Project One-Eleven is our non-toxic home renovation project. We’re taking an old row house that’s been serving as an office and converting it back into a residence where you’ll be able to come test mattresses and other Good Stuff. Because we’re all about the Good Stuff, we’re using non- toxic and sustainable products, materials, and processes as much as possible. We’re blogging about the process to share the joys and challenges of taking a non-toxic approach to home renovation.
Once we had finished redoing the wood floors and installing kitchen cabinets, we began considering how deep of a reno we wanted to do in the two bathrooms. Actually, the third-floor bathroom was a kitchenette when we bought the place, so we knew that it would be a big project to turn this into a master bath/laundry room.
The second-floor bathroom, on the other hand, already had a tub/shower combo, complete with tiled walls. While this room wasn’t particularly pretty (basic white 4X4 wall tile), we decided to keep much of it intact because it is fundamentally very sound and didn’t present any toxins, with one major exception: vinyl floors!
Toxic Vinyl Flooring: How Long Does it Off-Gas?
Unfortunately, the floors in both of the would-be bathrooms were vinyl, as is not unusual in many modern homes. Vinyl flooring is not only toxic, but does not age particularly well. After only a few years it can often look faded, worn, curled, and generally hideous. The ones in One-Eleven were quite “vintage”…meaning they had expired long ago. Both floors had to be replaced.
Vinyl (PVC) can off-gas for as many as twenty years, so it’s something we feel is always worth replacing. The vinyl in One-Eleven was so old (I would guess more than 30 years) that it actually had probably finished the off-gassing. Therefore, in order to get an aesthetic we liked, we only had to go over these floors with another material, rather than removing the vinyl entirely.
Non-Toxic Bathroom Floor Options
Of course, another coat of vinyl was out of the question for our project. Non-toxic flooring options include:
- Wood (learn about safe finishes here)
- Stone tile
- Ceramic tile
In an area likely to experience significant exposure to water, it is easy to decide against wood. Cork is relatively water resistant, but still not the best for bathrooms. Ditto for linoleum, which, by the way, is NOT the same as vinyl flooring, although they are often confused. (True linoleum is made from natural components like linseed oil and limestone.) Bamboo might have worked for our bathroom projects, but it too can be damaged by repeated dousings.
This left us with stone tile and ceramic tile. Ceramic and stone tile are some of the least toxic materials found in modern construction. They are also attractive, durable, highly water resistant and generally timeless. If you’re doing a bathroom renovation, either one will work beautifully.
Considering the look and feel we wanted in the house, we decided on white (Carrera) hexagonal marble tile. We chose one larger, and one smaller so the bathrooms would look different.
Choosing Non-Toxic Grout and Mortar
When it came to mortar and grout, we made sure to use only unmodified products. Modified mortar and grout contain latex additives that outgas for a short while after installation; because Daylon and I were doing the installation ourselves, we definitely wanted all materials to be toxin-free.
Installing Our Non-Toxic Tile
The second-floor bathroom installation was done with a product called Ditra-mat, which is a thin, inert, non-toxic plastic grid that covers existing floors and makes an excellent subfloor for tile installations.
Upon closer inspection, we found the structural integrity of the third-floor bathroom floor to be lacking. We decided to beef it up while providing a suitable surface for tile. We used a gypsum backer board and screwed it down with a grid pattern that resulted in a screw about every four inches. That floor is going to stay put!
We also decided to install the same tile in a 3×6 subway pattern on the walls surrounding the tub on the third floor.
In the end, we got a very durable, water resistant, non-toxic installation with a look that we loved. Here are the “after” photos of each bathroom:
We’d love to hear your thoughts, as well as your own experiences working with tile.