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February 08, 2008

Green, Sustainable and Eco Friendly Flooring


Dsc00075_copy Guilt-free flooring

Modern flooring is veering away from synthetic carpets and vinyl.  This is largely because people keep hearing about all of the potentially harmful compounds resulting from the manufacturing process.  Who wants floors that will be off-gassing dioxins, lead, cadmium and phthalate plasticizers for the foreseeable future? 

And while most of us aren’t rabid about using exclusively green products, few people enjoy hearing that 5 billion pounds of worn-out carpet are discarded in North American landfills every year.  And that stuff doesn’t break down, ever. So ten thousand years from now, future humans will be able to mine ancient landfills for synthetic carpet fibers to use as home-heating fuel in their ultra-low-emission furnaces.  Oh wait, according to global warming experts, no one will need a furnace by then.

Green floor coverings are becoming more affordable as manufacturers respond to consumer cravings for guilt-free products that support healthy indoor air quality and create less impact on the planet’s resources.   Environmentally-friendly floors are hypo-allergenic, durable and reduce the levels of toxicity in your home, although the off-gassing from a single pair of teenager’s running shoes can ruin that fast. 

But the truth is, no matter what flooring you choose, there are trade-offs. Carpet, for example, may be soft, warm and acoustically absorbent, but it’s made from oil that has to be imported from thousands of miles away. Carpet fibers harbour dirt, pet dandruff and dust mites.  A carpet’s life cycle in a house is approximately 10 years, but once you’re done with it, there’s no way to destroy it unless you throw it into a live volcano. 

Rock_quarry_2 Even totally natural materials have drawbacks.  For example, stone is low-maintenance and lasts for centuries but requires huge amounts of energy to quarry, finish and transport. Bamboo and cork have an 'embodied energy cost' because they have to be transported thousands of miles from Asia or the Mediterranean.  Dirt floors are cheap, low-tech, low-impact and never need to be washed, but family members may complain about insect larvae and groundhogs.


It’s not wood, but it sure looks like wood, especially some of the newer composites.  Bamboo grows about 10 times faster than wood because it’s a giant member of the grass family. When you harvest it, it just regenerates, so you’re not killing the plant.  Bamboo doesn’t need heavy fertilizers or pesticides to thrive as the fastest growing plant on earth.  And by the way, you’re not covering your floors with a panda’s breakfast.  Endangered giant pandas don’t eat the kinds of bamboo used in flooring.

Bamboo_floor_4 Bamboo gets its colour palette from different processing options.  Darker colours (carbonized) are produced by heating the bamboo fibres.  The longer it’s heated, the deeper the colour.)

Bamboo has no official certification yet, so it’s up to you to find a dealer who uses ecologically-sound processing methods, low-emission glues and low-VOC finishes.  A good place to start is SilkRoad Bamboo (www.silkroadflooring.com); their bamboo flooring has been awarded Environment Canada’s Eco-Logo for environmentally-honourable manufacturing.  Although bamboo isn’t cheap, its prices are stable because it is so renewable. 



Several Canadian companies are producing carpeting that has earned the Carpet and Rug Institute’s seal of approval, called Green Label Plus.  This certification has stringent standards based on California’s rigorous tests for emissions of individual volatile organic compounds, rather than just the overall level.  Nature’s Carpet in B.C. (www.naturescarpet.com) produces beautiful pure wool carpets with natural latex and jute backing. 

If you prefer synthetic fibers, check out carpet made entirely from recycled pop bottles (www.interfaceflor.com and www.beaulieucanada.ca).  It takes 40 two-liter bottles to make one square yard of carpet. 


I know what you’re thinking. Who wants a cold, factory-style floor?  But wait.  I grew up in a passive solar bungalow with painted concrete floors and radiant heat.  The floors were always cozy and we were Concrete_floor always barefoot.  The great thing about concrete is that it’s good for the life of the home.  You don’t have to rip it out every few years because it’s got dust mites or looks ratty. You just paint it.  You can also stamp fresh concrete with textures, stain it with concrete dye, or polish it to look like stone. 

Today’s dazzling advances in radiant heat (which saves you 20 to 40 percent on your heating bills) can give you a cozy, resilient, hypo-allergenic surface that’s easy to clean and never needs refinishing.  Concrete is the closest thing to hard-packed dirt (nature’s cheapest flooring), but has a huge range of aesthetic and health advantages.  And it’s almost as cheap as dirt.  Start your imagination teeming by visiting www.concretenetwork.com/stained-concrete.


Cork_flooring Cork dampens sound, it’s warm underfoot, it feels nice and springy, it’s pretty, it’s natural, it’s non-toxic (even the six layers of urethane clearcoat are water-based if you buy the right brand). Insects, moulds and mildew don’t like living in it, and cork is a renewable, recycled resource made from leftover materials used in the wine-cork industry.   

Cork is also fire and moisture resistant.  You wouldn't want to use cork if you're into stiletto hells, because one heal creates 2000 pounds of pressure per square inch under the average sized woman and that's going to leave a mark.

