Mother Earth Living

Green Afoot: Environmentally Friendly Flooring

Healthy, environmentally friendly flooring is easier than ever to find.
By Lori Tobias
July/August 2010
Add to My MSN

Armstrong Linoleum offers many design options, including Marmorette in "Aleutian Green," "Parchment Beige" and "Yellow Straw."
Photo Courtesy Armstrong
Slideshow


Content Tools

Related Content

Sesame Teriyaki Stir Fry for Two

Natural Home assistant editor Kim Wallace tests out a new, USDA organic sesame teriyaki sauce from O...

Do One Green Thing: Saving the Earth Through Simple, Everyday Choices

Mindy Pennybacker’s new book, Do One Green Thing: Saving the Earth Through Simple, Everyday Choices,...

Keep the Green Conversations Rolling on Facebook and Twitter

If you haven't joined in on our social networking fun, what are you waiting for? We'll post fun surv...

Scheckter’s Organic Energy Drink Hits U.S. Market

Scheckter’s Organic Beverages introduces Scheckter’s OrganicEnergy, a natural, vegetarian-approved o...

Few places in your home have a bigger impact on your family’s health and planetary footprint than your floors. Green, nontoxic choices are both abundant and diverse, and they come in a wide range of styles. Options such as wood, tile, bamboo and cork offer choices suitable for every budget.

Natural linoleum

Made primarily from linseed oil, wood flour and natural jute, natural linoleum has antibacterial properties that help fight common allergens. Forbo’s Marmoleum brand comes in hundreds of colors obtained from environmentally friendly pigments, and numerous designs and textures. It’s easy to care for, durable and biodegradable.

Marmoleum comes in both sheets and tiles. Sheets are more difficult to install, and installation can often cost more than the material itself, says Natalie Freidberg, a Los Angeles-based green building consultant. “The tiles are easier to install, and it’s a floating floor so it doesn’t need to be nailed or glued,” she says. “They just snap together.”

Natural linoleum is not waterproof, but it can be made more water-resistant by sealing the edges and coating the floor.

Bamboo

The good news is that bamboo is hard, rapidly renewable, fairly inexpensive and lowmaintenance. The bad news? The material has become so popular it’s being overharvested and overplanted, and because it’s so lucrative, some companies are cutting down forests to plant more bamboo.

Shop carefully, Freidberg warns, to make sure you’re not buying a product made with formaldehyde in the glue. Ask for a third-party certification from the flooring manufacturer. Remember: If it is so cheap it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Try well-respected brands such as Teragren, EcoTimber and Plyboo.

“Also, make sure the individual floor boards have slightly beveled edges—just a millimeter or so will do—because if not, it can be incredibly sharp,” Freidberg says.

Tile

Tiles made from recycled porcelain, concrete or glass are durable, low-maintenance and generally have low carbon footprints. Plus, its unique appearance can’t be replicated with any other material, Freidberg says.

However, tile tends to be among the most expensive flooring options, and it can be cold and hard to stand on for long periods.

Wood

The Forest Stewardship Council is an independent certifier that ensures wood is grown sustainably. This means the trees grow fast and are harvested using a picker instead of clear-cutting. American sustainably grown wood has a low carbon footprint and is available from numerous sources, but it costs more than noncertified wood.

Reclaimed wood

Reclaimed wood flooring is the most environmentally friendly flooring option, Freidberg says. Salvaged and remilled wood has a low carbon footprint and a one-of-a-kind look. “It has a lot of character, sometimes with nail holes and cracks,” Freidberg says. “The flaws are a big part of it, but part of the beauty, also, is that you can get widths of planks you can’t get with new wood. Sometimes the grain is just spectacular—and you can’t get that with the younger trees.”

Look for local companies that specialize in deconstruction. Freidberg works with Douglas fir that was used in downtown Los Angeles buildings built 80 to 100 years ago. Barns, factories and mills are also great sources for old wood.

Installation—probably not a DIY project—calls for a solid understanding of wood and its knots and cracks. The finishing process is more complicated than the process for traditional wood, and it usually requires sanding.

