems getting high enough heat for stir frying.   It was also convenient that we didn’t have to plumb gas into our kitchen (previously an electric stove).

It is much more difficult to burn hands on the stove since the surface itself barely gets hot.  I actually moved a boiling pot off of the surface to see how hot is is.  I can actually touch the surface quickly without burning myself within 5 seconds of moving the pot.  That said, I still wouldn’t want to sit on it or anything at this point.

All of our pots worked except for one cheap saucepan and two Calphalon non-stick frying pans.  We didn’t have any copper, aluminum or ceramic pots.  Most interestingly though was that a cheap $20 stockpot from Target in 2007 works just fine.  All-clad and Rachel Ray non-stick pans (and likely others, but these are the replacements we bought) work great with the stove.  The trick is to look for heavy stainless steel bottoms.  Cast iron is maybe the best choice of all, but I cannot tell a difference in heating rates between all of these pots.

Finally there is space for three racks inside of the range oven – plenty of room for a turkey and side dishes!  Our range fulfilled all 4 conditions of appliance shopping.

After picking the range, we kind of went with the flow (GE profile series) for the rest of the appliances.   I report about them here, but we were pretty ambivalent in comparison to the range.  Like I mentioned before, the microwave range hood power is a little low (although I think all microwave hoods are), but we would buy it again because our kitchen is so small.  The refrigerator is counter depth, again because of our tiny kitchen.  French doors with freezer below seem to be all the rage these days…so far so good.  The ice dispenser seems very sophisticated.  The previous side-by-side fridge was annoying since we couldn’t fit a casserole dish in it very well.  Our dishwasher is a Bosch because the nice lady at the local appliance store said it was less likely to break…  This sounded like a good reason to change up brands.  It’s actually so quiet that it has a little red light to prove that it is a running.

photo 3

Faucet, sink and dishwasher.  The sink seems twice as deep as the old 1950’s sink!  That banana hook is pretty cool too.  And yes, we have a vent cover now.

We also needed a faucet and a sink.  My father (hi dad), who has replaced more than his fair share of faucets, recommends Moen or Delta.  There are a ton of faucet options, but Moen, Groehe and Hans Groehe were the recommended faucet brands by the fancy faucet store that our contractor sent us to (in the end, we bought from Amazon).  Of these three, Moen is made in the US – there is a nice list of American-made faucets here.  Interestingly, Moen and some other brands seems to have big-box store models and order-only models.  Sometimes the big box store models are made in China and sometimes they aren’t – just something to consider.  After our rather sketchy experience with Delta, we opted for a Moen kitchen faucet as well, namely the pull-out Moen Arbor.  We like the pull out feature for easy rinsing.  In CA, it is actually law that new faucets must be low flow – without the sprayer head, I don’t think we could actually get enough water flowing to rinse off dishes.  With the sprayer head, it seems to work great.

The sink is a Franke sink, which we did buy from the fancy faucet store.  We learned that cheap sinks kind of echo when you hit them, but this sink sounds nice and sturdy.  Shopping for sinks is similar to shopping for watermelons but it seems that a good sink sounds like an underripe melon.  We like having a big, deep, under counter sink to fit everything  (no more holding baking pans at weird angles to clean them off!).  We also got a sink that holds a wire shelf.  I like to use it to set the pasta strainer on it.

Buy induction!  It’s awesome.  For the first time in our kitchen, watched pots do boil.

Tile tie-up

Our kitchen tile backsplash moved in the day after the countertop install.  Selecting the backsplash proved to be one of the most difficult parts of the process for me/us, which I’ll explain below, including the results of my extensive searching for made-in-the-USA and sustainably-resourced tile.  To back up a step, we went from here:

photo 1

to here:

photo 4

Here is a close-up of the backsplash underneath the pass-through:

photo 5

The 3×6 white tile is Frost by Fireclay and the blue accent is an AlysEdwards tile called Gigi’s Groovy Glass in Nocturnal Sea.  While I now find myself just staring at the pretty backsplash, it was definitely not a pretty process to get here.  [And in case you don’t make it to the end of this post, please note that design was not exactly my creation.]

Lesson #1: I was not passionate about tile.  Bryan was not passionate about tile either.

