When deciding on flooring for you new home, the sheer number of options available can feel overwhelming. If you’re anything like us, you’re looking to get the most bang for your buck: a stylish, sturdy material that can withstand your family’s busy lifestyle.
However, a growing number of homeowners are also considering the environmental qualities of their material of choice. Modern “green” flooring options are increasingly popular due to their sustainability and high indoor air quality (IAQ).
Why Choose Eco-Friendly Floors?
It’s no secret that some traditional flooring materials made from non-renewable or synthetic materials such as hardwood, vinyl or conventional carpet can have a negative impact on the environment. What you may not know is that your flooring material can also have a negative impact on your health! Many materials used in building (flooring included) emit VOCs (volatile organic compounds) that can cause problems ranging from fatigue to headaches to irritation of the throat and eyes.
“These days, more of our customers are aware of the indoor air quality, particularly if they have children,” says Scott Rodwin, AIA LEED AP, at Rodwin Architecture + Skycastle Construction, a luxury green builder in Boulder, Colo. “As we seal up houses tighter and tighter, it becomes increasingly important to reduce VOC toxicity.”
Ensuring that your home’s IAQ is high goes beyond the materials used.
“Keep in mind that even though the material selected may be sustainable, oftentimes the adhesives used to install them are not,” says Dayna Hairston, owner and interior designer at Dayziner, LLC, in Raleigh, N.C. Hairston recommends asking for a list of green adhesives that won’t compromise the integrity of your flooring material or void its warranty.
A (Renewable) Material World
In addition to concerns about IAQ, homeowners are looking toward green flooring options that are made from sustainable materials. “To reduce environmental impact, select flooring materials made from naturally renewable resources such as cork, bamboo, eucalyptus or FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) certified hardwoods,” says Hairston.
Sustainability doesn’t begin and end at the source — you’ll also want to think about how your flooring makes its way to your new home. For example, some eco-friendly flooring options, like Asian bamboo, must travel great distances before arriving at your home. The U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) guidelines recommend using materials that come from within 500 miles of your home.
Decision Time: Consider Your Needs
When choosing an eco-friendly flooring option for your new home, your first step should be to consider you and your family’s needs. Are you looking for soft or hard flooring? What is the function of the room? Who will use the space? To help narrow down your decision, we’ve compiled a list of our five favorite eco-friendly flooring materials. No matter which you choose, you can be confident you’re getting a stylish and sustainable product.
“For basements, rec rooms, laundry or exercise rooms, cork often makes a good choice,” says Rodwin. “It’s a renewable resource — the tree bark is simply peeled — it’s naturally anti-microbial, better acoustically than hardwood or tile and has minimal off-gassing.”
Although cork is generally more expensive than carpet, it is more durable and a renewable resource that is an attractive choice in almost any room.
“If clients want hardwood, we often recommend that they take a look at bamboo,” says Rodwin. Bamboo, the world’s largest grass, has multiple benefits as an eco-friendly flooring option: it is fast-growing, durable and competitively priced. However, the bulk of bamboo comes from China and Vietnam, meaning that the energy required for its cross-continent journey to your new home is significant.
Linoleum may seem like a surprising addition to this list, but it is a versatile, durable option that may be perfect for your needs. Unlike its synthetic counterpart, vinyl, linoleum is created from a chemical-free mixture of linseed oil, pine resin, wood flour, cork flour, limestone and pigments.
To truly embrace sustainable design, consider flooring made from recycled materials. Eco-friendly options range from recycled glass tiles to reclaimed hardwood. You can even install rubber flooring made from recycled tires.
For rooms that need a softer touch, wool carpet is a great green option. Unlike conventional carpet that may contain VOCs or other toxins, wool is a renewable, eco-friendly option that can be dyed to fit any color or design scheme you want. As a bonus, wool is less likely to attract dirt and stains.
As these flooring options prove, there’s no need to sacrifice style for sustainability. No matter which eco-friendly flooring material you choose, it will have a positive impact on the environment inside and outside of your new home.
Seve Kale is an award-winning freelancer writer and former content intern for NewHomeSource. She graduated from the University of Texas at Austin in December 2013 with a degree in Government, Humanities and Spanish.
Prior to working with NewHomeSource, she interned in the Press Section at the U.S. Embassy in Buenos Aires and traveled extensively throughout South America