Can you green your mortar and sealants?

By: Kim Williamson

Green Living Image Gallery Several different types of eco-friendly mortar are available on the market, including both water- and solvent-based. See more green living pictures.

So, you're doing an eco-friendly renovation in your kitchen. You've chosen energy-efficient appliances, green floors and countertops, low-flow faucets, and now you're giving yourself a pat on the back for being so environmentally responsible. But, have you thought about the products you used on your products? For example, did you know you could purchase a countertop made of recycled materials and then reduce its "greenness" with a sealant or mortar that's, well, not so eco-friendly?

It seems like a shame to go to the trouble of researching and buying the most environmentally friendly countertops, only to have them installed with a sealant or mortar that is going to negate all of your good intentions. But it is possible to find a mortar or sealant that is green, as well. You just have to do your research and have your contractor and installer do theirs, too.


Many materials used in homebuilding -- resins, glues, mortar, caulk and sealers, for example -- contain what are called volatile organic chemicals, or VOCs [source: Salant]. These VOCs are used to enhance the products' performance and durability [source: NAHB Resource Center]. But they also damage air quality, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says that some VOCs are suspected of causing or known to cause cancer in humans [source: EPA].

Some states do require contractors use low-VOC products, but in others they might not use a low- or no-VOC sealant unless you ask them to. One reason is the price; a standard tube of sealant can run you around $2.50, while a no-VOC sealant costs about $8 [source: Miller]. Or, your contractor might not use a low- to no-VOC sealant because contractors tend to stick with products they know and have used before. Ten years ago, it was hard to find low- to no-VOC mortars and sealants. Thanks to the focus on green practices and the enforcement of these practices, these eco-friendly products are increasingly available and of better quality today. But, the building industry still has some catching up to do.

There are a few other things you need to know when you're selecting a green mortar or sealant. Several different types are available on the market, including both water- and solvent-based. Determine which kind you need for your job, or whether it even makes a difference. Also, know that a low- to no-VOC mortar or sealant takes longer to cure, or set. Keep this in mind when planning, and make sure your contractor knows. The good news is a low-VOC sealant will work just as well as a chemical-based sealant.

Green mortars and sealants are gaining more appeal, with help from states setting more guidelines to protect the air quality. Manufacturers are also educating customers and homebuilders on the benefits of these products. In a few years, they may very well be the standard.



Lots More Information

Related Articles

  • Chiras, Dan. "Eco-Friendly Tile." Mother Earth News. Feb./March 2009. Issue 232. P96-101.(Dec. 17, 2010).
  • The Eco Market. "Eco Friendly Countertops." (Dec. 16, 2010).
  • Kraeulter, Tom. "Green Kitchen Countertops: Environmentally-friendly Options." Feb. 17, 2009. (Dec. 16, 2010).
  • Miller, Stephanie. "Clean Air: Low-VOC Caulks, sealants and adhesives Aare Gaining Acceptance Among Contractors." Jan. 1, 2004. (Dec. 21, 2010).
  • NAHB Research Center. "Low- or No-VOC Paints, Finishes and Adhesives." (Dec. 21, 2010)
  • Salant, Katherine. "How to Go Green When Choosing Countertops." The Washington Post. Nov. 21, 2009. (Dec. 14, 2010).
  • U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. "An Introduction to Indoor Air Quality (IAQ)." Nov. 29, 2010. (Dec. 14, 2010).
  • U.S. Green Building Council's Green Home Guide. "Choose the Best Countertop Material for Your Home and the Environment." Sept. 3, 2009. (Dec. 16, 2010).