Google+ Authentic Parenting: Eco Renovating Series: Flooring Options

Monday, July 1, 2013

Eco Renovating Series: Flooring Options

I spell-checked this post with Grammarly because sleep deprivation causes spelling errors!

I've been promising you to go a bit more in depth about environmentally friendly renovating, but I have been dreading it, to be quite frank. It is such a vast and confusing topic and I have spent hours researching, feeling like I'd been going in circles...

Here goes: Flooring!

There are lots of environmentally friendly flooring options, each has their pro's and cons. Let's look at the options:

Wood

Wood is probably the most healthy and environmentally friendly choice when it comes to flooring. But
Solid wood flooring; image: mark Hilary
wood comes in various degrees of sustainability.
Obviously wood is a natural product and is something man has long used. It is also renewable and can regrow indefinitely. So what do you have to consider?
Hardwood floors are the safest option, as they consist of one single board, they can be nailed down so you won't need any chemicals at all... You can use a natural wax to seal and nourish the wood.
Obviously hardwood floors can be expensive and the use of natural wax is not recommended in rooms that get a lot of wear or are very wet (kitchen, bathroom). Some wood varieties do not require sealing (reclaimed ship wood, for example).
Other options for sealing your wood and maintaining it's beautiful appearance are hard wax and varnish. Both of them contain chemicals, even in their most natural form, and are - where health is concerned - a lesser choice. They are more long lasting though and more resistant to staining, especially from fluids, then beeswax. 
Sealing with a non-breathing varnish is something that is now discouraged, since it seals off the wood and makes it prone to rotting from the inside.

Within the choices of wood, there's also a range of less or more environmentally friendly choices. 
Reclaimed wood is the most ecological option, since you're reusing. But here you have to consider what the treatment of the wood was if you are concerned about the health impact. Luckily with wood, you can almost always sand it down and reuse.
For new wood you should look for the FSC label (Forest Steward Council), these boards come from sustainably harvested wood.
Local wood is obviously the most environmentally sound choice, as imported and tropical wood will have used many resources to get to your doorstep.

You can also get layered wood planks from your flooring specialist. These are cheaper because they use a cheaper wood at the core. They are not less durable then solid wood, but the process of creating them uses more resources and they are always held together by some sort of glue, which can be less or more eco-friendly.

Laminate flooring is your least environmentally friendly option, but there are a couple of suppliers (Berg&Berg f.e.) who make an effort in creating a more durable and healthy laminate option.

Bamboo floor, image: jfies

Bamboo 

Bamboo is a grass, so it deserves a category of its own. Bamboo has been the latest craze in 'environmentally sound' design, as it is a quick growing renewable resource.
Given the nature of Bamboo, it has to be stuck together in multiple thin layers in order to create a board like we are used to seeing in solid wood. So here again, we have the use of chemicals that will be less or more green given your supplier and similar to wood, you have to consider the sealant you will be using. 
Bamboo is almost always imported, and its transformation into flooring is a pretty intensive process. 

Linoleum

Linoleum should never be mistaken for vinyl, they are two completely different products. 
Linoleum is nearly always made from recycled materials, such as wool, burlap and other fibers. They are held together in a resin and colored with different pigments.
Linoleum was a designer craze in the fifties and sixties and is slowly regaining turf. It can be laid seamless and also exists in laminate like tiles (again, here you will be dealing with a fiberboard backing and industrial glues so this is the less environmentally friendly option). Patterns and designs are nearly endless.
Most linoleum is naturally anti-bacterial and the product also has a nice feel, so it is specifically good for children's rooms, playrooms etc.
Even though linoleum uses recycled base products that are harmless, one should wonder about the glues being used in the placement process and one can only guess which resins and dies are used in the production.It's also not the cheapest option.
If you decide to use linoleum, try to get a contractor who uses environmentally friendly glues with low VOC.

cork oak tree, wallygrom

Cork

Cork is the bark of the cork tree and is either used as rolls or as a laminate like layered flooring. Harvesting cork does not harm the cork tree and it can continue to produce cork for a long while, making cork a great renewable material. Cork is very soft and warm to the touch and can be used in the kitchen and bathroom given the right sealant.
Like wood flooring, cork needs to be sealed, and we have to think about the products being used here.
When you are using cork rolls, you'll be needing a professional contractor for placement, making cork a pretty expensive flooring option. The rolls of cork will be glued, so here again, we have to consider the glues being used and the healthiest bet is to go for a contractor who is experienced in using environmentally friendly glues.

