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Choosing Sustainable Flooring and Tiles


There are a number of flooring alternatives for your home that feature environmentally friendly attributes without sacrificing style:


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  • Sustainable grown/harvested materials - Consider floors made of sustainably grown or harvested materials. For instance, the cork used in linoleum and cork tiles is sustainably harvested from the bark of cork oak. Other examples include floors made from the fast-growing bamboo, as well as certified hardwoods rather than non-certified tropical hardwoods. Sustainably grown and harvested flooring is now often available at home improvement stores.
  • Reclaimed materials - Consider using reclaimed lumber as a flooring option. Hundreds of building material reuse stores sell high-quality flooring salvaged from construction and renovation projects. Most stores are open to the public. The Building Materials Reuse Association's Web site contains a directory of member reuse stores. Habitat for Humanity operates many reuse stores around the country and their reuse store directory can also be found on their Web site. Online marketplaces for these materials are also in operation, such as and
  • Recycled-content - Another flooring option is recycled-content flooring made of materials such as recycled tiles, rubber, or stone. For example, ceramic tile is a durable and low-maintenance alternative to wood or vinyl tile flooring, and can be available in up to 100 percent recycled content. Reused salvaged ceramic tile may be available at a local building material reuse store. Generally, the cost for floor tiles can very depending on their characteristics and features, but using recycled-content material or non-toxic adhesives does not necessarily increase the cost.
  • Reduced toxicity - Vinyl flooring should generally be avoided due to the use of hazardous and toxic substances in the production process. If you like the features of vinyl flooring, consider linoleum instead, which is made from sawdust and linseed oil, using a less toxic process than the process used to make vinyl flooring.

It is increasingly common for manufacturers to make green claims about flooring. However, you should do a bit of research to determine if flooring alternatives advertised as green really are. Some things to look for include:

  • Certification - Wood that is labeled as sustainably harvested should carry a well-known certification.
  • 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.
  • Shipping distance - A long shipping distance reduces the environmental attributes of flooring due to transportation energy use and green house gas emissions, especially for heavy materials such as flooring.
  • Maintenance - Consider maintenance issues when selecting your flooring materials, and avoid options that require frequent maintenance or harsh chemicals for cleaning or waxing.
Installing New Flooring

First, take care when removing and replacing old flooring in a home. Some flooring materials used until the 1970's contained asbestos material. This included resilient floor tiles (vinyl asbestos, asphalt, and rubber), the backing on vinyl sheet flooring, and adhesives used for installing floor tile. Breaking, removing, chopping, sanding or other disturbance of these tiles can release asbestos fibers into the air and should only be done by a trained and certified professional.

During installation, make sure that non-toxic and/or non-VOC-emitting adhesives are used to avoid indoor air quality problems in your home, which can persist long after installation. If you use a polyurethane-based varnish or coating, be sure to wear adequate personal protection and ensure good ventilation.



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Choosing Sustainable Flooring and Tiles:  Created on June 25th, 2011.  Last Modified on June 25th, 2011


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