Several studies show that we live with pollutants inside our homes that are two to five times higher than those outside it. Carpeting and flooring can fill the air you breathe with many volatile organic compounds (VOCs), including suspected carcinogens like formaldehyde and benzene. When your old floors need a facelift or change, think of choosing eco-friendly floors that not only cost less but also are healthier. Your only loss will be pollutants.
Conventional flooring relies on certain materials that are harmful. In comparison, several newer products are more environment friendly. The main enemy is petroleum, which comes in the form of polypropylene in adhering yarns prior to backing, and seems to be unavoidable in the making of carpets. In addition, carpets are often treated with toxic chemicals for mothproofing or to repel soil and moisture. Carpeting is also notorious for trapping toxic lawn chemicals, VOCs and allergens tracked in from outside.
There are several sustainable flooring options that can minimise indoor pollution and mitigate health problems caused by toxic carpets. You can now choose from a rapidly growing line of carpets and flooring made from recycled and eco-friendly materials. Durable, stylish and often less expensive than conventional floors and carpets, these sustainable options provide a responsible and healthy way to enhance your home.
Look for carpets made from natural fibres with little or no chemical treatment. Also, purchase carpets with natural-fibre backing attached with less-toxic adhesives. Look for low-toxicity natural carpets made from woven wool and natural sisal, jute and seagrass, and which use undyed or vegetable-dyed yarn and minimal natural latex (rubber) glue.
Many carpets and carpet paddings contain plastics made from petroleum, an unrenewable and energy consumptive resource. Choose a carpet with lightweight backing that requires no additional padding, or one that uses padding made from recycled materials, like recycled cotton padding or “rag pads”.
Eventually, all the cleaning in the world won’t save an old and tattered carpet. However, when you finally decide to say goodbye to an old carpet, remember that every year people send about 2 million tonnes of rugs and carpets to local landfills, and that most carpets will last up to 20,000 years. Instead of adding to that total, try to purchase flooring from companies that will recycle or donate your old carpet.
Another way to minimise your ecological impact is to install carpets in tiles, if possible. This method allows you to replace smaller parts of it when they become worn down or damaged, rather than replacing the entire thing.
Ranking Your Rugs
Rugs are a great way of adding style and comfort to any of your home’s floors, but they, too, can carry a steep environmental cost. Like conventional carpets, rugs frequently contain nylon and other petroleum by-products. To minimise the use of these resource-intensive ingredients, look for rugs made of natural fibres. Many hand-woven rugs are made overseas, where labour restrictions regarding workers’ rights and child labour are not rigorously implemented. This problem can be solved by using Rugmark. This foundation monitors the production of hand-woven rugs across the globe and issues labels to rugs made without child labour.
While carpets and rugs can be responsibly purchased and installed, the most eco-friendly flooring option is often avoiding them altogether. Three main flooring materials — bamboo, hardwoods and cork — are considered eco-friendly. As an added bonus, they are all relatively easy to maintain. They are also good choices for allergy sufferers. With bamboo, hardwoods and cork, there is no place for pet dander, pollens, mold, mildew, dust, etc. to hide. Compare this to carpets, and you will see why more and more people are choosing these other materials.Hardwood floors: Make sure that your wood comes from sustainable and managed forests. Several types of wood are produced in forests where planting exceeds felling, where the trees are regenerated, biodiversity is conserved, and air and water quality are preserved. Reclaimed hardwood floors are made with timbers recycled from old structures, such as dilapidated barns, schoolhouses, libraries, etc. There are a number of companies who buy the wood that would otherwise end up in a junkyard and refinish it to create planks suitable for residential floors. So you can install a new hardwood floor without any new trees being cut down.
If you are wondering if these reused boards are structurally sound, they are. In fact, many people tout them as superior to the planks made from today’s trees. The wood used in these older buildings came from old-growth forests, from older first-generation trees; on the other hand, today’s hardwood floors are made from wood harvested from tree farms, where the trees never truly reach maturity before being cut down. Have a floor made from reclaimed wood and you’ll be getting quality, character and history in one swoop.
Cork: We are all familiar with the cork-stop in wine bottles, but most of us may never have walked on a cork floor. It’s the same material, just formed into tiles or planks and stuck down on the sub-floor. While softwoods are rarely considered ideal flooring material, cork is an excellent choice for many reasons. The natural elasticity of cork makes these floors especially comfortable; the wood provides thermal and acoustic insulation; and the durable floors recover well from marks left by furniture or high heels. The floors are also hypoallergenic, so they won’t attract dust; are fire-resistant; and can even serve as a natural insect repellant. Cork is considered eco-friendly because it’s harvested from sustainable resources. It comes from the bark of the cork oak tree (which can be collected without harming the tree itself), and better yet, the cork oak tree grows back every three years. Moreover, since it is lightweight, installation is fairly painless.
Cork’s unique look makes it a fun floor choice, but there are practical reasons for choosing it as well. It acts as an insulator, absorbing sound and softening impacts (for instance, if you lay cork in the kitchen, a dropped dish probably won’t break). It’s also an easier material to stand on for long periods than floors made from ceramic tiles, stone, etc.
Bamboo: Bamboo is flooring material that is catching on. This popular green flooring option is 13 per cent harder than Maple and 27 per cent harder than Northern Red Oak, so it lasts longer and can withstand more use than conventional hardwood floors. Bamboo floors are naturally resistant to water, mildew and insects, and they are sustainable since bamboo grows quickly and abundantly. It is considered eco-friendly because bamboo is a fast-growing grass, rather than a tree, and farms can grow a shoot to maturity in just a few years.
Though bamboo is somewhat similar to hardwood floors, it has a distinct look, and some people prefer that uniqueness to hardwoods. It is a sturdy and durable material that lasts just as long as wood. Though there aren’t as many varieties as there are species of wood, different finishes can create different looks.
Tiles and linoleum: You can add life to any room with a colourful floor made of recycled glass tiles, which are ideal for modern bathrooms and kitchens. Natural linoleum floors are also hypoallergenic and biodegradable. Marmoleum, a natural linoleum floor, is also an option worth considering since it is derived from organic products and is completely biodegradable.
Did You Know?
- Installation of new carpet and flooring can fill the air with hundreds of volatile organic compounds (VOCs), including known and suspected carcinogens like formaldehyde and benzene. It can take years for these substances to dissipate.
- When you're looking for eco-friendly flooring options next, try cork -- it's sustainable, beautiful, lasting, quiet and it's the best for allergy sufferers.
- By using Bamboo flooring, you help preserve the habitat of endangered wildlife, which makes it a more eco-friendly choice for flooring than hardwoods.
- Natural linoleum floors are also hypoallergenic and biodegradable.
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