Dos and Don'ts for Eco-Friendly Flooring

bunnicula/fickrDO investigate whether there might be vintage hardwood hiding underneath your current floor covering, if you are thinking of replacing it. Gently ease up a corner of the existing carpet or other flooring to check. If you are lucky enough to uncover a wood floor, restore and safeguard its natural beauty through proper finishing. Sand the wood and treat it with a nontoxic sealant. Protect from excessive moisture and reseal periodically.

DON'T buy non-sustainable hardwood flooring just to save a few bucks. Instead, look for products that bear the logo of the Forest Stewardship Council. The FSC is a non-governmental, not-for profit organization run by its members, which certifies lumber as sustainably grown and responsibly harvested.

DO consider flooring made out of repurposed wood. Reclaimed wood, salvaged as planks from the demolition of an old barn or warehouse, is good-looking and eco-friendly, because it avoids the greenhouse gases which are produced when unwanted building materials are incinerated. In addition, there have been recent efforts to rescue submerged logs and other timber from lake and riverbeds; the cold temperatures and low levels of oxygen have preserved them for decades, making them suitable for use in home finishing.

DO weigh the pros and cons of a floating floor. This is a type of hardwood, engineered wood, or laminate flooring that you install over the existing surface. No demolition is involved prior to the floor installation and therefore, there is no rubble to be sent to the landfill. Another green advantage of floating flooring is that it requires less wood than its traditional counterpart does. On the other hand, it tends to wear out more quickly.

DON'T put deep plush carpeting in a universally accessible home; it is too difficult to maneuver across when using a wheelchair or walker. Carpet does have the advantage that if a disabled person falls, the soft surface will act as a cushion. If you install carpeting, choose a version with a low pile, made from natural renewable or recycled low-VOC fiber, and glue it to the underpad so that it won't bunch up with movement.

DO learn more before you select a bamboo floor. This type of material has been highly publicized as a green flooring alternative, because bamboo grows so quickly. However, there are at least two problems with bamboo production -- first, the widespread planting of bamboo as a cash crop threatens biodiversity in China, and second, bamboo is often treated with potentially dangerous fertilizers and pesticides. Look for bamboo certified by the FSC. An installation problem: Be forewarned that bamboo planks will undergo minor lengthwise expansion and contraction as the indoor humidity fluctuates; have your flooring contactor allow sufficient room for expansion at the end of each row.

DO be aware, that contrary to popular belief, linoleum is a natural flooring material. Made of organic substances such as linseed oil, cork or wood dust, pine rosin, and a mix of mineral fillers, linoleum is recommended for the homes of allergy sufferers. However, lino's downside is that it is more flammable than its synthetic counterpart, PVC flooring.  

DON'T limit your flooring options to the tried and true. An exciting new green flooring option is longwearing aluminum tiles, manufactured from 100 percent recycled content. They have an attractively shiny, industrial chic look to them. Their slip resistance is much better than that of conventional porcelain tile, though, making them ideal for bathroom or kitchen floors.

Laura Firszt writes for

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