General Advice

Before you buy, consider sprucing up what you have, re-using flooring from salvage, or choosing flooring made from re-cycled materials. Environmentally friendly, recycled materials are often of better quality than new materials, and use less energy. For example, in 2010, researchers calculated that producing new wood flooring consumed 13 times the energy used in reclaiming wood floors.

If you are buying new find out about the product and consider the energy used in harvesting the raw materials, processing, transportation, storage and disposal.

A long shipping distance reduces the environmental attributes of flooring due to transportation energy use and GHG emissions,

Maintenance - avoid flooring that requires frequent maintenance or harsh chemicals for cleaning or waxing.

Types of Flooring

Re-used

  • Reclaimed Hardwood

Often harder wearing than new soft wood boards. 2010 research calculated that producing new wood flooring consumed 13 times the energy used in reclaiming wood floors.

Reclaimed wood reuses existing wood from trees that were chopped down a, long time ago.

  •  Reclaimed tiles or stone

Recycled

  •  Carbon neutral new porcelain tiles made from recycled television screens and car windscreens

Eco Friendly Tiles use old cathode ray television screens ground up into a fine flour-like powder as the base for their tiles, which have a semi-glossy finish and a lightly uneven, “ripple” to their surface. The director claims that their thin tile, backed with mesh so it doesn’t crack, takes half the energy a standard thickness tile needs to fire. ecofriendlytiles.co.uk; tiles from £45 per square metre; Sam Coster: mongersofhingham.co.uk; tiles and boards from £20 per square metre

  •  Glass Tiles made from re-cycled glass:

Glass is non-absorptive and won’t mildew or mold in damp environments.  It is easy to maintain and won’t stain. Glass comes in lots of colors, patterns and finishes suitable for most design schemes. Unlike ceramic tiles, glass will reflect light rather than absorb it, adding that additional layer of light some rooms need. Freshome.com

  •  Wool rugs made from reclaimed wool:

Welsh weaving firm Tweedmill Textiles collects yarn from old jumpers, re-spins it and then weaves the wool into beautiful tweed rugs. Jackie Ryan, managing director, says that it is pot luck as to what colour or shade of wool is coming in – every rug is different. Rugs are £14.50; available online from the Friends of the Earth: foeshop.co.uk.

  •  Woven inner tube mats:

Designer Barley Massey, who makes interiors from reclaimed and recycled materials, weaves floor mats from reclaimed bicycle inner tubes. The black, slightly springy mats, which Barley can make to any size, have “a fairly industrial feel and would suit a modern urban loft-style space”. Barley collects the inner tubes from east London cycle repair shops. Floor mats from £100; fabrications1.co.uk.

  • Polyester (PET berber carpet: made from re-cycled PET (plastic) bottles

This is durable, spill resistant and comes in a variety of colors and patterns. It typically has a flecked appearance making it suitable to most color schemes.  There are drawbacks too.  Berber can be easily snagged causing it to unravel if not repaired promptly.  The recycled material can be a little rough to walk on in your bare feet.  Overall, it’s very economical.

Sustainable

  • Cork

European, sustainable, insulating, 10-30 years life.

Cork, a renewable material harvested from the forests of Spain and Portugal, is harvested from the bark of the cork oak tree commonly found in the forests of the Mediterranean. The trees are not cut down to harvest the bark, which will grow back every three years, making it renewable.  It has anti-microbial properties that reduce allergens in the home, is fire retardant, easy to maintain and acts as a natural insect repellent too. Cork, like wood can be finished in a variety of paints and stains to suit any color scheme or design style.  Its durability allows for uses in any part of the house.   Cork floors, depending on the quality, can last between 10-30 years.

Cork parquet flooring, according to a 2009 study using the National Institute of Standards and Technology's Building for Energy and Environmental Sustainability life-cycle assessment process, was the flooring product with the least environmental impact. Made from recycled cork waste, this flooring has a lifespan of up to 50 years.

