One of the biggest surface areas of your home is the floor. When remodeling, choosing green options can not only look beautiful and be earth friendly, but they can improve your indoor air quality and save you money over the long term.
Reclaimed Wood: The big trend at the moment is reclaimed wood which adds a touch of antique, natural beauty to your home. Reclaimed wood can come from 18th and 19th century mills, factories, warehouses, grain elevators, barns, or can even be salvaged from underwater! The reclaimed wood is often ‘old growth’ wood, of a density and quality you can rarely get new. Reclaimed wood can be purchased from specialty vendors, or look for it at your local reuse store.
FSC Certified Wood: In many forests around the world, logging still contributes to habitat destruction, water pollution, displacement of indigenous peoples, and violence against people who work in the forest and the wildlife that dwells there. The Forest Stewardship Council was created to develop forest management standards that protect forests and reduce negative impacts. Products bearing the FSC logo guarantees that the wood you purchase is from a certified well-managed forest.
Bamboo: Bamboo is a renewable resource- it is a grass and grows very quickly. Where oak takes 120 years to grow to maturity, bamboo canbe harvested in three. However, there’s currently no FSC certification or Fair Trade certification that guarantees your bamboo flooring was harvested responsibly, and many bamboo floors include formaldehyde binders. Your choice of supplier is important. It may require a little extra research into where it came from and what was added to it.
Marmoleum: The main ingredient or Marmoleum is linseed oil, produced by pressing seeds from flax, an easy to cultivate, abundant plant. Pine rosin, extracted from pine trees is used as a flexible binder, and wood flour, a very fine sawdust from sustainable forests is added along with ecologically-friendly, natural pigments. The ingredients are squeezed through rollers onto the backing, a natural jute grown and woven in India and Bangladesh, and hung up to dry, draped over rollers, exactly as they have done for 150 years. In addition, Marmoleum is naturally antibacterial and antistatic, and has a useful life of 40 years. It’s durable, attractive and perfect for kitchens and bathrooms.
Cork: Cork is the bark of a cork oak tree which can be harvested every 7-9 years without harming the tree, making it a sustainable, renewable source. Its cellular construction allows it to be compressed by 40 percent, quickly returning to its original shape, so it’s a great natural shock absorber, good for anywhere you stand for long periods. It also absorbs sound. Suberin, a naturally occurring waxy substance in cork, helps repels insects, mites and mold and helps protect cork from from rot when it gets wet. In addition, suberin is a natural fire retardant, reducing the need for chemical additives. On the con side, cork can be dented by dropped pans or high heels and can be expensive.
Carpet: In the past carpet has been a big source of Volatile Organic compounds (VOCS) –offgassing into your living space. Most carpet is made from petroleum based fibers such as nylon, polypropylene, or polyester. The fibers are tufted or woven into a backing which is commonly made with polyurethane, synthetic SB latex, or polyvinyl chloride (PVC)–all of which are synthetic, petroleum based materials and whose manufacture can contribute to green house gas emissions. In addition, synthetic SB latex (used in approximately 90% of carpet) contains styrene (a suspected carcinogen). These synthetic carpets often have chemicals applied for stain proofing, fungicide, antistatic, and fire retardant treatments. In addition, they are often disposed of in a landfill at the end of their lives where they will not decompose.
Before you give up on carpet all together, be reassured you can minimize your exposure by choosing greener options. Look for wool or fibers that include recycled content nylon, recycled P.E.T. (plastic bottles) polyester, and fibers made from renewable resources such as sugar from corn. Like carpet fibers, carpet backing can be made of recycled content and/or sustainable resources and emit low levels of VOCs. When choosing padding, look at jute, wool, rubber, and recycled content materials to prolong the lifetime of your carpet by reducing wear of the carpet against the subfloor. Many of the sustainable options can also be recycled at the end of their useful life. Carpet tiles can extend lifespan by allowing replacement of stained or damaged pieces rather than the whole carpet.