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Limited Edition Brick

Brick It cuts salvaged bricks into 1/2" veneers suitable for interior use, exterior siding, or floor tiles… Read more
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  • Using materials recovered from the waste stream typically results in less waste, pollution, and energy use than using virgin materials. From an environmental standpoint, post-consumer is typically considered preferable to pre-consumer recycled content because post-consumer recycled materials are more likely to have been diverted from landfills.

    In some cases, we consider products with recycled content green but with some caveats regarding where they should be used. For example, rubber flooring made from recycled automobile tires should not be used in most fully enclosed indoor spaces due to the likelihood of VOC emissions.

    Recycling can have downsides. For example, some studies show that curbside collection programs and some recycling processes use more energy than they save. Closed-loop recycling is generally preferable to “down-cycling,” in which a lower-grade material is produced—but due to contamination of waste streams and the difficulty of extracting high-value ingredients, down-cycling may be as good as it gets. At times recycling can re-introduce hazardous components. Some products, like copper and aluminum, include a high level of recycled content as a matter of course—which we applaud, but don’t consider justification for listing in GreenSpec. As more complete life-cycle information on recycled materials and processes becomes available, we use that to increase our scrutiny of recycled products.

  • Whenever we can reuse a product instead of producing a new one from raw materials--even if those raw materials are recycled--we save on resource use and energy. Many salvaged materials used in buildings (bricks, millwork, framing lumber, plumbing fixtures, and period hardware) are sold on a local or regional basis by salvage yards. It can be challenging to ensure that salvaged material can meet performance requirements, so it’s common to see this material used decoratively (when doing so, watch out for hazards like lead paint).

    Also included in this category are products made from reclaimed wood. Reclaimed wood is usually salvaged from buildings slated for demolition, abandoned railroad trestles, and “sinker logs” that sank decades ago during river-based log drives. It can also be obtained from trees that have been recently harvested from urban or suburban areas (such as disease-killed trees). Reclaimed wood is often available in species, coloration, and wood quality that is no longer available in newly harvested timber. In some cases, reclaimed wood suppliers have only limited quantities with matching coloration or weathering patterns; ample lead time and accurate materials estimates can help ensure the availability of the desired wood. Lowering the uniformity standards for finished wood can also increase the potential for use of reclaimed wood. As with other resources, the supply of reclaimed wood is limited. High demand for some kinds of reclaimed wood can lead to unique concerns, such as the premature demolition of historic barns and other buildings, or "sinker log" reclamation practices that are illegal or compromise river bottoms. The Rainforest Alliance's SmartWood program is available for reclaimed wood as well as for FSC wood, although few salvage operations are currently certified. In the absence of certification, take a close look at company protocols to ensure that reclaimed wood is appropriately sourced.

Brent Ehrlich
Products Editor

Brick It cuts salvaged bricks into 1/2" veneers suitable for interior use, exterior siding, or floor tiles. A wide range of colors is available, but availability is limited by salvage stock.

Brick is a durable building material, but it is fired at high temperatures, resulting in significant embodied energy. Some brick products are manufactured using less energy-intensive processes; there are others that safely incorporate waste and recycled materials; and reusing brick will extend its service life.

Products listed here use low-temperature manufacturing processes, incorporated recycled waste products, or are salvaged responsibly from old buildings for reuse in brick veneer. Note that not all salvaged, or “reclaimed” brick is suitable for reuse. Salvaged brick needs to be carefully removed from environmentally sound buildings to insure the bricks do not contain toxins or are damaged structurally. And “Salmon” brick taken from the interior of old buildings is too soft, fragile, and vulnerable to moisture for reuse as exterior brick veneer. If purchasing or specifying reclaimed brick, make sure you know what you're getting, and that it meets your project's needs.

The environmental impact of tile depends on both material and application method.

Materials include ceramic, stone, glass, plastic, and metal. GreenSpec lists products with reduced impact, with at least 50% recycled content, or other reduced environmental footprint relative to the norm.

  • Ceramic and recycled-glass tile are inherently low-toxic, low-emitting, waterproof, durable finish materials for flooring, walls, and other applications. While ceramic tile is somewhat energy-intensive to manufacture, the materials involved are relatively abundant and mined with relatively low impact.

  • Plastic tile is typically inexpensive, and appropriate in wet areas, but is not always durable enough for heavy traffic areas. Look for products with textures and open-weave construction when good slip-resistance is needed. Recycled PVC tile is widely available, and is not listed here due to the availability of PVC-free alternatives.

  • Metal tile made from recycled metals is available for countertops, tables, backsplashes, and walls.

Tile application methods can be a source of indoor air quality problems. Adhesives and mortars can have high VOC levels or chemicals of concern, and poor installation can lead to mold hazards.

  • GreenSpec looks for products that are designed for installation without adhesives or mortar (see Tiling Adhesives).

In 2011 NSF International released a standard, Green Squared, for sustainable tiling. When the market has begun to adopt this standard, GreenSpec will revisit our criteria for tiling and consider requiring certification to this standard.

LEED Credits

MRc3: Materials Reuse

MRc3.1: Materials Reuse

MRc4: Recycled Content

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