Natural stone

Like wood, natural stone is another natural that man has used for a long time. Some types of stone do 'breathe' toxic substances, but these should be dealt with by ventilating your rooms well, and are substances man has lived with forever. Like wood, natural stone is not very intensive to mold into flooring, as far as the production process goes.
Many natural stone tiles are imported, so choosing an environmentally friendly option will mean looking for a local option, which will most likely be more expensive.
However, natural stone is not renewable and does leave a permanent mark on the area where it's harvested. It can be reused though and has an endless lifespan.
Your natural stone floor will also become more beautiful with age.

Cement floor

It might come as a surprise, but cement flooring is indeed an environmentally friendly flooring option. So even that industrial, modern look can come in a green jacket.
Not only are cement floors gorgeously design, they're also easy to clean. Seamless, they can be swiped or cleaned with water, as you desire.
Cement is extremely porous, so in order to have a durable floor they need to be cured. Make sure you get a company who can apply an environmentally friendly curing agent, because most companies apply a petroleum derived substance, which is not very healthy and would obviously break with your desire for eco flooring.
A little side note: there's a difference between concrete and cement flooring, and even in cement floors, there are different techniques and substances currently in use.

So why is cement green? Depending on the company you work with, concrete floors can be applied as a very thin layer, so very little product is needed (obviously this depends on the surface you want to apply it to). Cement is basically lime (which is a natural substance), mixed together with various ground waste products. So there's a touch of recycling in there too. Most countries make their own cement, so there's very little shipping and handling involved.

Downside? 

  • Concrete flooring can be very expensive. 
  • You have to investigate what products your contractor will be using, because most will use toxic products in the curing process


Terra cotta

Terracotta tiles are basically made from softly baked earth (terra= earth, cotta=bake). Clay is mixed with color pigments, shaped and oven baked. 
To produce terra cotta tile, we do not need to generate very much heat (some terracotta is even sun dried, though this process is not likely to be applied for flooring). It is obviously more production intensive then stone or solid wood.

Downside?

  • Untreated, terracotta is extremely porous
  • Some terracotta tiles are glazed with toxic glazes, so you'd have to get natural, unglazed tiles
  • Terracotta can prove to be a little more maintenance heavy then other floors. For your terracotta tile to stay gorgeous, you will have to use a curing product regularly. Aside from this, you can clean it normally, with water and an adapted cleaning product. 
  • You do need adapted cleaning products to not damage the curing agent (you could make your own though)

Ceramics

Might seem odd that I'd be mentioning ceramics here, and they probably are the least environmentally friendly option in this lineup, but some ceramics companies are catching on to the importance of sustainability and use recycled material and non-toxic pigments. All of those have certifications, depending on the region you are in they vary (there's the ecoflower for Europe, the green building award, LEED-compliance. If you're looking for ceramics that fit your view on this topic, look into what each certification stands for.)
Ceramics are one of the easiest flooring options when it comes to placing, they are relatively inexpensive (though the certified ones tend to be on the higher range where it comes to ceramics) and they can be applied to nearly every surface, including on top of old tile.

So what did we choose for our renovation project? 

On the top floor we are refinishing the existing wood floors by waxing them, old fashioned style.
For the bathroom and ground level, we have chosen certified tile (the brands of the tile are Italgraniti and Marca Corona), since they had to be placed on existing tile for the ground floor and on top of wood for the bathroom and we had little depth to play with and cement floors did not fit our budget. 




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1 comment:

  1. These flooring options are good to have and to choose either which one is best according to your suitability. Renovation has always been value adding.

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