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Top Choices in Sustainable Flooring

Floor Your Home with These Ecologically Responsible Materials

 

Flooring is one of the most important decisions to make for a home because every room has a floor. Homeowners will consider everything from style and durability to cost and ease of cleaning. Hardwood and carpeting seem to get all the press, but there are many non-traditional materials that have everything you’re looking for in a floor plus some. When you step outside of the box you will find a huge range of options that are strong, sleek, and beautiful – and mostly environmentally friendly!  

Opting for sustainable flooring materials makes a big contribution to eco-friendly living. How do you settle on the most eco-friendly flooring option? Easy. There are more to choose from than ever before. Here are some of the best eco-flooring options.

Wood flooring in kitchen of house plan #107-1015

Wood flooring, like that in this kitchen of a 4-bedroom, 4.5-bath Contemporary style home, seems to be one of the most desirable floors in homes these days. Responsible choices range from engineered wood, which makes the most of available wood resources by using a hardwood veneer over cross-laminated playwood, to wood-look bamboo, to cork, to – at a minimum – Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified wood flooring (House Plan #107-1015). 

 

 

Cork

Cork is usually covered with thumbtacks and family photos – or jammed in your favorite bottle of wine. It also happens to be an awesome, sustainable flooring option. Because of its resillient properties, it is especially good for use in the kitchen. Cork is harvested from the bark of the cork oak tree, commonly located in the Mediterranean. It is an ideal renewable resource because the trees do not need to be cut down in order to harvest the bark, which quickly grows back every three years or so. Some flooring is made from the waste that results from manufacturing corks for bottles. What else? Cork has antimicrobial properties that reduce allergens in the home, is fire retardant, and acts as an insect repellent, too. Cork, like wood, can be finished in a variety of paints and stains to accommodate any color scheme or design style. And it is so durable you can expect cork flooring to last between a minimum of 10–30 years in any room of your house.

Selection of five cork flooring samples

Wood-look cork flooring in a family room

Top: Cork comes in a variety of textures and appearances, from what immediately comes to mind as cork to smoother, almost wood-like lookes (courtesy of Marques Flooring). Bottom: This floor in a family room doesn't look like cork but rather more of a wood product (courtesy of Carolina Flooring Services).

 

 

Bamboo

Bamboo is not a wood at all but actually a species of grass that shares similar characteristics with hardwood. It grows from a rhizome, which is an underground stem. Harvesting bamboo involves removing the culm, or the part aboveground, and leaving rhizome to sprout new plants – which it does quickly. The plant grows to maturity in three to five years, which is far less time than the 25 years it takes for a tree to reach its prime harvesting age. On top of being highly sustainable, the bamboo flooring product is beautiful, durable, easy to maintain, and easy to install.

Sample of light-colored bamboo flooring

Sample of dark-colored bamboo flooring

Bamboo flooring in Great Room of home

Top and Middle: samples for bamboo flooring show two of the styles it comes in, horizontal (think of a tube-like length of bamboo being slit and flattened out) at top and strand-woven (for more a wood look) in the middle (courtesy fo Home Depot). Bottom: This scraped stand-woven bamboo flooring in a Great Room has an interesting pattern and looks like an exotic tropical wood product (courtesy of Lumber Liquidators).

 

 

Not-Your-Grandma’s Linoleum

Linoleum is created from a combination of linseed oil, cork dust, tree resins, wood flour, pigments, and ground limestone. It’s not a new product on the market, which is why most people associate it with tacky kitchens and dated bathrooms. Linoleum was super popular back in the day, but sort of lost its flavor in the 1940s with the introduction of vinyl, its synthetic competitor. But time has passed and architects and designers have begun using linoleum once again. But it’s not the same linoleum flooring (that possibly matches the curtains) in your grandmother’s outdated kitchen. Not even close. Linoleum dropped a total bomb of color and design options as it regained popularity. And the new and improved flooring is manufactured with a better sealant to resist water and stains. But it's still made from natural ingredients!

Fan-shaped array of linoleum flooring products in a variety of colors

Made from the basically the same materials as the linoleum of years gone by – with improvements made possible by modern technology – today's products are more colorful, perform better, and are still ecologically responsible because of their raw materials and the fact that they can be recycled (courtesy of Recycle Nation).

