The Natural Floor
by Pamela Portwood
Green design is the best thing that has happened to flooring in decades. In response to consumers' requests for environmentally friendly flooring, manufacturers have developed new flooring materials and changed their manufacturing and installation processes. Unfashionable flooring materials have turned retro.
Before you set out for the flooring store, think about your space's flooring issues, such as water resistance, high traffic areas, comfort, ease of cleaning, durability and home style. With those in mind, here are some options.
Wood flooring is one of the most beautiful and versatile choices for a home. The problem with solid, plank wood flooring is that it often is harvested from forests that have been clear cut, so that the forest resources become non-renewable or are very slowly renewed. By using wood flooring that carries the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification you can ensure the wood comes from sustainably managed forests that foster trees as a renewable resource.
Bamboo has been touted as a wonderful, green alternative to wood flooring and with reason. Bamboo is a grass, so it can be harvested in five to seven years. Unfortunately, problematic reports from China include plantation wood forests being clear cut to be replanted with bamboo, unnecessary pesticides and chemicals being used in bamboo forests, planting methods that encourage erosion, and the use of urea formaldehyde toxins in bamboo flooring.
What's a green consumer to do? Just this spring, the FSC certified that Smith & Fong engages in none of those practices with its bamboo product line Plyboo. Plyboo and the largest selection of green flooring products in town are carried at Originate (originateNBM.com).
Linoleum - that black speckled tiling popular in pre-1950s homes - is a fun and striking flooring option. Made of renewable resources (linseed oil, pine rosins, wood or cork flour and natural pigments), contemporary linoleum comes in saturated colors. Rolls or tiles of linoleum can be cut and inlaid to create everything from whimsical children's scenes to Italianate patterns. Linoleum is naturally anti-bacterial and should last 40 years.
Cork flooring is renewable because it's harvested from the bark of the cork tree every nine years. Cork flooring, which was used by Frank Lloyd Wright, is available with water-based, solvent-free pigments, adhesives and varnishes. Its spongy surface makes it a good choice for kitchens where cooks will be standing for a long time and for echoing rooms that need acoustic control.
The most important factor with carpeting, rugs and their pads is to avoid products with dyes, chemical processing or backing that off-gas volatile organic compounds. VOCs are chemicals that evaporate easily and cause serious health and environmental problems.
Wool is an excellent, durable, natural product for a carpet or rug. Sisal, jute and organic cotton rugs are other natural options. Walter Gaby's Rug Resource (rugresourcetucson.com) carries natural product rugs with Green Label certifications for low levels of VOC emissions.
Carpet made of recycled plastic is becoming widely available, and sometimes the recycled carpet can be recycled again at the end of its life. Apollo Flooring (apolloflooring.com) is one local source for recycled carpet and other green flooring.
These days tile flooring is being recycled from all kinds of things: leather, tire rubber, glass, granite and even porcelain chips from discarded toilets. Check out Craftsman Court, phone 520 319-1777, in Tucson for green and specialty tile options.
Be certain that all flooring is installed using VOC-free glues or tacks.
This is just a quick overview because there are still more options to consider, including concrete, carpet tiles, reclaimed wood, engineered hardwood, palmwood and rubberwood. All of which is to say: it's a great time to install a new floor.
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Article is reprinted courtesy of The New Southwest (formerly Tucson Green Times).