Lesson #2: I am happiest with decisions where I can consider a number of options that meet certain criteria and lock quickly onto one as my clear preferred option.  This is what happened for the countertop, for example.  It is also how we got our dog and our house and how I chose my job and picked my undergraduate school and graduate school, but I digress….  The problem is that since I had no passion in this area (Lesson #1), it was very difficult for me (since Bryan checked out of this decision..see Lesson #1) to apply my usual (if not un-restrained) criteria.

Lesson #3: There is a HUGE selection of tile out there.  It is like choosing bratwurst in Bavaria or snowflakes at the north pole or pizza in Chicago.

For lack of other options, we started trying to narrow things down with our two themes: made in the U.S.A. and environmentally sound.  Our white cabinets + black counter can go with almost anything, so since we weren’t passionate about anything, there was no obvious choice for design right off.

Below are the brands of tile made in the U.S.A. I found that are (or are partly) made in the states (Lesson #4).  There are surely more companies out there, but I just didn’t find them via internet or phone.

tile-pat

  1. Fireclay Tile (which is actually locally handmade in San Jose, just a couple miles from my office.  You can order everything online, by phone, in person or at some distributors.)
  2. Florida Tile (guess where…this is a large company that works through distributors)
  3. Crossville Tile (Tennessee; ditto as far as size)
  4. Sonoma Tile (handcrafted in California, many distributors.)
  5. Dal Tile (actually a huge company that has products everywhere, but has a nice list here of which lines are made in the U.S.A.)
  6. Stonepeak Ceramics (didn’t feel quite right for our humble kitchen)
  7. Heath Ceramics (Also in CA, kind of the same idea as Fireclay, but I think it costs more so I didn’t explore – plus Fireclay already proved to be very helpful)
  8. Check this list, which has a couple brands that I didn’t explore,
  9. Modwalls sells a US made line that is actually made by Clayhaus in Oregon.  You can buy directly from Clayhaus (Modwall’s recycled materials are made in China apparently.)

I also explored how to get tile that is heavily recycled.  Ceramics and porcelain are extremely durable, which is great while they are in your house.  But, once tiles, toilets, tubs and trivets get thrown out, they do not decompose in landfills.  Once I thought about this, I realized that using recycled tile is an easy way to make a big impact.  It turns out that many brands have lines that are made of some fraction of recycled material and some companies actively try to have sustainable manufacturing processes (like recycling plant water for example).

green tile2*

Lesson #5: Recycled tiles can be from “pre-consumer” or “post-consumer” waste material.  “Pre-consumer” waste is easier for manufacturers to use and is typically scrap from within their own factories.  “Post-consumer” waste is much preferred, since this is stuff that is getting directly diverted from land fills.  However, it is much less common to find any and especially large amounts of this material in tiles.  And, the catch for the consumer is, of course, that harder to make + less common = more expensive.  In the end, more recycled content of any kind is better than no recycled content.

Lesson #6: Tile stores/showrooms/distributors have no idea if their tile is recycled or not.  Even in Northern CA, I kept feeling like I was the first person who had ever asked that question.  Here’s what I found out via phone & internet.

  1. Fireclay Tile – their Debris Series used over 70% recycled content, with over 50% from post-consumer materials.  This is far and away the best I found on the internet (although, if you find something better, let me know). I will continue to praise them below.  They also have a recycled glass tile line that uses 100% locally-sourced recycled glass.
  2. Florida Tile has at least 40% recycled content, but it seems to be pre-consumer.  They also monitor their resource usage in manufacturing.
  3. Crossville Tile has a variety of 5-50% pre-consumer content lines, but some lines have no recycled content.
  4. Dal Tile has a drop down menu where you can look up which lines have what type of and how much recycled content.  Note that when you do this (at least in Firefox), none of the links that pop up work, but if you open a separate tab you can search for the line and get function links.
  5. There are a few interesting links on this website, although the only one not listed here is 5-15% Ultraglas and the all-recycled, hand-made glass tiles from Bedrock in Seattle.
  6. Oceanside Glass Tile is made from up to 80% recycled glass content – it looks like this is post-consumer materials.  An informed source let me know that they manufacture in Mexico.
  7. Clayhaus‘s modern ceramic tiles are handcrafted in Oregon by a husband wife team (second generation ceramists).

