Folsom's Rainbow Bridge

Folsom's Rainbow Bridge
Rainbow Bridge crossing the American River in Folsom, CA

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Bath Tubs and Chinese Granite

Hello and welcome back to Local Fruit.

One of the fun things about designing and building or remodeling a home is choosing stuff. Every single item and surface requires decisions: what style, what materials to use and of course, what colors do we want in each room? These basic decisions are based on individual preference, budget, or sometimes future plans. In our project, the priorities are budget, energy efficiency, sustainability, and high indoor air quality – low VOC’s.

One thing I really enjoy in the winter is a good hot bath. In the new house I planned a claw foot tub, and budgeted accordingly. We adjusted our fixture selections in other areas in order to afford a claw foot tub. After moving to Folsom many years ago, I fell in love with a store called Mac the Antique Plumber and have returned over the years to look at tubs, climb in a few, and plan the next tub. (I said I really like baths!) Recently when talking with a friend about tubs, she mentioned that she no longer wanted her old claw foot tub and that it was available in exchange for the cost of moving it downstairs.

Mac the Antique Plumber both sells and refinishes tubs, so I compared the cost of moving and refinishing an older tub with the cost of a new tub of the same size. The new cast iron tubs are now made in China and shipped worldwide. I was amazed to learn that it would cost almost as much to follow my conscience and do the right thing for the environment-reuse an existing tub- as to buy a new tub. The total cost difference between the new tub and a refinished tub is only about $150, before sales tax.

It is incredible that the refinishing cost (mostly labor) is about equal to the cost of a new Chinese tub including freight charges. On Craigslist I found a few tubs for sale that when purchased, moved and refinished would match the cost of a new tub. My friend decided to keep her tub, and now the hunt is on to find a local tub in good condition. Although I would prefer to buy American, or at least support local labor, I don’t know if we can justify paying more to do so. Globalization and offshore labor has a significant affect the economics of building our little home.

My husband and I have also enjoyed looking at solid surfaces for the kitchen. We both really like soapstone, but the cost is probably beyond our budget. We frequently visit stores and warehouses that have granite slabs and have fun looking at beautiful stone slabs in the warehouses. In researching granite and air quality, I learned that some of the granite sold in the US emits radon. I also learned that China is one of the world’s largest producers of granite slabs and has a rating system to classify the emissions from Granite. Many other nations rate granite emissions and control the uses of different granite as interior building materials.

The Solid Surface Alliance website states:
“Radiation will vary in different granite materials, so much so that the Chinese enacted radiation standards years ago and actually prohibit the export of the safer, lower radiation level granite. Think about that, any Chinese granite imported into the United States or elsewhere is considered too dangerous to be put in a Chinese dwelling. The health risks from granite radiation are small yet not as small as other health risks. For instance, the granite in the Thomas Jefferson building in Washington D.C., will give you an incremental cancer risk 50 times greater than the Super Fund clean up trigger levels.”
Food for thought? Absolutely. If a home has granite counter that emit radon, synthetic vinyl flooring and a gas range, the indoor air quality may be unhealthy; even more so if the home has an attached garage. On January 12, 2010 the California Building Standards Commission unanimously adopted the Green Building Standards (CALGREEN) which will further reduce construction materials emissions and improve ventilation and filtration in all residential and commercial construction.

We are trying to stick to our priorities of budget, durability, and air quality to guide us in this decision. I honestly have no idea where we will get a tub or what counter surfaces we will finally choose. The adventure of learning about this stuff is half the fun, and I am about to resume hunting for a tub. Do you know anyone with an extra iron tub?

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