You care deeply about the environment and your singular responsibility within it. The health of your family is of the utmost importance, and let’s face it — you work hard for your money and would love for it to carry as much weight as possible. Especially when it comes to home design.
After all, home is the place where you plant roots, create memories and find peace. No detail can be overrated.
When it comes to flooring, there are so many eco-friendly options that choosing responsibly can be as enticing as it is savvy. Here are some guidelines to help mitigate the possibilities.
Health And Wellness
As with any home purchase, your first flooring consideration should always revolve around potential adverse health interactions. Traditional carpeting, for example, releases dangerous levels of VOC’s — volatile organic compounds — including proven carcinogens such as benzene and formaldehyde. From the glue that tacks down matting to toxic soil and moisture resistant fiber treatments, it’s no wonder the EPA estimates pollutant levels indoors to be 2 to 5 times higher than they are outside.
Be alert to symptoms of respiratory irritation, visual impairment, dizziness, nausea, headaches, and fatigue; especially if they present markedly when you’re in a certain carpeted area of your home.
For a quick, proactive solution purchase safe carpet sealer. Sealers act as both water and odor resistant barrier to harmful off-gassed chemicals. Treatments last up to one full year; time enough for marked research of healthier options.
Many factors go into whether or not a particular flooring material is eco-friendly. Of course, it has to be made from a natural substance. Additionally, materials should be recyclable and renewable, manufactured responsibly and non-toxic. Other points to consider are the lifespan of a material, including how it is initially transported for use and if it can be maintained organically.
Finally, you want to choose flooring that will give you the highest cost value possible. Look at the strength of a product, its versatility for different areas of your home and how it holds up to mold and moisture. Consider a material’s after-life. Is its durability a landfill hazard, or will it lend well to alternate sustainable use?
Flooring options are often divided between soft and hard. This article describes both, beginning with soft textile possibilities and progressing to hard floor upgrades.
Sourced from the Agave sisalana plant, flooring fibers are extracted from crushed, soaked leaves. Sisal fibers spin like yarn and can be woven in a variety of patterns ranging from loosely intricate to closed and airtight. While hard-wearing, sisal flooring should not be exposed to moisture. Water is easily absorbed causing fibers to expand and stilt the material’s appearance.
Sisool, as the name indicates, is a fun mix of sisal with wool. In this option, the softness of wool plays off sisal’s sturdy bark-like nature to create a dual-textured combination that is as striking as it is strong. Like sisal, however, this material does not fare well in damp areas such as the kitchen, mud or bathrooms.
Grown in seawater-flooded paddy fields, harvested seagrass is dried and spun. It’s naturally waxy surface makes it hard to die, but creates flooring that remains highly stain and water resistant. Seagrass’s earth tones bring the outdoors in; this material even maintains its sweet, grassy smell over time!
A delicate take on traditional wood flooring, paper product can also be twisted to form a woven textile. Paper flooring is treated with natural resins, which renders it a surprising contender for wet environments. Sometimes combined with sisal fibers, this material is easily dyed and can be used to achieve customized hues.
Similar to hemp, jute is a part of the Corchorus plant family. Weaving strands are derived from the plant’s inner stems, which are soaked and pounded, then allowed to dry. Jute floor coverings are quite soft and best laid in low traffic areas of the home. This material should also be kept dry, as water can easily be reabsorbed.
In stark contrast to the relative flexibility of jute, sturdy coir fibers are pulled directly off coconut shell husks. Also soaked, pounded then dried, yarn made from coir maintains a spiky wire-like appearance. One of the most durable floor covering options, coir offers a distinctively raw design texture. Coir flooring is the perfect choice for entranceways and halls; it can take a lot of wear and tear.
Made out of recycled plastic bottles, P.E.T. Berber is full-loop sustainable. This material displays a unique flecked appearance that plays with natural lighting. Durable, stain and water resistant, P.E.T. Berber flooring nevertheless tends to unravel and can be uncomfortable to walk on in bare feet.
