Green Interiors: Traditional Versus Sustainable Flooring Material Guide
Whether you are dealing with new construction or you are contemplating a renovation, flooring is an important area in which to “go green.” Not only do floors cover, by definition, a large area in your home, they are some of the most heavily used materials you will install in your home. By selecting a sustainable, responsibly manufactured product, you will increase indoor air quality and eliminate unnecessary harm to the environment. The best part is, you don’t have to make any tradeoffs. Nothing is off limits and there are options for all price points!
Most traditional carpets are nylon, manufactured using petroleum-based chemicals, and contain harmful VOCs. Sustainable carpet, on the other hand, is typically manufactured using natural or recycled materials and is produced using manufacturing processes that are minimally harmful to the environment. When you compare companies and carpet materials, consider durability, recyclability, and whether the company is transparent about how the carpet is made. Don’t forget to avoid adhesives with VOCs and/or flame retardants, and always look for a carpet pad that is made of 100 percent recycled fibers.
Tile is one of the most durable flooring materials available and is attractive with sustainably produced varieties widely available. The great thing about tile is that it is most often recyclable, so don’t skip this important option when you are remodeling! When shopping for tile, look for companies that utilize recycled materials or are made of 100 percent recycled content. Consider where the tile is manufactured and the environmental toll of transporting tile from Europe or South America—look for tiles made in America! Also avoid tiles that include harmful binders and epoxies in the manufacturing process.
The big question with hardwoods is if it is solid hardwood or an engineered flooring product. Both are good options but each has its own factors to consider. With solid hardwood, look for wood that has been certified as sustainably grown by either the Forest Stewardship Council or a similar organization. Also, look for American hardwood varieties. Make sure the wood is formaldehyde-free and is created using stains that are free of VOCs. With engineered wood, sort through the plethora of options on the market and look for companies that use sustainable manufacturing processes and avoid companies that aren’t transparent. Avoid companies that use VOCs and don’t embrace technology. Today, factory-finished hardwoods or hybrids of veneer/engineered wood are highly durable, affordable, and can be produced sustainably.
Cork, bamboo, and poured concrete are some of the most durable flooring materials available. Technology is rapidly changing and the way these products are produced and installed has improved greatly. There is a plethora of new colors, styles, and plank sizes available for cork and bamboo flooring. Bamboo is not considered a carbon-negative material due its production processes and there are also shipping costs to consider as bamboo flooring products generally are shipped from Southeast Asia. Strand woven is the hardest bamboo floor available and its high density makes it suitable for high traffic areas. Concrete is a great option because there are many colors, textures, and finishes available and it is produced onsite. —By Kate Gray Fudi
Editor’s Note: Kate Gray Fudim is an interior designer with Beth Haley Design. Kate has a master’s degree in Interior Architecture and Design with an emphasis in sustainable design. Beth Haley Design, an urban interior design firm, focuses on remodeling and revitalizing established homes, as well as creating stimulating, functional, sustainable spaces in new homes.. E-mail your questions to her at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.bethhaleydesign.com.