Home Improvement

Ask the Remodeler: Why you should choose only certified recycled products for your reno

Plus, the correct insulation for a dirt basement. Send your questions to [email protected]

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Is closed-cell spray foam insulation a good fit for a dirt basement?

Q. We are planning to remodel our kitchen in the next year. We need to replace the cabinets, countertops, and floors (installed in 1973). Do you have suggestions for choices for the countertops and flooring that would be the least harmful to our environment?

K.M., Westborough

A. There are a lot of products out there for kitchens and baths that are eco-friendly — and unfortunately, a lot of fraud as well. Recycled products are key but have to be certified not to have off-gassing properties. Countertops can be glass, concrete, and even recycled paper or wood. Quartz is the most popular; it can be made to look like granite but not have the environmental impact of quarrying. Cabinets can be bamboo, recycled-wood laminates, and composites (again, no off-gassing). We donate kitchens that we have removed to install new ones, and the old ones can be purchased through local co-ops. There are a lot of flooring products that include bamboo, cork, and laminates that have also been vetted for no off-gassing.


You are in luck trying to do a sustainable renovation in this era. There are quite a few local resources and retailers that specialize in eco-friendly materials. Many of these can source everything you are looking for, as well as paint, tile, lighting, and more. We work with a company in Newton that not only sources eco-friendly materials, but also from companies that are good corporate citizens: They pay a living wage, give back to their communities, and generally take care of their employees and families.

Q. Our home was built in 1925. Under the older part of the home, the basement is dirt and exposed ledge. Our winter heating costs are very high. An insulation contractor suggested we cover the entire area with closed-cell spray-in insulation. I have read a little about it, but I am hesitant. The area gets very little foot traffic except for the occasional electrician or plumber. Is this the correct course of action?


A. In this case, I would not recommend closed-cell insulation anywhere except under the floorboards and around the perimeter sill beam where the wood framing meets the foundation. That is a notorious place for drafts. Regarding the basement floor: It is a constant source of cool moisture, and I would recommend a vapor barrier and a poured-concrete floor.


Mark Philben is the project development manager at Charlie Allen Renovations in Cambridge. Send your questions to [email protected]. Questions are subject to editing.


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