Earthen Floors 101

Earthen Floors 101

Sarah Coffey
Nov 18, 2008

While we hear a lot about the benefits of eco-friendly flooring like bamboo and cork, earthen floors are more rarely discussed. Floors made from clay and varnished with natural sealants have long been used in adobe homes, but they're not so well-known outside the Southwest. The benefits of earthen floors (including thermal absorption and cheap material/installation costs) make them an interesting option...

    How Earthen Flooring Works:
  • Earthen floors are mixed from natural ingredients like sand, straw, and clay.
  • They're installed over a layer of sub-floor made from packed earth or gravel.
  • The floor is installed "wet" like cement and poured in multiple layers.
  • The floor is troweled smooth, and usually takes several weeks to dry out.
  • When dry, the floor is sealed in a varnish (usually linseed oil and wax) that makes it water-repellent.

    The Pros of Earthen Flooring:
  • Earthen floors are cheaper than hardwood floors.
  • Floors retain heat well, making them a very good option for passive solar homes.
  • Earthen floors can be made from local materials without harsh chemical treatment.
  • The warm appearance of earth floors is often described as a "cracked leather" look.
  • The carbon footprint of an earthen floor is minimal: no imported materials, no harsh off-gassing.

    The Cons of Earthen Flooring:
  • Floors can dry out and crack, and they require re-sealing over time.
  • Earthen floors are porous, so furniture legs and high heels can mark the floor.
  • If a house floods, earthen floors will turn to mud and have to be replaced.
  • They're not ideal for rooms that are prone to leaks, like kitchens and bathrooms.

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