Ecologically-friendly cork starts at roughly $4 per square foot and up.  It’s available in lots of colours (check out www.fastfloors.com), composite or solid construction. Look for natural cork and make sure it has a low-VOC finish (usually several coats of water-based urethane).



Dsc00033_copy Real linoleum is making a huge comeback in brands like Marmoleum and Armstrong.  Invented in 1860, linoleum is made from entirely natural materials including ground up cork, sawdust, solidified linseed oil (from flax plants), powdered limestone and pine rosins.  Linseed oil is a natural antimicrobial agent, so it makes linoleum a healthy choice for baby’s rooms, kitchens and bathrooms.  Also, the beautiful random patterns in linoleum are carried all the way through the thickness of the material, whereas vinyl just has the pattern affixed to the surface.  That’s why vinyl wears out quickly, whereas linoleum will hold its beauty for decades.  Linoleum must be glued down, so make sure you use low-VOC glue.  Available in click-together tiles for the DIY enthusiast, linoleum comes in beautiful colours and natural pigments.  Check out the range of hues at www.forbolinoleumna.com, or www.armstrong.com.


Glass_tile_3 Ceramic tile is one of the most hypo-allergenic surfaces available, but it has hidden energy costs because it has to be fired at very high temperatures. 

Some newly formulated all-glass tiles contain recycled light bulbs, wine bottles and airplane windshields. Manufacturing recycled glass tiles requires about half the energy it takes to produce ceramic tiles.  Glass tiles are gorgeous and they’re also dead pricey.  You can see luminous examples online at www.aboutglasstile.com.


Not all wood floors fall into the green category, because many wood flooring products are not sustainably harvested or in good supply worldwide. Approximately 10 percent of the world’s tree species are endangered and it’s not just exotic hardwoods on the list.  For example, beech is depleted throughout North America, so it should be avoided as a flooring material. 

Look for flooring that bears the logo of the Forest Stewardship Council, a global organization that certifies sustainably harvested wood products.  The FSC logo also ensures that forestry companies observe the rights of local populations and forestry workers.  You can find gorgeous FSC-certified fir and hardwood flooring at www.woodlandflooring.com, or check out www.thehealthiesthome.com.

Some wood flooring products (particularly laminated types and floating floors) are manufactured with heavy use of aldehydes and other volatile organic compounds, or they contain poly vinyl chloride (PVC) – that’s the stuff that makes vinyl flooring such an egregious choice - so research your products carefully if you want to go the green route. 

TIP: Some of the most beautiful natural wood floors are made from timber that’s been salvaged from old buildings.  You can start your reclaimed flooring search online at www.junktiques.ca or www.timelessmaterials.com.


Covering ugly or worn floors (rather than ripping them out and discarding them) is faster and easier and even cheaper than ever before thanks to ‘floating’ floor technology.  A floating floor is a do-it-yourself project from heaven.  As you probably know, few home projects ever come from there.




Coming soon Urbantiles, sustainable recycled glass and cement floor tiles. Both 3/8” and ½” thick tiles will be available in a variety of sizes. Six standard earth tone colors will be available. Distributed through SpecCeramics.


carpet entirely made from receyeled pop bottles Literly,Mag? I never knew that could be possible.


Thank you for the great web site - a true resource, and one that many people clearly enjoy. Keep up the good work.


Thanks Neal.



Taking a Sustainable Building course and stumbled on your site. Love it!

Tin Ceiling Xpress

I really love those floors! They look so rich and classy. How much do those glass tile things cost? I think it'd be really cool to do those in earth tones in my kitchen.


Glass tiles are a little pricey but it depends on what's available through suppliers in your area. I fell in love with some recycled glass tile that I saw in Vancouver at World Mosaic on 7th Avenue - here's the link: http://www.worldmosaictile.com/oceanside/ - Hope you find some that you love!


carpet cleaning bremerton wa

Withe kind of economy we have and environment we live, we really need to have green, sustainable and eco-friendly flooring. There are floor tiles in the market that are environment friendly. There are also carpets that are biodegradable. This is an immediate attempt in order to have a sustainable life.

concrete staining, maybe?

For me, the issue is not having flooring that gives off toxins, it's just that I want flooring that is easy to clean, which carpet is not. I would love to put some of that ceramic tile in my living room. I love the colors! Concrete staining would also be nice.


These pictures look amazing. It looks like you guys know everything. So i thought i"d ask you about stretched ceilings. There is a company in New York called Plafond Group that specializes in stretch ceilings. Many of the pictures on their website have the same style as these. Those pictures can be viewed at www.eurostretchceiling.com

foundation repair girl

I absolutely love the idea of using bamboo or concrete for my home's flooring. Concrete scares me a little bit, just because I'm afraid of my babies falling hard on it. I guess I need to do some more research before I invest. Thanks for the information!

Bjorn Button

I would check out http://www.jrodriguezconcrete.com/ for concrete work. I am ok doing the inside flooring, but I would prefer as expert to work with concrete. the conditions have to be perfect in order to make sure the concrete lays properly.

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