The days when there were only a select few materials were used as floor coverings are long gone. There was a time when residential flooring mainly consisted of hardwood or linoleum, but now you can find flooring in a wide variety of colors and styles manufactured with cutting-edge techniques. This has led to some exciting hybrids in the flooring world but has also brought on a wealth of new problems as well.
Choosing eco-friendly flooring is the best way to ensure the material in your home has been responsibly sourced and manufactured with quality control in mind. Green flooring has stricter standards and guidelines, it needs to adhere to across the board, so while it can help the environment, it can also ensure that the flooring inside your home is safe.
The Green Factor
Before we talk about types of flooring, it’s important to discuss just what makes a flooring material eco-friendly. We sometimes refer to that as the “Green Factor” here at Flooring Clarity, as it encompasses several criteria consumers often associate with eco-friendly products.
With that in mind, the two main areas that separate the best eco-friendly flooring from the rest is how the flooring is made and where it comes from.
Manmade materials have to be harvested before being used for flooring, whether it’s hardwood that’s used in solid planks and engineered boards or clay for tiles. These materails are obviously greener, and more allow for a more natural approach, although the way some materials are harvested can have a harmful effect on the environment.
You still have to take the manufacturing process into account with natural materials, although it can pale in comparison to how most synthetic materials are produced. Carpet, vinyl flooring, and other styles use materials not found in nature, which can be ideal where durability is concerned, but they aren’t necessarily eco-friendly.
- Sustainability - When you are concerned about the environment and want green flooring, sustainability should be the first thing on your mind when shopping for new flooring. These materials have a minimal environmental impact when they are harvested, but also when they are produced into flooring by manufacturers.
- Responsible Harvesting – While wooden flooring is still a great green option for your home, it often depends on the species. Many exotic species come from areas of the world where deforestation has become an issue. Consider the species of tree and how the company’s harvesting practices are when considering wood-based flooring.
- Recycling – Whether you plan to sell your home or need flooring will last more than 50 years, consider what will happen to it if it needs to be removed. Some materials are considerably easier to recycle than others, especially when binders and chemicals are involved in the producing process. Carpet and vinyl are notorious for being difficult to deal with, although advancements in recycling technologies have simplified things to a degree.
What about VOCs?
VOCs are volatile organic compounds, and it’s something you will hear a lot about when looking for the best eco-friendly flooring options. VOCs contribute to indoor air pollution and can cause a variety of health problems or make preexisting issues worse.
Indoor air quality was a significant issue in the flooring industry for decades, but most high-quality flooring sold in the United States today has been tested and vetted by a number of agencies. While even eco-friendly flooring can produce VOCs and affect your indoor air quality, you won’t have to worry if you purchase products that are certified by FloorScore or GreenGuard.
The Best Eco-Friendly Flooring
Below are the top eco-friendly flooring options available to homeowners today. Keep in mind, just how “green” they depend on the manufacturer, which is why it’s essential to look into specifications and certifications beforehand.
Bamboo has been one of the most popular flooring styles for homeowners looking to go green in recent years. It’s a grass, not a wood, but it grows incredibly fast compared to trees and is considered sustainable. It can also be grown in many parts of the world and has natural anti-bacterial properties to go along with incredible strength.
The way bamboo is produced has a lot to do with its overall durability, something you can read more about in our bamboo guide. You’ll also want to stick to well-known brands that produce high-quality certified products as bamboo flooring can contain formaldehyde depending on how it was produced.
Tile is a bit of an oddball in the flooring world, given its multi-purpose nature. You can find it in pools, on walls, floors, and in shower stalls, although it’s not commonly used as flooring throughout an entire home. It’s more ideal for select locations, but is relatively inexpensive and provides more variety than any other style of flooring.
With tile, you can choose from ceramic or porcelain, which are made from clay, so VOCs are only an issue with sealers. Natural stone tiles are a great alternative as well but can be cost-prohibitive if you are working with a tight budget.
Wood is the oldest type of flooring on our list next to tile and still the most popular option for homeowners that want to increase the value of their home. Wooden flooring is sustainable and renewable but should be harvested in a responsible fashion.
Reclaimed hardwood is the most eco-friendly type of wood flooring as it comes from wood that’s been previously used in other structures. Solid hardwood from domestic species is the next best option. Engineered hardwood flooring can be a green alternative, but it largely depends on how it was manufactured and the other materials used in the construction of the planks.
One of the newcomers in the flooring world with bamboo, cork has become increasingly popular in recent years. It’s one of the more interesting options for your home from a design standpoint but brings some interesting advantages to the table as well.
Cork can actually be harvested without cutting down the tree and is very comfortable beneath your feet. It has more spring that other types of flooring acts as an insulator, and has anti-microbial properties. VOCs can be a concern with the finish used on cork, so be sure to look for certified products.
Before vinyl flooring became popular or engineering flooring existing, linoleum was a top seller across the world. While it has lost popularity over the decades due to the wealth of new flooring options, new forms of linoleum feature modern designs and are as green as it gets.
From anti-static properties to its hypoallergenic nature, there’s a lot to like about linoleum – even if the selection is limited. If you want to learn more about this classic that’s making a comeback, our linoleum guide has all the answers.
As you can see, there are a number of materials in use today that fall into the eco-friendly category. Other materials like rubber, are green but aren’t exactly the best choice indoors. There are even options for carpet lovers that use natural fibers like wool or coconut husks, although they can be expensive or have treatments and finishes that affect its sustainability.
No matter what type of flooring material you choose, remember to look for the proper certifications when it comes to VOCs and always consider the construction inside along with the material on the outside.