Green Floors: Six Materials to Have Underfoot Green Floors: Six Materials to Have Underfoot

Earth-friendly flooring for your home may go by a few different names—green, natural, and even ‘non-toxic’. A growing group of consumers are demanding these sustainable flooring products because they want to reduce damage to the environment. Additionally, green flooring can reduce the levels of toxicity in your home, creating a healthier environment from the ground up. The most common kinds of earth-friendly floor coverings include wood, bamboo, cork, natural carpeting, concrete, and natural linoleums.

Not all wood is earth-friendly. In fact, improperly forested wood can harm the environment. When shopping for hardwood flooring, look for products certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). This certification requires that foresters meet 57 criteria, from minimal use of chemical pesticides to the protection of local wildlife. FSC-certified wood comes in all the popular species:

  • Oak

  • Hickory

  • Cherry

  • Maple

  • Walnut

  • Birch

  • Even a few exotics like teak.

You can also look for reclaimed or repurposed wood from other buildings. When finishing your hardwood floors, remember to use low-VOC (volatile organic compounds) stains and finishes.

Contrary to some popular notions, bamboo is not a wood, but a grass. It’s a highly renewable resource—bamboo grows fast, regenerates without replanting, and requires little fertilizer and/or pesticide. There are mixed reviews on the “hardness” of this material. Bamboo is said to be strong like a hardwood, but it is perhaps more like a soft hardwood, such as walnut. Nevertheless, it is a beautiful, easy to maintain flooring product that has been around for hundreds of years.

When shopping for bamboo floors, make sure it is actually a green product. There’s no official certification for bamboo, so buy it from reputable supplier who knows its source. Also, formaldehyde is often used as a binder for bamboo, so only buy bamboo that you know has low levels of this chemical.

Cork is another natural product with a few surprising benefits. Cork is made from the bark of the cork tree. Believe it or not, removing the bark from the tree doesn’t kill it; instead the bark renews every 7 to 10 years. Cork feels warm underfoot and is a natural sound-absorber. Plus, mold, insects and micro-organisms don’t like to make their home on cork, making it a great product for allergy suffers. When shopping for this product, look for all-natural cork without a PVC backing.

Another flooring option is concrete. Generally inexpensive, concrete is a creative product that can be stamped with a pattern, scored, painted, and stained (with low-VOC products, of course). It’s gaining popularity in modern homes and in kitchens, and is an excellent substitute for natural stone, which is not a renewable resource. However, concrete is hard underfoot and can be cold to the touch.

Carpeting & Rugs
“Green” carpeting generally refers to natural materials like wool, jute, sisal, sea grass, coir (coconut husks), and recycled (PET) carpeting. Conventional carpeting contains high amounts of VOCs, has been treated with chemical stain repellants, and has a high potential of off-gassing harmful chemicals. Green carpet options usually are low in VOCs, have a natural stain-resistance, and contain recycled materials. Whenever you’re looking for green carpet, be sure to look for environmentally-friendly backing and padding.

Linoleum is a classic flooring material that is made of natural materials like linseed, cork, tree rosin, limestone, and jute, making it non-toxic and biodegradable. It can also last up to forty years without replacement, and comes in a wide variety of colors. It is a fantastic alternative to vinyl flooring, which can expel some harmful pollutants when it is produced, and will eventually end up in a landfill.

Remember, whenever you’re buying any of these products, make sure they are actually green or all-natural, and come from reputable sources.

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