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Sustainable Flooring Comparison

By: Hsin-Yi Cohen BSc, MA, MSt - Updated: 2 Oct 2012 | comments*Discuss
 
Natural Flooring Eco-friendly Flooring

So you know that you want to invest in eco-friendly flooring and now you just need to decide on the option that offers you the best combination of durability, practicality, aesthetics and price. So here is a comparison of popular options to help you with your choice:

Sustainable Hardwood (FSC-certified)

  • Pros – unmatched natural beauty, longevity, durability, quality, supports good forestry management and encourages local communities towards sustainable practices.
  • Cons – may need to be shipped long distances (e.g. tropical species) which contributes to carbon footprint. Certified wood can also be more expensive than traditional sources; not suitable for certain rooms in the house due to vulnerability to heavy moisture and expansion/contraction properties; may need more maintenance and care than other types of flooring.

Reclaimed Wood

  • Pros – re-using material is one of the most environmentally-friendly options; salvaged from old buildings and structures; retaining a bit of history; unique look and character; does not require too much transport energy and costs if using locally-sourced salvaged wood; proven durability.
  • Cons – may also incur carbon costs with transport; can be expensive, depending on the source (buying from an individual can be cheaper); may require a lot of refinishing; can be difficult to install if comes in irregular sizes and shapes.

Cork

  • Pros – comes from the bark of cork oak tree which can survive repeated strippings so completely renewable resource; natural and biodegradable; fantastic properties including thermal and acoustic insulation, natural rot, mildew and fire-resistance, durability due to compressibility and impermeability to liquids; DIY installation if in tile form; soft and warm underfoot.
  • Cons – may not be durable enough for high traffic/heavy wear and tear; may need to be imported long distances so carbon and energy cost; can require adhesives (although damage can be minimized by choosing less toxic types), can be expensive; some cork flooring comes treated with formaldehyde binders – avoid these, as well as cork blended with synthetic rubber and PVC laminates. Also, although it is sustainable, it does take the cork tree 10 years to regenerate bark (and 25 years to reach maturity in the first place) so if not managed properly, demand will exceed supply and it will no longer be sustainable.

Bamboo

  • Pros – a fast-growing grass so truly abundant and sustainable resource (make sure not species required in diet of endangered giant panda); one of strongest and more durable types of natural flooring available (some varieties tougher than hardwood and with higher tensile strength than steel!); natural beauty; relatively low cost.
  • Cons – requires transport from Asia so significant carbon cost; may be treated with pesticides, fungicides and formaldehyde; vulnerable to moisture – can lead to warping and weakening of fibres, so may not be suitable for kitchens, bathrooms and laundries; may scratch easily if not finished correctly and if subjected to high wear and tear (e.g. from dog toenails).

Natural Linoleum

  • Pros – extremely easy maintenance and care; made of natural renewable resources; available in a wide variety of colours and styles; durability – ideal for areas of high traffic/heavy wear & tear; relatively cheap form of flooring; biodegradable so no waste pollution; easy installation – available as clickable floating floor); stain-resistant; warm underfoot.
  • Cons – may contain volatile organic compounds (VOC’s) – especially from linseed oil fumes – which may be problem if occupants chemically sensitive. Adhesives used for installation may also contain toxic chemicals – opt for “green” versions (water-based, low VOC, formaldehyde-free); many brands imported from Europe so associated transport cost.

Whichever type of flooring you choose, always check that the processes and products used in refinishing and installation are also environmentally-friendly as it is no use investing in a sustainable flooring material if it is then refinished and installed with a host of toxic chemicals and using practices that promote pollution, waste and carbon emissions!

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