Contributed by Emily Folk
You make eco-friendly choices in the car you drive, how often you drive, and in your food. Why would you neglect furnishings in your home? One of its most important furnishings is also a structure: your flooring.
Indoor pollution can be two to five times greater than outdoor pollution, chiefly because of chemicals and pollutants in the home. Some of them can come from the floor.
You have to choose flooring for every area of your home. How do you choose what’s most environmentally conscious and sustainable?
Just consider these top 10 choices for eco-friendly flooring.
1. Wool carpets
Many carpets are made of synthetics and are therefore full of chemicals you may not want in your home. But don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater and ignore all carpets as a choice.
Wool carpets come from one of the original sustainable sources: animal wool, whether from sheep or goats. When the animals are sheared for wool, the coats grow back.
Wool, a versatile choice, can be purchased in any color and shade. Wool is also very warm on winter mornings, so a great choice for bedroom flooring.
Cork flooring is comfortable and warm as well. It’s a nice choice for a kitchen because it’s very durable. Just don’t let it get wet without wiping it immediately.
A naturally occurring tree bark, cork is a sustainable choice because it isn’t necessary to cut the tree down to harvest it. Harvested cork bark will grow back in three to ten years. It has legal protection in areas where it is harvested.
Wood comes from trees, a renewable resource and sustainable crop. Lumber companies grow new trees to replace the ones they harvest. Ecologically conscious homeowners should always check to see the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) label on wood flooring. The FSC certifies responsible harvesting practices.
Choose local wood for wood flooring if possible. The less distance wood must follow from forest to your home, the less fossil fuel transportation requires.
4. Reclaimed wood
If you love the look of wood, reclaimed or salvaged wood makes an even stronger ecological choice than virgin wood. Reclaimed wood comes from barns, ships, vintage homes, and other sources. When demolishing an old building, reusing the wood avoids both harvesting trees and the ecological damage from burning it. You might have a new kitchen floor with beams from a 200-year-old kitchen.
Reclaimed wood also uses less energy. The cumulative energy used to make virgin lumber is about 11 to 13 times more than what reclaimed wood uses.
Many people find linoleum a surprising choice for ecologically sustainable flooring. But linoleum is made of natural materials, such as linseed oil, cork dust, tree resins, and limestone. Don’t mistake linoleum for vinyl, a synthetic material. Linoleum and vinyl were very popular in the mid-twentieth century, especially for kitchens. They later fell out of favor.
But linoleum is making a big comeback, partly because of its eco-friendly nature. Its variety and sparkle add to its appeal. It comes in multiple colors and designs, and home designers can easily add pizazz with linoleum.
6. Recycled glass
A glass floor? Yes, it’s safe and durable. Recycled glass tiles come from wine and beer bottles. They are bright and colorful and very durable.
Tiles of recycled glass can be used by themselves as a floor, or in conjunction with other types of flooring such as cork.
Concrete is an ecologically friendly material, made from sand. It is also environmentally friendly because it simplifies construction, serving as both structure and visible surface. Usually, a concrete floor has layers of concrete as structure, with a gleaming, polished surface on top.
Concrete floors are very cost-effective. They can also be combined with other environmentally friendly flooring choices, such as wool carpets.
Bamboo is as environmentally friendly as wood from trees, although it is technically a grass and not a tree.
It grows from a rhizome, an underground stem. Harvesting removes the culm, the part above ground, and leaves the rhizome.
Bamboo takes much less time to regrow than trees, at three to five years. As flooring, it is versatile and comfortable.
Yes, leather can make great flooring! Leather, of course, is made from cowhide that is treated chemically.
Leather floors, like leather furniture, can come in a variety of colors and patterns.
Natural rubber is harvested from rubber trees. Even more sustainable, some manufacturers use rubber reclaimed from old tires and other products. Rubber can be stamped in a number of patterns and environmentally conscious designers have created a number of colors for rubber floors.
Rubber can be combined with other eco-friendly flooring materials. Rubber-cork blends, for example, are very popular.
Every room in your house has a floor. Choosing sustainable flooring materials makes a big contribution to eco-friendly living.
Emily Folk is a freelance writer covering sustainability topics. She is also the editor of Conservation Folks.