Cost can range widely, so do your homework to find a variety of local sources. Ask where the wood is from. Reclaimed exotic wood may also be available from buildings in your area, though it’s likely to cost more.

Cork

Cork comes from the outer layer of the cork oak Quercus tree, which grows back after it’s harvested. Available in a wide variety of colors and designs, cork is very comfortable underfoot. “If you spend a lot of time in your kitchen, it is great. It cushions your legs,” Freidberg says. She also loves its resilience. “You can stand on it in high heels and make a dent, and in 24 hours the dent will be gone.”

Research the source of a product’s cork before buying. Cork has become so popular that centuries-old cork groves in Spain and Portugal are being overtaxed. Freidberg warns to steer clear of cheap cork, which can be made with toxic, formaldehydebased glue.

Helpful tips

• Don’t buy cheap cork or bamboo flooring—both are made with formaldehyde-laced binders. Do consider using reclaimed wood
flooring. It’s one of the greenest options and offers a one-of-a-kind look.

• Make sure your installer uses putties, glues and sealants that do not outgas.

• Ask a green building consultant or retailer to recommend products certified for indoor air quality by an independent agency such as GreenGuard.

• Avoid oil-based products, which are generally more toxic than water-based products, and try to avoid acrylics.

Flooring Fact Sheet

Flooring Type Pros Cons
reclaimed wood Low carbon footprint; aged look; available in wider planks and unique grain patterns; wide range of prices Difficult to install; finishing process can be complicated
certified sustainably grown and harvested wood Low carbon footprint; rapidly renewable Higher priced than noncertified wood
natural linoleum Comes in a wide range of colors, designs and textures; very low-maintenance; durable (especially the sheet version); biodegradable Installation can be expensive and difficult (if using sheets); fairly water-resistant, but not waterproof
cork Very comfortable; warm; resilient; available in multiple
colors and designs, in rolls, tiles or floating floor planks
Most made in Europe, so carbon footprint is higher; will swell if wet; needs to be sealed
tile Generally a low carbon footprint if made from recycled
products; very durable; low-maintenance
Tile and installation can be pricey; cold and
hard underfoot
bamboo Very hard; rapidly renewable; fairly inexpensive; low-maintenance Many options unsustainable; can be uncomfortable on back, knees and feet

Resources

Ambient Bamboo Floors
bamboo

Armstrong
natural linoleum flooring

EcoTimber
bamboo

Goodwin Heart Pine
reclaimed wood

Natural Cork
cork

Plyboo
bamboo

Sandhill Glass Tile
recycled glass tile

Teragren
bamboo

Vintage Timberworks
FSC-certified reclaimed flooring

Wicanders Worldwide
cork 

Lori Tobias, a staff writer for The Oregonian, has written for Natural Home for nearly a decade.


Previous | 1 | 2 | Next






Post a comment below.

 








Subscribe today and save 58%

First Name: *
Last Name: *
Address: *
City: *
State/Province: *
Zip/Postal Code:*
Country:
Email:*
(* indicates a required item)
Canadian subs: 1 year, (includes postage & GST). Foreign subs: 1 year, . U.S. funds.
Canadian Subscribers - Click Here
Non US and Canadian Subscribers - Click Here

Subscribe to Mother Earth Living!

Welcome to Mother Earth Living, the authority on green lifestyle and design. Each issue of Mother Earth Living features advice to create naturally healthy and nontoxic homes for yourself and your loved ones. With Mother Earth Living by your side, you’ll discover all the best and latest information you want on choosing natural remedies and practicing preventive medicine; cooking with a nutritious and whole-food focus; creating a nontoxic home; and gardening for food, wellness and enjoyment. Subscribe to Mother Earth Living today to get inspired on the art of living wisely and living well.

Save Money & a Few Trees!

Pay now with a credit card and take advantage of our earth-friendly automatic renewal savings plan. You’ll save an additional $5 and get six issues of Mother Earth Living for just $14.95! (Offer valid only in the U.S.)

Or, choose Bill Me and pay just $19.95.