Rugs woven with natural fibers such as cotton or wool offer a classic eco-friendly possibility. These textiles tend to be soft underfoot and comfortable to lie on. Rugs can be found in a wide range of patterns and colors — often a well-placed piece stands as a room’s feature focal point. Highly durable and known to last decades if not centuries, woven rugs are often passed down from generation to generation as treasured heirlooms.
One note of caution, the ancient history of weaving is long and varied. Even today some overseas manufacturers operate under a loose translation of worker safety and child labor standards. If you find a piece you’re interested, research it’s origin and shop responsibly.
Largely associated with a by-gone design era, linoleum may surprise you as an environmentally sound modern option. Highly renewable, linoleum is made of linseed oil, cork dust, tree resins, wood flour and ground limestone. While most manufacturers offer rolls or sheets which require being glued down to an already existing subfloor, newer varieties are wood-backed and can be laid like tile. Linoleum is hypoallergenic, water-tight and available in a plethora of designs and color schemes. Boasting a lifespan of 25-40 years, linoleum that no longer can be used may be burned as fuel!
Another hypoallergenic choice comes from trees found in the Mediterranean. Cork is extracted from bark, which naturally replenishes itself in a three-year cycle while the host tree continues to grow. Cork flooring provides thermal insulation and acts as an acoustic barrier, making it a highly energy efficient option as well.
Cork floor tiles are fire-resistant, insect repellant and have a bounce-back consistency which makes them impervious to damage caused by high heels and heavy furniture. Due to cork’s high durability, floor upgrades are known to last between 10 and 30 years.
If you have children — or are well acquainted with your inner child — the idea of rubber floors will undoubtedly bring a smile to your face. Made from recycled tires, this material is naturally water repellant and would be perfect for play or sunrooms. Rubber flooring comes in a surprising number of color and pattern options and is, of course, quite easy to walk on.
Furbished from the same thick part of a cow’s hide used to make wallets, belts, and purses, leather flooring has a light, soft feel and is appropriate for decorative, low traffic areas. If properly maintained, leather wears well and develops a distinctive look with age.
Over 1,500 different species of bamboo are harvested in Asia, Australia, Africa and even parts of North and South America. A sustainable superstar, bamboo plants undergo a three to five-year full-maturity cycle. Naturally water, mildew and insect resistant, bamboo flooring has a design edge over other options because its finish can easily be customized.
One note of caution; check if the specific bamboo material you are researching was made with formaldehyde, and if so, what its emission content is. Some, but not all, manufacturers use this carcinogenic chemical in varying amounts during processing.
For hardwood flooring to be considered eco-friendly, it must be constructed using reclaimed — or salvaged — lumber. Virgin planks are softer and much less durable than those harvested from trees felled a hundred years ago.
In the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, forests were thickly populated, and hardwood grew slowly in an environment where access to direct sunlight was limited. As a result, the composition of these trees is dense and strong.
As if in testament, many structures built with hardwood decades ago have long since crumbled, while the lumber remains intact. Reclaimed hardwood is a readily available resource that includes one billion feet of usable lumber produced from demolishing buildings.
Made with recycled beer and wine bottles as well as broken windows, renewable glass tiles reflect light as opposed to absorbing it. Available in many bright colors and glazes, these tiles are water, mold and mildew resistant making them ideal for bath and kitchen areas.
Traditionally used as sub-floor foundation, concrete can be polished and tinted to stand on its own as a decorative floor covering. Cement is durable, easy to clean and will never need replacing. It lends an industrialized feel unmatched by other flooring options.
Whether you choose soft, intricate, rustic or heavy-duty, with all the eco-friendly flooring options available, you can rest assured your final choice will be both cost-effective and responsible. That’s a healthy benefit!
Emily Folk is a freelance writer and blogger on conservation and sustainability. To see her latest posts, check out her blog, Conservation Folks, or follow her on Twitter, @emilysfolk!