This piece comes courtesy of Mark Iscaro, director of First Angle, an architecture and interior design practice in Victoria, Australia. Mark is also active on twitter; follow him @First_Angle. Mark looks at six flooring types and appraises their sustainability from the specifier’s point of view.
When it comes to being sustainable with your flooring, there are many options available. Some you would be well aware of, others you may not know about, and even those that you might believe are sustainable, which actually are not. So how do you determine what flooring is for you? Well, first you need to understand what is out there to choose from.
The list of sustainable and supposedly sustainable flooring is a long one, including bamboo flooring, recycled timber flooring, regrowth timber flooring, cork flooring, linoleum flooring and rubber flooring. So let’s take a look at these flooring options and see what the pros and cons are.
Now I know what you’re thinking– linoleum isn’t timber. Amazingly it is, as linoleum is made from pine resin, ground cork dust and wood flour amongst other natural ingredients. Created over 150 years ago, it has been a constant in domestic settings, and more recently has begun to be seen as a sustainable alternative to other types flooring.
It durable and comfortable, as well as being biodegradable, and is possibly the most cost-effective flooring around, but it doesn’t have the beauty of a natural timber floor.
Bamboo flooring has in recent times hit the headlines as perhaps the most sustainable of flooring options. It is cost-effective, easy to install and has all the beauty of timber floors. There are numerous styles and options to choose from, ranging from natural-finish, strand-woven through to darker, char-finished styles.
The main issue with bamboo flooring is that the glues used in its construction are generally not good for the environment with most using formaldehyde. The use of low-VOC in bamboo flooring is yet to occur, making it a good choice but not a great choice. Other questions with bamboo flooring are its manufacturing and a lack of fair trade agreements. So although a somewhat sustainable option it is probably the least sustainable of all the timber flooring options out there.
Timber flooring has been used since homes were first constructed. With solid timber and engineered timber, there is an abundance of choice. In Australia the popular timber floors are Jarrah, Black Butt, Brush Box and Vic Ash, however in recent times an influx of engineered French or American oak flooring has become vast and has hit our shores. Unlike the UK, where oak is available in vast quantities, in Australia it has only recently become popular.
Engineered French and American oak flooring, which generally come from Italian forests, are high quality, cost-effective products. Although there is an issue with the carbon emissions from transport and delivery, the timber is usually sourced from regrowth forests, making it an attractive, sustainable option. When compared to solid timber flooring, most often they are more cost effective. Both options can be re-sanded if needed and are therefore unlikely to be replaced quickly.
It should be noted that in engineered flooring, the glues used are generally low-VOC but you should check with the manufacturer before purchasing.
ESI.info link: compare timber and laminate flooring
Cork flooring is another great alternative to timber, and has been used for over 100 years. The material comes from the bark of the cork oak tree and can only be harvested every 9 years, meaning it has a low impact ecologically. The actual cork layer that is used comes from the leftover scrap that remains after wine corks have been punched, making it an extremely sustainable option.
Cork comes in a vast range of styles and is highly resistant to impact and dents. In a way, cork acts like a memory foam pillow – once dented, it will shift back to its original state. So it is great for high-traffic areas or home offices. Cork is also a great insulator, so when it comes to being sustainable, it probably takes the cake.
Natural Rubber Flooring
Not to be confused with synthetic or recycled rubber flooring, natural rubber flooring is something of a little-known cousin. Although not easy to track down, it is a highly suitable and sustainable option.
Natural rubber flooring is made from latex, a sap found in the Para rubber tree as well as in lettuce, dandelions and fig trees. It is also harvested in a sustainable manner and produced using one of two methods one of two processes: vulcanisation or polymerisation.
It should be noted that natural rubber floors do contain chemicals, so whilst they are sustainable in regrowth they are not so good when it comes to the use of chemicals to produce them. Natural rubber floors do come in a variety of colors but are known to have durability issues when compared the synthetic counterpart and other timber flooring options like cork.
Recycled Timber Floors
Probably the most sustainable option is recycled, or reclaimed timber flooring. It can come from a variety of sources, such as retaining the floor from a demolished home, or purchasing recycled flooring from a scrapyard.
Other possibilities include having larger sections of reclaimed timber machined into usable floorboards. There are a number of ways to reclaim timber or old flooring stock and re-use it in your structure. So when it comes to being sustainable this would easily be the most eco friendly option.
However, cost can become prohibitive when recycling timber floors or reclaiming other timber. There is a lot of manual labour involved in ensuring it is installed and finished correctly. This can make some people shy away from its use, which is somewhat disappointing given its obvious green credentials. Should you go down the path of recycling old timber flooring or using machined reclaimed timber, ensure the installers use low-VOC or no-VOC products when finishing. This will also benefit the health of the end user in years to come.
So now that you know a bit more about the flooring options that are out there. Be sure to research the manufacturer and search for the product that best suits your budget and needs. There are plenty of green options available if you look hard enough.