Flooring: Factoring In the Way You Live
With many home improvement projects, one area that often gets overlooked is flooring. However, choosing the right flooring material has long-term implications in terms of both long-term maintenance and appearance.
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With any flooring you’re trying to balance durability with sustainability and lifestyle. You’ll note that in the products listed, we have not included luxury vinyl products, for instance. PVC is just too problematic environmentally, and rarely recycled post consumer.
Porcelain tile is probably the longest lasting flooring material on earth. Tile offers a wide range of design possibilities. It also has a decent sustainability story, because it’s made from natural clay and minerals, although these have to be fired at high temperatures, a process almost always done using fossil fuels. Here are the ecological virtues and caveats of porcelain tile.
- Long-lasting: Porcelain tile is highly durable and can withstand heavy foot traffic, making it an excellent long-term investment.
- Low maintenance: It is easy to clean and doesn’t require the use of harsh chemicals.
- Sustainable manufacturing: Many manufacturers use recycled materials and eco-friendly production techniques, reducing environmental impact.
- Energy-intensive production: The high-temperature firing process requires substantial energy consumption.
- Embodied energy: Transportation of porcelain tiles over long distances may contribute to carbon emissions.
These tile products contain up to 60 percent recycled content, lend to LEED and WELL certifications. To lower carbon emissions, more than 96 percent of raw materials used in production of MILEstone tiles are sourced within 400-plus miles of the Clarksville, Tenn. factory.
Florim USA is working toward becoming carbon neutral by 2030.
Hardwood flooring is a classic choice known for its durability and beauty. Not all hardwood has a “clean” chain of custody however. Look for brands made with FSC certified lumber or other qualifiers. Here’s what you need to know. The way hardwood is finished is key to protecting your indoor air quality. Finishing in the home is not recommended.
- Renewable and biodegradable: Hardwood is a natural material that can be sustainably harvested from responsibly managed forests.
- Long lifespan: With proper care, hardwood floors can last for decades, reducing the need for frequent replacements.
- Carbon sequestration: Trees used for hardwood flooring store carbon dioxide during their growth, helping mitigate climate change.
- Deforestation concerns: Unsustainable logging practices can harm forests and wildlife habitats. Look for certifications like FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) to ensure responsible sourcing.
- High water consumption: Some hardwoods require substantial amounts of water during processing, which can strain water resources in certain regions.
Craft flooring. Specifying only FSC-certified wood, Craft Artisan floors follows a manufacturing
processes that prioritizes energy efficiency and waste reduction. The company has gone to great lengths to test and low-VOC finishes to make sure they perform as advertised and ensure healthy indoor air quality.
Linoleum flooring has gained popularity due to its eco-friendly composition and vibrant color options. Real linoleum, as opposed to vinyl-based sheet flooring, is made primarily from linseed oil, it offers several sustainability advantages:
- Natural and renewable: Linoleum is composed of linseed oil, wood flour, cork dust, and other renewable materials.
- Low chemical emissions: It is generally free from harmful volatile organic compounds (VOCs), making it a healthier choice for indoor air quality.
- Biodegradable: At the end of its life, linoleum is biodegradable and can be safely disposed of or recycled.
- Manufacturing complexities: Linoleum production requires specific techniques and skilled craftsmanship, making it more challenging to produce as a DIY project.
- Vulnerability to moisture: Linoleum is susceptible to water damage and requires proper sealing in areas prone to moisture.
Cork flooring is known for its unique texture, warmth, and cushioning effect underfoot. It also has a seldom mentioned perk. Research has found that when older people take a bad fall on a cork floor, their odds of not breaking bones go way up.
- Sustainable harvesting: Cork is derived from the bark of the cork oak tree, which naturally regenerates. Harvesting the bark does not harm the tree.
- Thermal and acoustic insulation: Cork flooring provides excellent insulation properties, helping to reduce energy consumption for heating and cooling.
- Hypoallergenic: Cork resists the growth of mold, mildew, and bacteria, making it a suitable choice for allergy sufferers.
- Limited availability: Cork flooring may not be as widely available as other options, which can limit choices in terms of style and design.
- Vulnerability to scratches and dents: While cork flooring is resilient, it can still be susceptible to scratches and dents from heavy furniture or sharp objects. Proper maintenance is necessary to preserve its appearance.
Laminate flooring offers an affordable and versatile alternative to hardwood. While it may not be as eco-friendly as other options, advancements have been made to improve its sustainability. Here are the ecological virtues and caveats of laminate floors:
- Cost-effective: Laminate flooring provides a budget-friendly option that can mimic the look of hardwood or stone.
- Minimal environmental impact: Some manufacturers now offer laminate flooring with recycled content, reducing the demand for new raw materials.
- Easy installation: Laminate floors are designed with a click-lock system, making them DIY-friendly and reducing the need for adhesives.
- Limited recyclability: Traditional laminate flooring consists of several layers, including a plastic resin-based top layer, making recycling challenging.
- Shorter lifespan: Compared to other flooring options, laminate floors may need to be replaced sooner, resulting in more waste over time.
Glossary of Terms: Know the Lingo
Renewable Materials: Flooring materials derived from rapidly renewable resources, such as bamboo or cork, which have a shorter growth cycle and can be sustainably harvested.
VOC Emissions: Volatile Organic Compounds are gases released from certain flooring materials that can contribute to indoor air pollution. Low-VOC or zero-VOC options minimize harmful emissions for better indoor air quality.
Durability: The ability of a flooring material to withstand wear, impacts, and traffic over.
Water Resistance: Flooring materials with high resistance to water or moisture, such as porcelain tile or luxury vinyl flooring, which helps prevent water damage, mold and mildew growth.
Radiant Heat Compatibility: Flooring that can effectively conduct and distribute heat from a radiant heating system, providing energy-efficient and comfortable heating solutions.
Embodied Energy: The total energy consumed during the entire life cycle of a flooring product, including raw material extraction, manufacturing, transportation, installation, use, and disposal.
Eco-Friendly Adhesives: Low-VOC or solvent-free adhesives used for installation, reducing harmful emissions and promoting healthier indoor air qualityl.
Publisher’s Note: This content is made possible by our Today’s Homeowner Campaign Sponsors. These companies take sustainability seriously, in both their products and their operations. Learn more about building and buying homes that are more affordable and less resource intensive.