Building a Green Home from the Ground Up - Best Green Flooring Options

As promised, I will be bringing you all things related to building green throughout the next week or so.  I've decided to start from the ground up so to speak, beginning with green flooring for the home.  The USGBC's Green Home Guide offers a wealth of materials and tips for choosing the right environmentally friendly flooring.  From products for refinishing floors to making them more eco-friendly, there is something here for every flooring need.  While some are more costly, and others have drawbacks, you'll have to decide what is right for you.  And so, I've brought to you the basics of green flooring, from choosing materials such as cork flooring or green carpeting to installation practices and finishing touches:

Best Green Flooring - Bamboo Flooring

Bamboo FlooringBamboo Flooring

As a fast growing grass that can be selectively harvested annually, bamboo is a highly renewable resource.  Choose bamboo materials that are certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) and are free of added formaldehyde.  What's more, bamboo flooring is extremely durable, even harder than red oak or maple flooring.  There are, however, some cons to bamboo flooring.  Transportation from Asia is a big one.  Also, overuse of natural bamboo forests could potentially be destroying them.  Bamboo flooring costs about $4 - 8 per square foot and is recommended for nearly every room in the house - except maybe the bathroom.

Best Green Flooring - Green Carpets

Green CarpetingGreen Carpeting

Look for carpets with the Carpet and Rug Institute's Green Label Plus certification.  Such carpets and area rugs are low-emitting and are often made from natural fibers like wool or jute.  Others have a high content of recycled fibers.  For the purposes of going green, area rugs are preferable to broadloom (wall-to-wall) carpeting.  It's good to steer clear of synthetic fibers because they are made from petroleum, a non-renewable resource.  The major con of green carpeting is that it is often more difficult to clean.  Green carpeting will run you about $4 per square foot.  Since green carpeting is more likely to absorb moisture, it is not recommended for bathrooms, kitchens, laundry rooms, etc.

Best Green Flooring - Cork Flooring

Cork FlooringCork Flooring

A renewable resource, cork is made from the bark of the cork oak tree.  Stick with products that do not have added formaldehyde and are not composed of cork-vinyl composites.  When choosing a sealer, opt for a low VOC product (less than 200 g/L VOCs).  Often, such flooring is also made with recycled content as well.  Cork flooring is easy to clean and great for support and sound absorption.  It'll cost anywhere from $3 - 6 per square foot and is recommended for the kitchen or family room.

Best Green Flooring - Good Old-Fashioned Linoleum Flooring

Linoleum FlooringLinoleum Flooring

Surprisingly, linoleum flooring is made from the same materials as it was in 1863 when it was invented - renewable ingredients such as linseed oil, cork dust, wood flour, tree resins, ground limestone, and pigments, all of which are pressed into jute backing.  Opt for "natural linoleum" because sometimes vinyl flooring is also referred to as linoleum.  Linoleum is often composed of recycled content and has a lifespan of 30 - 40 years.  It's easy to clean and offers good foot support.  At $4 per square foot, linoleum is recommended for your kitchen, bathroom, and family room.

Best Green Flooring - Rubber Flooring

Rubber FlooringRubber Flooring

Rubber trees provide natural, virgin rubber - a renewable resource.  And if you can't get natural rubber, look for recycled rubber, which tends to be more durable than natural rubber anyway because it often comes from recycled tires.  Such floors should be used in well-ventilated areas since they may have an odor.  They can be installed without adhesives, which also help the environment.  With a 20-year lifespan, they're easy to clean and great foot support.  Rubber flooring will cost you $5 - 7 per square foot and is recommended for outdoor areas or well-ventilated indoor rooms.

Best Green Flooring - Stone Flooring

Stone FlooringStone Flooring

Stone is a natural and durable resource.  Choose locally or domestically mined and fabricated stone to avoid transport-related energy use and pollution.  You should opt for stone that does not have to be sealed, but if you do use a sealer, use a low VOC product.  Stone flooring is easy to clean and highly durable.  Unfortunately, the main drawback is that stone is a finite resource.  Also, mining and fabricating stone requires a great deal of energy-use.  Stone flooring can cost you between $3 - 10 per square foot.

Best Green Flooring - Tile Flooring

Tile FlooringTile Flooring

A highly durable material, tile is often made from recycled content, but you should again look for locally manufactured products.  Tile is also very easy to clean.  Like stone flooring, tile too requires a great deal of energy to produce.  It generally costs $1 - 6 per square foot and is recommended for your kitchen, bathroom, entryway, or fireplace.

Best Green Flooring - Wood Flooring

FSC Certified Wood FlooringFSC Certified Wood Flooring

Wood is a natural, renewable resource which is fairly durable.  Look for Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified wood or salvaged/reclaimed wood.  Also, ask your retailer for a chain-of-custody certification.  As always, avoid sealers with high VOCs and added formaldehyde, although wood does contain some natural formaldehyde. Wood flooring will run you $3-6 per square foot and is ideal for most rooms in the home.

Natural oil-based stains and water-based finishes.

Eco-Friendly Floor Stains & FinishesEco-Friendly Floor Stains & Finishes

Water-based stains are great for small projects, but covering an entire floor with a water-based stain won't work well.  Natural oil stains derived from plants can be costly, but they are free of the many chemicals contained in acrylic and urethane stains, which the USGBC Green Home Guide claims can pose potential dangers.  However, oil-based as well as water-based finishes, are great to use for floors.  The site contends that water-based finishes available on the market now wear well and are easy to apply.  Most importantly they produce low emissions.  Although all finishes do contain some toxic chemicals, these are still safer than the alternatives.  Oil finishes may need more frequent reapplying or have lingering odors, but are still more eco-friendly than synthetic urethane finishes.

Dispose of unused products and applicators properly.

Stains and Finishes are Hazardous MaterialsStains and Finishes are Hazardous Materials

All materials used when staining and finishing flooring should be treated as hazardous materials, and this includes sponges, rags, and applicators.   Also consider that many of these materials are highly flammable.

I look forward to bringing you more about building with a green ethic.

Sources: Green Home Guide

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