The interior finishes are what reflect the personal styles of any home owner. They create the individually tailored look which can be altered or adjusted to set a particular mood for the room. Since flooring is the second largest surface ( next to the ceiling ) in the home, it must be finished with a sustainable material as it takes on a lot of wear and may require refinishing sooner than most other surfaces.
Using bamboo as a sustainable option for flooring and other applications is becoming quite popular. The stalks can be cut and replenish in as little as five to ten years whereas wood trees can take decades to grow to a reasonable size for harvesting. They can be as versatile as and sometimes stronger than wood and can be used in a number of ways. Just be careful when searching for bamboo products. Choose the options that uses lower amount of added chemicals such as resins and binders as they can be carcinogenic to humans.
There are a couple draw backs to using bamboo. This material is not suitable for higher humidity locations like a bathroom and cannot stand up to sitting water in a mudroom. Bamboo also does not take on stained colours very well but this is something that will always be improving.
What to look for when choosing Bamboo
- FSC certified wood core
- Low VOC finished
- Low VOC underlayment
- Minimal use of adhesives
- Dry locations for installation
What to avoid
- Formaldehyde in binders, finished and underlayment
- Added chemicals for mildew control, fire proofing Etc.
Cork flooring is a fairly fast renewable resource. The cork is harvested from the bark of the cork oat tree every decade which means that it does not have to be cut down. It is a continuous never ending resource were the tree can continue to clean and oxygenate the air. There is virtually no waste produced from the production of cork products as scraps are reused for other items.
The cork itself is a great product for inside the home. It is comfortable under foot, has natural antimicrobial properties, is fire retardant and deters pests. It is also great for those who are sensitive to chemicals as it will not outgas or shed microfibers which could irritate.
What to look for
- Low VOC adhesives and finishes
- Formaldehyde free binders
- Resin oil primer or natural beeswax finishes
- Natural pigment stains
What to avoid
- PVC vinyl blends or backings
- VOCs and solvents in finishes an adhesives
- Synthetic rubber blended into cork
New wood flooring can be a sustainable choice if it comes for an unthreatened wood species and if the forestry practices are sustainable. If wood flooring is properly maintained and occasionally refinished it could potentially last the lifetime of the home. This is a suburb investment which could keep waste from the landfill as you may never need to replace it.
Reclaimed wood is probably the best wood choice for sustainability. It reduces new logging, cuts down on transportation and keeps it from being thrown in the trash. It may or may not have a rustic appearance, can be refinished and adds a certain charm to the home. Do keep in mind to make sure that no industrial chemicals were used on the reclaimed wood which may make it unsafe for indoor applications.
What to look for
- Reclaimed wood which is safe for indoor use
- Renewable and unthreatened
- Locally harvested
- FSC certified
- Low VOC or natural finishes and stains
- Solvent free Finishes
What to avoid
- Chemically tainted wood
- Uncertified wood
- Rare or threatened species
- Engineered wood that isn't certified
- Solvent based finished and stains
If you are looking into using another material for your flooring but are not sure if it is sustainable there are a couple things you can do to determine if it is. First, check what the product is made out of and where is comes from. If there are many chemicals that go into the material or the manufacturing process is long and produces pollution than its not sustainable. Second, find out if it will decompose easily once it is in a landfill. The idea is to use materials that are easily renewable, safe for humans and compostable. Manufacturing process need to be kept to a minimum to reduce pollution, wasted resources and It needs to be something that leaves no trace behind.
Word of the Day: Reclaimed
Materials that are recovered from old buildings to be reused as a material in a new home or renovation.