A Green Guide to Flooring Materials

Green Architect

Recently you may have noticed a sub-theme for the month, flooring. While there might be a lot of great options out there, you should know that none of them are perfect, and none of them are suitable for everyone, but all of theme are good alternatives to toxic or environmentally detrimental materials. We'll help you navigate the green choices, after the jump.Bamboo

  • Pros: Made from a rapidly renewable source, very durable and harder than most woods, the 'strand' option is very strong, many like the aesthetic.
  • Cons: Typically must travel from overseas and therefore has high embodied energy, limited in color options and finishes.
  • Recommended Locations: Living room, dining room, foyer, bedroom and kitchen.

Carpet

  • Pros: Soft to the touch and underfoot, absorbs sound, carpet tiles & area rugs can be easily moved and/or replaced, a wide variety of styles.
  • Cons: Carpet fibers trap dirt, dust & dander, can be difficult to clean, often made from synthetic and non-rapidly renewable resources.
  • Recommended Locations: Not highly recommended (especially in moisture prone or wet areas), however area rugs are suitable in living and dining rooms, while wall-to-wall carpet would be fine for bedrooms.

Concrete

  • Pros: Easy to use when concrete is already part of the structure, modern & clean aesthetic, inert & natural materials, can be stained or painted, very durable and has long lifespan.
  • Cons: High embodied energy.
  • Recommended Locations: Bathroom, kitchen, basement, den, living room, dining room, foyer.

Cork

  • Pros: Soft to the touch and underfoot, absorbs sound, made from a rapidly renewable resource, a variety of colors and patterns available.
  • Cons: Can be more expensive than other flooring options, high embodied energy when imported from overseas.
  • Recommended Locations: Kitchen, bedroom, den, playroom.

Engineered Flooring

  • Pros: Uses less virgin materials than hard woods, made of recycled content, stable and great on top of radiant flooring, less expensive than hard wood flooring.
  • Cons: Can only be refinished 1-3 times depending on construction.
  • Recommended Locations: Bedroom, living room, dining room, den.

Hard Wood

  • Pros: Universally liked by homeowners, made from a renewable and low embodied energy resource, available in a variety of species, colors and finishes, available from sustainably grown forests, can also be reclaimed and has a very long lifespan.
  • Cons: Not always made from sustainably grown forests.
  • Recommended Locations: Bedroom, living room, dining room, den.

Linoleum

  • Pros: All natural, soft to the touch and underfoot, easy to clean, durable and long lasting.
  • Cons: Can be confused with toxic vinyl flooring, if imported it has high embodied energy.
  • Recommended Locations: Basement, den, kitchen, bathroom.

Rubber

  • Pros: Soft to the touch and underfoot, absorbs sound, often made from either natural materials or recycled tires and plastics, available in tiles and sheets for easy and portable installation, durable and easy to clean.
  • Cons: Off-gassing can affect indoor air quality.
  • Recommended Locations: Basement, den, attic, decks.

Stone & Tile

  • Pros: Natural material, often made with recycled content, durable and easy to clean.
  • Cons: More expensive than other flooring options, not a rapidly renewable resource, manufacturing and shipping can require a high amount of energy.
  • Recommended Locations: Foyer, kitchen, bathroom, mudroom, laundry room.

(Images: ECOsurfaces: Recycled Tire Flooring, Green Flooring: RetroPlate, New Floors? Why Cork Beats Bamboo, Engineered Flooring by EcoTimber, Before & After: Black and White Stripe Linoleum Floor)

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