The flooring industry began experimenting with new materials and finishes a decade ago to meet higher environmental and indoor health standards. If you live or work in an older building, there is a good chance you have wood floors with high formaldehyde levels and some asbestos and lead lurking in the air. Pollutants can remain in the air and on surfaces for long periods of time, especially in home environments with inadequate ventilation and/or high temperature and humidity levels. Though modern manufacturing has phased out the most harmful chemicals there are still many products in the market using toxins that off-gas into your indoor air.
The term ‘green’ has been deceptively applied to many building products so let’s clear up what actually constitutes a conscionable product. After all, if you have made the decisionto bring these products in to your interiors, you want assurance ‘green’ is more than a marketing enticement.
There are two things to consider; the environmental impact of the product and the indoor health impact on occupants. How a product is obtained, manufactured, shipped, installed, sealed, maintained and disposed of, matters to conscientious consumers and building and design professionals as much as human health concerns.
Brief Overview Best Eco Friendly Floors
1. Sustainable and eco-friendly
a. Wood – FSC-certified forests, reclaimed, recycled.
b. Cork, eucalyptus, bamboo, sisal, seagrass, wool. All naturally self-renewing and/or plentiful, fast growing resources.
2. Contains recycled content and has end of life cycle recyclability
a. Linoleum – sawdust and linseed oil. Best alternative to vinyl.
b. Rubber – reclaimed non-biodegradable rubber. Mostly used in garages, gymnasiums, children’s play areas and clinics.
c. All materials that are reused/repurposed and can be re-recycled or broken down into new composites.
3. Small carbon footprint
a. How much pollutant energy did it take to harvest, process, package and transport?
4. Low or no VOCs (volatile organic compounds)
a. Choose naturally materials, oils and compounds for surface, binders, sealants and maintenance.
b. Even with low-VOCs, air out interior spaces after installation and before occupation to limit off-gassing effects.
5. End of Life Cycle
a. Reusable or biodegradable. Take nothing or as little as possible to the dump. If not repurposing, take to a local rebuilding center or check too see if manufacturer has a product reclaiming service (many do, at no charge).
The good news is there are now a lot of green products in the market you can select from without sacrificing the desired design aesthetic. If you have a local or regional manufacturer, product designer or custom design shop, all the better. You will put money back in to the community, have more personal consultation, and stay within a 500 mile ‘green transport’ radius.
If seeking alternative design, there are endless ready-to-install and customizable options. Once new formulas for standard products were in place, creativity took the lead. Whether your material of choice is wood, cork, rubber, clay, wool or other, you can find it in many shapes, sizes, patterns, colors and finishes available. You can choose something more traditional or create an exciting pattern. Installation costs are similar to non-green materials but you will tend to pay comparatively lower material costs.
The natural elasticity of cork makes them especially comfortable underfoot. Cork is inherently hypo-allergenic with the added built-in benefits of thermal and acoustic insulation, fire resistance, insect repellence and they recover well from marks left by furniture or high heels. No trees are chopped down to harvest cork. The outer bark used is replenished every three years. Cork comes in planks and different tile sizes, from ‘penny’ to 24×24 squares. If you find it too bland, check out some of the custom pattern designs others have pushed the barriers with.
Bamboo grows to maturity in 4 years and is 13 percent harder than maple and 27 percent harder than northern red oak. It lasts longer and can withstand more use than conventional hardwood floors. The floors are naturally resistant to water, mildew, and insects, and they are sustainable since bamboo grows quickly and abundantly. Floating Bamboo floors can be installed over virtually any sub-floor, saving you money and time in the process. Be cautious with high humidity areas and though softer under foot, heavy furniture can cause indentations.
The growth rate is less than bamboo, but at 10 years maturity rate with large international growth regions, it still a highly sustainable source. It is 20% harder than typical red oak with a natural wood grain pattern and is offered in a variety of premium pigmented colors and styles. Finish with multiple top coats of low-VOC, commercial-grade and odorless urethane for lasting quality. Engineered planks or click together tiles are best for higher traffic and humidity locations.
Whether you reuse wood, stone, tile or brick from a remodel project, a recycled building products center or distributor, you will save money on supply and prevent unnecessary dumping. All can be sanded, polished, stained and reconfigured for an entirely new look. Make sure to check for formaldehyde coatings on wood. Usually sanding or dissolving will do the trick.
There are many carpeting tile companies serving both the residential and commercial markets. All have taken sustainability seriously and use recycled nylon, wool and poly blends. The patterns are endless so never visit just one source. All have material reclaiming services if you want to replace all tiles or just a few if damage occurs. That’s another bonus. Replacement costs are very low if only a few tiles need to be replaced. For full carpeting, wool is best for its natural hypo-allergenic, fire and mold resistant properties. For area rugs…go wild. From sisal to rubber, global artisans have broken all barriers.
For flooring, manufacturers have created tile, carpeting and laminates from renewable, remnant, post-production and repurposed materials. Forbo Marmoleum is a great example for linoleum, using saw dust and linseed oil. Laminates are the top layer of engineered wood planks and tiles. They are lighter in weight and on bank account, easy to install and highly durable.
There is so much to know and so much more on the horizon. If you want to learn more about green flooring and all related product categories and green industry news, here are a few links.