This is all I have been able to find, although my suspicion is that many manufacturers do have recycled lines, but do not post the information prominently.

Lesson #7: The most sustainable tile was also handmade.  Are small companies more environmentally conscious?  Is it just easier for them to change materials?  Is it too expensive to recycle for mass production?  I just don’t know why bigger companies aren’t pushing the envelope for post-consumer ceramic recycling.

The good news for me was that the first list and the second list do overlap.  Most of the recycled tile that I list is made in the U.S.A., with the exception of some lines from Dal.  There are likely European tile companies with recycled content, but I haven’t had success in finding them.

Lesson #8: Fireclay Tile is far and away the most sustainable option and is made locally (or at least in the USA if you don’t happen to live in the bay area).  They were also very easy to work with and used to being accommodating since most of their customers do not live 5 miles away.  They offered to customize glazes for me.  If you aren’t local, they will send 5 free samples direct to your home!  Finally, while it is not the cheapest tile on the market, their prices for their high-quality, handmade field tile starts lower than some low-end (not to mention high-end) unsustainable mosaic tiles.  I found that, while I didn’t start out aesthetically-motivated, I actually can be pretty excited about tile.  (And no, they don’t have any idea that I’m writing this.)

Once I realized that we would still have to specify tile style from one of these lines, I started looked at tile in other people’s kitchens.  Both in person and on Houzz.com, I kept finding examples where it looked like a beautiful countertop was selected totally independently of a beautiful backsplash and the two rights make a wrong.  I won’t post examples here because that is insulting, but to each our own, the result of an over-zealous backsplash+counter is distracting and sloppy.

I found that the backsplash/granite combinations that I liked were simple like Centsational Girl’s white on white or House Beautiful’s accent colors or, better yet, the backsplash tied different parts of the kitchen together like Kelly’s slate.  My choices of white cabinets and black countertops made any creams or earthtones pretty much a no go.  It was looking like the only timeless backsplash left to me would be some form of white.

A little more Houzz surfing and, after all of my tile-sourcing research, the design decision was, once again, made in a split second.  Epiphany Kitchens had cleverly tied the blue accents in a blue-in-the-night granite countertop in with the backsplash while preserving timelessness of a white kitchen and adding a little interest to the wall.  So, Epiphany Kitchens, because you are far away in Michigan, I hope you don’t mind that I reused your design out here in California.

Lesson #9: Typically, tiles with high quantities of recycled content are not made in white since recycled materials are not necessarily white.  Fireclay has solved this problem.  Their recycled tile bodies are actually brown but they change the colors of their tiles by using different glazes –  the white tile in the photos is actually a brown ceramic!  I can’t even tell up close.  [And to pick that particular shade of white, I polled my office of engineers – a very discerning crowd of gentlemen it turns out.]

The decision was final: our kitchen backsplash would be made with Fireclay.  I won’t lie that I first had to come to terms with paying good money for the backsplash knowing all the while that cheap, porcelain-tree-killing, unpatriotic tile would have been less.  The blue mosaic accent in the picture cost 1.5 times the amount as the white tile, and if you stare at it too long, looks cheaper and less elegant than the 3×6 Fireclay tile.  (Plus, AlysEdwards tile is made un-sustainably in China.)

Each Fireclay Frost tile has just a little bit of it’s own character (see my goofy cartoons above for a close-up).  Although I never thought I would say this about white tile, the Fireclay tiles are beautiful, even more elegant and exciting in their simplicity than many far more expensive backsplashes I have seen.  My phone photos do not do it justice.

photo 5

(And this is from the girl who started out not caring about tiles…)

By the way, you’ll also have to pick grout type and color.  If you install it yourself, you will also have to pick a brand, which I can’t speak to as of yet.  But if you make it that far in the tile selection process, I don’t expect that decision to be an issue.

Update: a special thank you to the Fireclay team for reading my post and helping out with research on locally-grown, sustainable tile.  While the research was entirely my own before they saw it, they were able to contribute additional facts which I added.  The views presented here are entirely my own.

*Kermit the Frog and the Muppets were, of course, behind this observation