In a world of dwindling resources, shrinking forests and threatened ecological habitats, it is more important than ever to embrace sustainable, environmentally sound alternatives, and find ways to reduce waste. In my quest to become a full-fledged locavore, and make my consumption patterns support my local economy in as large part as possible, I was exhilarated to find a great-looking, locally made product called Torzo Surfaces. Owned by Specialty Polymers, a family owned business based in Woodburn, Oregon, it uses its waterbased acrylic polymers to infuse recycled FSC and SFI-certified wood fibers, and agricultural by-products like hemp, sorghum, and wheat husks. The result is an enticing series of six visually intriguing, decorative and very durable interior surface panels that can be used for anything from flooring and cabinetry to countertops and furniture.
Aside from the acrylic polymer matrix (which in itself always fills me with suspicion as to its green-ness, water based or not), the six panels contain between 50% – 75% post-consumer fibers which makes them a valuable product whether you are going for LEED certification, or just trying to make conscientious environmental choices. Although the panels are water resistant, as they are somewhat porous, they are not completely water- or stain-proof, so are not to be used in exterior applications. As part of proper finishing, TorZo requires “…. that a hard sealer and top coat, such as a catalyzed lacquer, varnish or polyurethane, etc, are applied”. It should be sprayed on to achieve the cleanest possible look. A “full finish” will fill, and thus eliminate, all pits in the surface – a step which is crucial for horizontal applications.
The composite panels stand up very well to the Janka hardness test, which is a test that measures the force required to embed a slightly larger than centimeter-sized steel ball halfway into the surface. In other words, it measures the resistance of the surface to denting and wear. TorZo surfaces range between 1,800 lbs and 5,000 lbs. Compare that to the typical hardwoods of maple and oak, which measure in at about 1,200 lbs. Despite the exceptional Janka ranking of the TorZo surfaces – if you take a sharp object to it hard and long enough, it will scratch. In that regard, it will not hold up quite as well as granite or quartz, but it will take considerable effort to damage it. The panels can be curved, used as floors, walls ceilings, cabinetry, furniture….your imagination is your limitation. Did I mention it looks cool? Per their website, 95% of their output is currently used in commercial projects. I think this needs to change! We residential designers and remodelers need to wake up to the visual depth and beauty of this material, as well as the near endless possibilities of this domestically made treasure! I can’t help but wonder if the same technology couldn’t be applied to other abundant plant fibers here in Oregon – like that of our favorite invasive species – ivy, Pampas grass and butterfly bush, for example. Other states might be able to make use of their rampantly growing Japanese honeysuckle, etc…? Okay, I know I’m getting ahead of myself, but one can always dream, right?
To see better photos of more applications – click here!