Cork leather creates a smooth, warm, gently giving surface, and cork underlay has far higher thermal and acoustic properties than conventional foam. Jelinek Cork, a family firm based in Europe and Canada, also reuses old cork wine stoppers which are sliced into quarter-inch-thick rounds and incorporated onto tile basesOff-cuts or unwanted pieces are ground up and turned into insulation material. From £86.94 for a pack of five, approx 10sq

  • Linoleum (not vinyl)

Linoleum is created from a concoction of linseed oil, cork dust, tree resins, wood flour, pigments and ground limestone. It is biodegradable and nontoxic, and requires almost no maintenance. It will last up to 30 years. In the BEES analysis, linoleum was second to cork parquet in environmental impact.

Vast array of bright vibrant colors and a new sealer to protect it from stains.  It has a long shelf life and will hold up to a lot of wear and tear.

When one thinks of linoleum flooring, vinyl tends to come to mind and yet the two are nowhere close to each other.  Vinyl is a synthetic made of chlorinated petrochemicals that are harmful. 

  • Bamboo

Bamboo is a hardwood-like grass; growers produce species used for flooring in three to six years, without the need for much fertilizer or pesticide, far less than the twenty years trees can take. The plant is not destroyed, as growth is harvested. It is durable, easy to maintain and is easy to install. Available in many hues, varied grains and wide array of colors.

Forest certification is now available for some bamboo flooring products; but due to the popularity of bamboo, it is increasingly displacing forested areas.

Many of the flooring products made with bamboo are shipped long distances. They also use potentially toxic and polluting chemicals in their manufacture. Bamboo strips are commonly sealed with formaldehyde-based chemicals.

  • Rubber flooring made from recycled tires 

Great to walk on, water resistant and comes in many color and pattern options.


  • Leather

Leather can be used as flooring when derived from the centre of the cowhide and thicker than the leather used for wallets etc. Soft warm feel under foot, not for bathrooms, kitchens or other moist areas.  Dureable and looks good when worn,  scratched and aged

Other options

  •  Concrete

Concrete is typically slab on grade and used as a sub flooring.  If it is polished and tinted there is no need for traditional flooring to be put over it.  Can create a tiled effect with different colors, and inlay other materials such as glass. Concrete is extremely durable, easy to clean and never needs to be replaced.

  •  Coconut timber Flooring

Coconut is a hardwood substitute from coconut palm trees. Coconut palm wood flooring is cheaper than teak but the wood hardness is comparable to mahogany. Coconut palm wood is made from matured (60 to 80 years old) coconut palm trees that no longer bear fruits. Fast growing coconut trees can grow quickly within 5 to 6 years.

  •  Basalt tiles

Basalt tiles are heat storing - with a honed finish, £63.68 per sq.m in five sizes and three other finishes Devon Stone

  • Hardwood Floors

Hardwood labeled FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) which promotes the responsible management of forests throughout the world with a focus on adhering to high social and environmental standards.

  • Carpets

Carpet is soft and comes in a range of colors and patterns.  natural materials used to make carpets or rugs are woodl, sisal, jute and cotton.

Unfortunately, some researchers using the BEES analysis found carpet, particularly wool carpet, to have the greatest environmental impact.

The health and environmental concerns associated with carpet include indoor air quality, chemical emissions from manufacturing and disposal operations, and solid waste impacts.

A variety of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) can be emitted from carpet itself or from accompanying materials (e.g., adhesives used during installation), particularly if installed improperly (although VOC emissions from new carpet typically fall to very low levels within 48 to 72 hours after installation when accompanied by good ventilation).

In addition, over four billion pounds of carpet enter the solid waste stream in the U.S. every year, and the bulky nature of carpet creates collection and handling problems for solid waste operations. The variety of materials present in carpet makes it difficult to recycle, although several carpet manufacturers have instituted take-back and recycling programs.

When choosing a carpet, some environmental attributes to look for include:

  • Low or no volatile organic compounds (VOCs)
  • No toxic dyes
  • Recyclable
  • Recycled-content
  • Sustainably grown/harvested material (i.e. wool carpeting)

Sealing and coating chemicals

Avoid flooring coated or sealed with a formaldehyde-based chemicals, which emit VOCs, or polyurethane, which contains a class of chemicals that cause or aggravate asthma (diisocyanates). And ask the retailer or supplier how they assess the validity of formaldehyde-free claims.


Downloadable PDF about flooring

 

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