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Carpet Vs Solid Flooring: The Ecological Arguments

By: Chris Hogan MSc - Updated: 20 Dec 2012 | comments*Discuss
Carpet Wooden Floor Ecological Life

When debating whether to choose solid flooring instead of traditional carpet, you need to look at the life cycle of the two options to establish the impact each has on the environment.

Sustainable Flooring Production

Although some sustainable soft flooring options exist, including rugs made from recycled products, traditional carpets have a significant impact on the environment. The dyeing process uses copious amounts of water which cannot be reused due to the toxicity in the dyes themselves. Synthetic carpets are made from nylon, polyester or acrylic; all petroleum based, non-sustainable products.

In contrast, installing a solid wood floor can be a much more environmentally sound choice. Wood derived from European sources is protected by legislation which promotes sustainable forestry management practices. Although soft wood such as pine is a more sustainable choice than say an oak floor, hard wood forests are now just as well managed.

Looking at Floor Maintenance

Keeping carpets clean is a continual battle; the fibres trap dust and dirt and often the most effective way to tackle stains is by using an ecologically unsound product. Commercial carpet cleaners use a huge amount of water and leave a residue which continues to release toxins into the air. These can affect the air quality of your home, often aggravating allergies within the family.

Solid floors can be quickly and easily wiped clean with small amounts of water. Aggressive products are rarely needed as spills can be mopped up with little fuss. Look for non-toxic, plant-based, biodegradable cleaning solutions and use a bucket with a small amount of water, rather than leaving the tap running as you clean.

Flooring in Use

The average lifespan of a carpet is around ten years, and with changing fashion trends many people will redo their flooring more frequently that this. Carpets can wear out quickly, especially in areas of high traffic such as hall ways and stairs. The pile can wear unevenly, with areas by doorways often becoming threadbare before the rest of the room.

Of course a wall to wall carpet will require replacing in its entirety, wasting the unworn sections. Carpet tiles address this problem to some extent, but are not a popular choice in a domestic setting.

A wooden floor will last in excess of thirty years if well looked after – if anything its appearance will improve over time. Marks tend to add character, and damaged sections can be easily replaced, making repairs easier on the pocket as well as on the environment.

The End of the Life Cycle

When it comes to disposing of an unwanted carpet, the environmental differences between carpet and solid floors are significant. Over 500,000 tonnes of carpet is buried in landfill each year and with limited recycling options this figure looks set to continue. It’s really only possible to reuse old carpet by laying the good sections of it down in smaller rooms, or using it to cover an allotment lying fallow.

With solid floors made from naturally occurring products, disposal is not a problem. A wooden floor can be renovated, or the floorboards used in other ways. After being reused, recycling is simply a case of allowing it to decompose.

The Verdict is in

Carpet and solid flooring can both provide attractive, practical options for the home. By understanding the environmental impact across the life cycle of each product, you can make informed choices in relation to your flooring solutions.

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