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The Top 5 Eco-Friendly Flooring Options

By: Hsin-Yi Cohen BSc, MA, MSt - Updated: 7 May 2015 | comments*Discuss
 
Eco-friendly Flooring Sustainable

So you’ve made up your mind that you’re going for an eco-friendly flooring – something made from renewable materials that have been sustainably harvested, with minimal damage to the environment and which will biodegrade when disposed of, so that it does not clog up landfills.

Also, something which has been produced in as natural a way as possible, so that there is minimal chemical treatment or toxic products used in the finishing and installation.

But how do you know which eco-friendly flooring to choose? Like conventional flooring, it all comes down to a balance between your practical requirements. These requirements include what kind of your lifestyle do you have? How much traffic or wear and tear will the flooring have to cope with? What kind of climate do you live in? What type of rooms you want to install the flooring in – e.g. high moisture places like kitchens and bathrooms? Rooms exposed to strong, direct sunlight?).

Also, and perhaps more importantly, consider your tastes (What goes with your décor scheme? What kind of textures and colours do you like?) and your budget (What can you afford? How often can you afford to repair or replace your flooring?)

Every person’s choice is based on their unique set of circumstances and what is perfect for one household may be unsuitable for another. But here is a list of the top 5 popular eco-friendly floors to help you with your choice:

Bamboo

A great replacement for timber flooring, bamboo is a actually a fast-growing grass that is truly sustainable – it has a short growing cycle, quickly reaching maturity and replenishing itself and will regrow after harvesting. It is incredibly strong and durable (superior to many hardwood species) and easily matches timber flooring in natural beauty, being available in a range of earthy tones as well as caramelised colours.

It’s only drawback is that it is vulnerable to excessive moisture, which can cause warping, so it may be unsuitable for rooms like bathrooms and laundries. Check that non-toxic adhesives are used in production and installation and that the bamboos harvested had reached maturity.

Cork

Another naturally renewable resource, cork comes from the bark of the cork oak tree which can be stripped every 10 years without harm to the tree. It has many wonderful natural properties, from its extreme resilience, which makes it ideal at coping with heavy traffic, to its thermal and acoustic insulation, to its rot- and fire-resistance, to its soft texture, making it very comfortable to stand on.

It is also very versatile and suitable for most rooms in the house, due to its natural impermeability to water and resistance to stains. Good for DIY enthusiasts as it is one of the few eco-friendly natural floors which do not require experience professional installation. Be careful of toxic adhesives during installation – nowadays, “clickable” formats are available.

Sustainable Wood

Derived from sustainable sources, meaning forests that have been certified as following international standards of responsible forestry management. Look for accredited sustainability certification schemes – the best is the FSC logo (the Forest Stewardship Council) which ensures not only the sustainability of the source forests but also environmentally-responsible practices all along the chain of custody, during manufacture and distribution.

Timber flooring gives unmatched natural beauty and feeling of quality, as well as providing durability and longevity in your flooring. However, care and maintenance can be more involved than other types of flooring – floors must be protected from moisture and scratching and denting, by varnishes and finishes.

Take care that these do not contain high levels of VOC’s and other toxic chemicals. Be careful also of toxic adhesives in installation – consider alternative methods such as nailing wood planks down.

Natural Linoleum

“True” natural linoleum (as opposed to synthetic vinyl, which is often confused with linoleum) is made from linseed oil and pine resin, which are natural, renewable resources. It is one of the “greenest” flooring options sold. It is great for heavy wear, such as homes with pets and children, and doesn’t require waxing to maintain a protective top layer. It is also stain- and water-resistant, so especially suitable for bathrooms and kitchens.

Maintenance and care is minimal, which is one of its great attractions, and it comes in a huge range of colours and styles. As it naturally inhibits bacterial growth, it does not need to be treated with chemicals and does not give off fumes – however, it does carry a distinct smell of linseed oil which may irritate some sensitive people.

Also it is highly flammable, which is one serious drawback, especially on the domestic scene. Again, avoid toxic adhesives in installation and if you choose clickable formats, glues can be avoided altogether.

Wool Carpets

For those who just have to have the soft luxury of carpets, then wool carpets are the only way to go. Although more expensive than their synthetic counterparts, they more than make up for this – not only with their environmental benefits – but with their health benefits for you and your family.

Wool is a sustainable, natural resource and boasts many natural properties such as soil- and stain resistance and being naturally anti-static. It is also far more resilient than synthetic carpet, springing back and looking good for far longer. It is also 100% biodegradable and provided it is produced with a backing made of natural jute, wool carpets will not sit in landfills, poisoning the environment for decades to come.

Just as importantly, it does not produce the toxic fumes associated with synthetic carpets, resulting from the petroleum-based ingredients and volatile organic compounds (VOC’s) used in their production.

Unfortunately, it can be vulnerable to moths and may also not be suitable for rooms that experience heavy water spillage – but otherwise, it is a good all-round flooring for the home, especially in cold climates.

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Share Your Story, Join the Discussion or Seek Advice..
@rosmarin - Have you thought of a bio-based natural linoleum? It is non-toxic, anti-microbial and easy to maintain. Plus, it's not the lino of yesteryear either, you can buy some really fab designs these days.
SustainableFloors - 8-May-15 @ 10:38 AM
This decision is very difficult - I am a member of FOE and a passionate environmentalist for many years.Now my husband has COPD so its vital I buy non toxic flooring on both counts!However its a minefield out there to avoid toxic finishes glues etc.I am veering towards bamboo but that might be exploiting the forest where the pandas live!Help! I sent for a sample of bamboo and it smelt of VOCS. Marmoleum looks too drab for my dining room. Any advice very welcome.
rosmarin - 7-May-15 @ 1:53 PM
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