Sustainable Flooring Materials


In no other part of the home renovation industry has the materials gone through such a transformation as flooring, and especially in sustainable flooring. This means that the floor materials are being manufactured with products that are constantly being replenished or do not come from endangered trees. Sustainable floors can also be thought of as those manufactured on the continent, or even locally, so that fossil fuels are not being expended to ship them half-way across the world.

VOC's: (Volatile Organic Compounds)

One of the biggest innovations in flooring was in the late 1800's with the invention of linoleum. This gave homeowners that chance to add sparkle to their old wood floors without having to expend a lot of money for a carpet. Linoleum was surpassed by vinyl. This made floors that were even cheaper but could be made in thousands of designs and colours. In addition, wall-to-wall carpet provided a beautiful covering for the floor that was very warm during the cold Canadian winter.

However, the vinyl and carpet are made with plastics in processes that emit toxic gases called volatile organic compounds, or VOC's. These gases are not only harmful to environment they stay with the vinyl floors and carpeting for many months after the flooring has been installed in the home. VOC's can affect people with allergies or who suffer from environmental diseases. Not only that, every year across the country hundreds of thousands of tons of old carpet and vinyl products are dumped in landfills. This shortens the lifespans of these landfills by causing them to fill up years ahead of time.

Sustainable Flooring Materials

Many Canadian flooring manufacturers, as well as flooring installers, have responded to the concerns for sustainable flooring by opting for new materials, ones that do not encourage the clear-cutting of the world's forests. In addition, to be classed as sustainable these products should be able to reach the market without the excess burning of fossil fuels in ocean-going freight ships.

1. Canadian and American Hardwood

In Canada and the U.S. maple, oak and birch are very popular wood species for making flooring but for many years forests suffered the wholesale cutting of trees to reach the choice parts. However, during the past twenty years sensible harvesting practices and replanting programs have produced a sustainable hardwood industry. However, oak and maple can be grown overseas so it is best to check the labels to get wood grown in sustainable methods.

2. Cork

One of the more popular choices for sustainable flooring is a natural material found more commonly in a wine bottle. Cork is the bark of trees and is harvested in hundreds of colors and textures that, when processed, produces a beautiful and durable floor. The cork tree is never harmed when the bark is stripped away as it is dead wood and the new bark will grow to maturity in ten to twelve years. Then it can be harvested again. Cork is made into engineered flooring planks that are either glued or can be snapped together. Although it comes from overseas it is very lightweight so leaves a small carbon footprint.

3. Bamboo Flooring

A product that is grown in the southern U.S. has been making inroads in sustainable flooring. Bamboo is not a wood but a grass, one that matures for harvesting in two years. Bamboo is sliced and glued to form planks that can be installed just like hardwood flooring. It as hard as many oak products contains a natural anti-bacterial agent that resists mould. Bamboo can also be fused to form engineered flooring that can be snapped together or glued. Bamboo thrives all over the world in warm places but not all of it is grown in sustainable forests and the manufacturing may contain formaldehyde compounds so it is wise to check the labels.

4. Durable Wool Carpet

Wool has been used as a flooring covering since the dawn of man in places like Arabian tents and Scottish castles. It is more expensive than most flooring coverings but it has many better qualities than the best man-made products. Because fo its natural oils wool is stain resistant and has water repelling agents. Most wool carpet companies use only natural dyes and natural backings like jute.

5. Natural Linoleum

Linoleum was discovered when a skim of rubbery substance was found on the surface of a bucket of linseed oil. Very durable linoleum still reigns supreme in places where the threat of VOC's cannot be tolerated: old-age homes, hospitals, day care centres.

6. Recycled Leather Tiles

Old leather seats from cars, sofas and jackets has found a home as a recycled product for flooring. The old leather is ground up, dyed with natural pigments, rolled with a natural adhesive and cut into flooring tiles. This beautiful floor can be glued down with natural glues.

7. Grass Fibers

Jute, hemp, cotton, jute, or sisal and other fibers have been covering floors for thousands of years. These carpets are durable ad come in many natural colours so they require no dyes. Like bamboo, these products are grass and so are very sustainable.

6. Ceramic Tile and Natural Rock Flooring

Clay-based tiles and natural rock as a flooring product have been around for as long as wool and natural grasses. Because the supplies of clay, granite and marble are endless the only drawback for them in order to be sustainable is their weight and the cost of transportation. However, there are many rock and tile manufacturers on the continent.

For more information on sustainable flooring products consult our Contractor Directory or simply post your project online.

Posted by: Kim Kinrade
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