Traditional flooring options, such as synthetic carpeting, imported hardwoods or synthetic linoleum, are not sustainable or healthy. The process of creating these types of floors is wasteful and generates pollution. The flooring releases volatile organic compounds (VOCs) into the air which negatively affects the indoor air quality and is responsible for a plethora of respiratory ailments and allergy symptoms. Natural options such as hardwood are better, but at the cost of deforestation, it doesn’t seem worth it. Now homeowners have a greener choice as sustainable flooring selections which do not release harmful substances into the atmosphere become more widely available.
Sustainably grown bamboo is an attractive choice. Bamboo reaches the ideal size and density in 4-6 years making it a much more viable option than hardwood with the same pleasing finish. To ensure your bamboo flooring was sustainably grown, check for the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) stamp. Bamboo is grown without the use of pesticides or fertilizers which improves its impact on the environment. Bamboo is durable, easy to maintain and offers a warm, natural look. It’s not suitable for areas which will regularly come into contact with water such as bathrooms or decks.
North American hardwoods are more sustainably harvested (again, look for the FSC stamp), so make sure that you opt for wood from these countries or choose cork instead. Cork is manufactured from the bark of trees which means it comes in an assortment of colors and textures. Bark is stripped from trees and grows back within 10 to 12 years. Since the trees are not cut down during this process, cork is a far more tenable preference. Its reduced weight also means that its transport carbon footprint is lower.
Not to be confused with its synthetic counterpart, natural linoleum is manufactured from linseed oil, cork, tree rosin, limestone and jute and releases no VOCs. It’s durable and easy to maintain which makes it ideal for high-traffic areas such as hallways and shop floors. It’s perfect for places where harmful VOCs will have the most effect like schools, hospitals and clinics.
Once a material has already been manufactured, and is about to be landfill fodder, reclaiming it is a great way to protect valuable resources. You can get reclaimed materials from a number of sources; urban lumberjacks reclaim wood from landfills or demolition sites, construction companies and hardware stores carry reclaimed materials or you can go directly to the source and find a building or home near you that is being torn down or renovated. If you offer to remove the materials yourself, you can often get supplies for free.
It’s not just the flooring that you want to pay attention to. Many installation methodologies utilize glue that emits formaldehyde and other harmful chemicals. Even if you choose natural fiber carpets, many are treated with fire retardants so heavy in chemical composition that their VOC offgassing make them an unhealthy choice. Underlayment options should also be a consideration; opt for recycled rubber that can be used under hardwood and floating wood floors. Cork and sheep wool underlayments are healthier options.