Our article Choosing Eco-Friendly Carpet for your Home, gives you some tips for choosing carpets that are, if not biodegradable or made from postconsumer recycled materials, less likely to off-gas in your home. Besides carpeting, there are many flooring options on the market today, with materials ranging from laminates and tile, to hardwoods and cork; not to mention the options made from recycled materials. It's important to choose the right type of flooring for your home, not simply for its aesthetic value – though that's certainly a key factor – or because your family's health and overall comfort depends on it, but because it's one more opportunity to be kind to the earth.
RECLAIMED WOOD FLOORING
This is, quite possibly, the greenest of the green flooring options currently available. The wood is usually harvested from lake floors, riverbeds, old barns, and construction sites. But some companies, such as Mountain Lumber, stick to urban salvage and harvest timber from abandoned factories, demolition projects, and breweries. Using reclaimed wood in your home not only saves new trees from being chopped down, it keeps usable wood from going to waste. Consider the following when shopping for reclaimed wood flooring:
• Flooring labeled “vintage” can actually be new wood that's been distressed to look old, so you should ask to be sure.
FSC-CERTIFIED WOOD FLOORING
If you find that reclaimed wood is too expensive, but you still want authentic wood floors in your home, be sure to look for Forest Stewardship Council-certified flooring that's sourced from American forests. Access FSC-certified options at Home Depot and Lowe's home improvement centers, or look at EcoTimber.com, which offers both FSC-certified and reclaimed wood flooring.
This material has really kicked off the ground in the last decade, emerging as an attractive alternative to conventional wood flooring. This rapidly renewable grass (that's right, it's not technically wood) matures in a mere 3-6 years compared to the hardwoods used for traditional flooring, which can take up to 50 years. Some trusted sources include Teragren (Teragren.com) Bamboo Hardwoods (BambooHardwoods.com), and the FSC-certified (Plyboo.com). Consider the following when shopping for bamboo flooring:
- Cheaper bamboo floors might dent more easily, so look for a brand that uses more mature bamboo stalks and comes with a lengthy warranty; you'll have a better sense of its durability.
- New formaldehyde-free bamboo flooring products are currently under development, so be sure to ask questions as you shop in order to find products that are low in volatile organic compounds (VOCs).
LAMINATED & ENGINEERED WOOD FLOORING
Laminated flooring is made by attaching a paper coating, printed to look like wood, on top of a cheaper, less attractive wood core. It's a popular choice because it offers the look of a hardwood floor without the cost. Engineered wood flooring is made by attaching a real wood veneer to a cheaper wood core; a style that has grown in popularity in the United States since coming from Europe in the 1990s. Engineered wood is also less expensive than hardwood flooring and is much easier for the do-it-yourself homeowner to install. Take a look at the options at Armstrong.com. Consider the following when shopping for laminated and/or engineered wood flooring:
- Look for laminate products assembled with alternatives to formaldehyde or urea-formaldehyde binders, as this will help ensure low emissions of formaldehyde into the air.
- Look for low-VOC adhesives to adhere products to the floor, or choose floating options that snap together without glue.
- Look for laminate or engineered products made with FSC-certified wood.
If you're building a new home or addition, concrete is a low-maintenance, smooth surface that doesn't off-gas unhealthy VOCs or collect allergens. If low-VOC sealants and polishes are also used, concrete floors can keep a water-resistant, attractive shine. Concrete floors are usually associated with cold, damp basements, but under direct sunlight, concrete acts as a “thermal mass” that absorbs heat and radiates it later. It also holds warmth well if you have a radiant heating system installed beneath or within the concrete.
This completely renewable resource is harvested as bark from living cork trees that are never harmed. Cork trees store carbon in order to regenerate their bark. With millions of air-filled cells, cork floors absorb sound, impact, and warmth, and they're continually resistant. Cork is becoming available in more and more conventional flooring stores. Visit Duro-Design.com for cork flooring finished with low-VOC sealants, and NaturalCork.com for a wide variety of colors in classic designs and parquet squares.
Before vinyl became so popular, linoleum was actually made from natural sources. Natural linoleum, or Marmoleum, as it's known by today, is an extra-tough flooring material that's made from pine resin, cork flour, jute, and linseed oil. It has virtually no impact on indoor air-quality! Find it at MarmoleumClickStore.com.
CERAMIC & GLASS TILE FLOORING
Look for tiles made with high recycled content, such as EcoCycle by Crossville (CrossvilleInc.com) and Terra Classic by Terra Green Ceramics (TerraGreenCeramics.com). For a more mosaic look, check out Eco-Body (QuarryTile.com). EnviroGLAS ( EnviroGlasProducts.com) is another ecological flooring tile brand that combines lightweight epoxy resin with multicolored glass chips from discarded bottles, mirrors, and plate windows, as well as porcelain chips from discarded toilets, sinks, and tubs to achieve a surface harder than traditional marble terrazzo.