 

 

Recycled Glass Tiles

What happens to your glass recycling after it’s been picked up from the curb? A lot of those empty bottles and jars are converted into stunning glass tiles. This renewable resource is not only becoming a fashionable option for floors but is also being used on bathroom and kitchen walls. Some people might be put off by the idea of using glass as flooring. But the thick tiles are a safe and stable material, often sold in mosaic sheets so it’s better for traction. Glass is non-absorptive and won’t mold or mildew in damp environments. And unlike many ceramic tiles, the glass will reflect light rather than absorb it, adding an additional layer of light, which some rooms desperately need.

Sheet of recycled glass mosaic tile

Typically made into mosaic tile like this 12.8-in. by 12.8-in. sheet, recycled glass tile can cover an entire floor, backsplash, or wall – or be used as accent tile in an overall tiled scheme. The mosaic application provides traction underfoot for the otherwise sllippery glass surface (courtesy of Wayfair).

 

 

Wool Carpet

People love the cozy feel of carpeting. Unfortunately, most carpeting has been fabricated of petroleum-based materials with the help of volatile organic compounds or toxins that are harmful to the environment and our health. But if carpeting is what you want, there are eco-friendly options out there! Wool carpet is an eco-flooring option with no concerning toxins woven into its fibers. Wool is sustainable because it comes from sheep and sometimes goats. When the animals are sheared for their wool, it grows back! It can be purchased in any color and shade. Wool is also very warm and durable, and lots of people find it is the perfect flooring for any bedroom, especially during those cold winter mornings.

Illustration of construction of natural wool carpet

Carpeting in a bedroom of house plan #161-1067

Top: Wool carpeting is a great ecological choice because it's made from all natural materials (courtesy of EcoChoices). But it's expensive, so beware. Bottom: Because it can stain easily, wool carpeting is best used in a more gentle-use environment like this bedroom in a 4-bedroom, 3.5-bath luxury home (House Plan #161-1067).

 

 

Reclaimed & Engineered Wood

You love the classic, rich look of hardwood but are hesitant to invest in flooring materials that aren’t sustainable. We get you. Luckily, there are still ways to get those beautiful wood floors without contributing to deforestation. The answer is reclaimed wood. Salvaged wood comes from barns, ships, vintage homes, and other sources. When demolishing a building, reusing the wood the avoids ecological damage from harvesting trees and burning the waste. And it’ll add character to any room. Imagine a beautiful kitchen floor made out of 200-year old beams that were salvaged from a demo! Reclaimed wood also uses less energy. The total energy used to make virgin lumber is between 11 and 13 times more than what reclaimed wood uses.

Engineered wood is another sustainable flooring option. It is a type of hardwood flooring constructed from multiple cross-laminated layers of wood (plywood) and a top layer of hardwood veneer. The manufacturing process is very efficient. Much less hardwood is used, but you are still getting a natural floor covering. Actually, engineered wood flooring is more versatile and stable than solid wood flooring, and you can barely tell them apart once they’ve been installed.

Before purchasing any wood flooring, look for the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification. The FSC is a global organization that works to promote the responsible management of the world’s forests, native wildlife, and local communities.

Engineered wood floor in dining area of a home's Great Room

Engineered wood like this honey-colored Hickory flooring in the dining area of a large Great Room is more stable (able to withstand contraction and expansion) than conventional solid flooring and makes better use of natual resources in its manufacturing process (courtesy of Floors for Less).

 

 

Concrete

Concrete is extremely durable, easy to maintain, and essentially never needs to be replaced. It’s also environmentally friendly because it simplifies construction and can be recycled and reused. Concrete is typically used as subflooring in residential settings. Usually, a concrete floor has layers of concrete for structural purposes, with the final layer exposed on top. Concrete flooring doesn’t have to be left with that raw, industrial look, however. After it is polished and warmed with some stain, a homeowner might not find the need – indeed may not want – to install an additional layer flooring to cover it.

Polished dark concrete floor in a bedroom

Polished light-colored concrete floor in Great Room of modern home

Top: This dark floor in a bedroom is actually stained polished concrete. An advantage of such a floor is winter is the great thermal mass it affords if you decide to incorporate radiant heating when you install it (courtesy of MovaLounge). Bottom: This shiny floor in a minimalist modern home is polished concrete with flecks of stone embedded in the surface for an interesting color pattern (courtesy of Concrete Network).

 

No matter what the flooring requirements are in the new dream home you are contemplating – or building right now – an ecological alternative is available to you, in most cases without having to compromise at all!

 
June 01, 2018

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