Look Down for Sustainable Flooring then Look Up for Cleaner Air

Bamboo Flooring

Cork Flooring

Reclaimed Wood

Laminate Flooring

Hardwood Flooring

Wool Carpet

Recycled Tile

Recycled Carpet

Radiant Flooring

Cleaning Your Floors

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FLOORING

If you know which of the numerous flooring options available today are environmentally friendly, it will be much easier to choose the most sustainable one. Traditional flooring options include solid hardwood, carpet, tile, and vinyl. In the past, consumers typically had no idea what materials or chemicals were in the products. Wood flooring was made out of hardwoods obtained through deforestation that frequently jeopardized rainforests, the larger ecosystem, and local communities. Also, as it turned out, most manufactured flooring products contained volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that pollute indoor air and cause health problems through a process known as “gassing out.”

Fortunately, there are now many types of eco- friendly flooring to choose from, with both wood and non- wood options. Wood flooring includes such products as solid wood flooring made from renewable resources, laminate flooring, reclaimed wood floors, cork flooring, and bamboo flooring. (Technically, bamboo is a grass and not a tree, but it makes beautiful sustainable flooring and comes in a variety of colors). For those who insist on real or solid hardwood, the most eco-friendly option is flooring certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) as having been responsibly harvested from sustainably managed forests.

Non-wood products are also manufactured from natural materials. For example, linoleum is made from cork, wood flour, limestone dust, and other materials. Carpets used to be made with VOCs and other harmful substances, but now there are low-toxicity natural carpets made from wool, natural dyes, and low-VOC glues and treatments. Some carpets are even made from recycled materials.

To better understand the many environmentally friendly flooring options, we recommend reading each topic in this section. You might be pleasantly surprised by the selection!.

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Bamboo

Flooring

What is it?

Bamboo is a member of the grass family which grows rapidly and can be found naturally flourishing on almost every continent, most profusely in Asia. Bamboo’s size, the speed at which it grows, and its ability to self- regenerate after harvesting has made it a valuable crop for construction and flooring. For flooring, bamboo poles are typically sliced into strips and boiled to de- starch them. They are then glued together to make boards, cut into appropriate lengths, and treated with a preservative. The hardness of the end product is determined by both the species of bamboo as well as the age at which it was harvested. The hardness of good quality bamboo flooring products is equal to or greater than that of hardwood floors. Bamboo flooring is available in solid form, as engineered bamboo-on- wood- substrate flooring, as compressed bamboo flooring, and as bamboo plywood.

Why do it?

Environmental Qualities

Rapidly self-renewable material.

Its incredibly fast growth rate gives bamboo a remarkable ability to rapidly sequester carbon from the atmosphere which helps mitigate climate change.

Pros:

Certain types of bamboo (such as un-carbonized or strand- woven) are extremely hard and durable.

Water-resistant, it only needs to be swept or vacuumed to remove dirt particles.

Bamboo looks and feels similar to hardwood while being uniquely different, and can add a lot of value to your home.

Cons:

Some bamboo products use laminates and glues containing toxic urea-formaldehyde and other chemicals that release VOCs.

High humidity can cause bamboo planks to expand, while very dry air can cause the planks to shrink. Both result in cracks over time.

Standing water can severely damage bamboo flooring (as with all natural wood or fiber-based materials).

Floor may need to be refinished if it gets scuffed or scratched.

Maintenance:

Bamboo needs to be regularly swept and vacuumed. Also, avoid letting any liquids stand on it for a long time. Bamboo will get

scuff marks and scratches as it is used, but you can refinish the floor by sanding it down and reapplying finishing coats. Before you sell your home, it’s a good idea to completely refinish the floor to give it a brand new look!

Timeline:

2-3 days for click and lock products, whereas direct stick installations could take 3-4 days.

Steps:

1.Decide which kind of bamboo to get. If you’re a DIYer, it’s easiest to choose a click-on or snap-lock product.

2.When you buy the product, let the bamboo adjust to your climate by letting it sit out for 2–4 days. This will allow it to expand/contract before you install it.

3.Determine how the bamboo will attach to the existing floor. If installing bamboo on top of new wood, use glue, if on top of existing wood, nail it down. It can also be installed on top of a layer of foam, not faceted at all, creating a floating floor that is much easier to remove or replace.

4.When you are installing the flooring, work in small sections, connecting the boards as you go. Use a rubber mallet or a block of wood to push the planks together, ensuring a tight fit.

5.When the entire area is finished, push a heavy-weighted roller over the surface in multiple directions to ensure the floor is flat, level, and completely adhered to the subflooring.

6.Clean and enjoy!

Cost Estimator:

Bamboo is typically $2.00 to $5.00 per square foot (without installation), from national retailers. Therefore, adding bamboo to every floor of an average home would be $3,000–$7,500 for a DIYer.

Quick Tips:

Because of the diversity in the quality of bamboo available (its hardness and the amount of toxic chemicals used), avoid bamboo sold at extremely low prices, as these products will be of lower value. Products with a horizontal instead of a vertical cut will be wider. This will show more bamboo markings and be easier to install since there are fewer pieces.

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Cork

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Flooring

 

What is it?

How can cork flooring increase the sustainability and comfort of your home? Although cork flooring has been in use for decades, homeowners are just now realizing its potential. Most cork trees are grown in southern Europe and northern Africa, although the cork you purchase will probably originate from Portugal, which produces more than half of the world’s cork. The cork used for flooring comes from the bark left over after bottle stoppers are punched out. Manufacturers then grind, press, and bake the bark into sheets for flooring. Cork harvesting is quite sustainable, but there are regulations in place to protect the trees.

Why do it?

Environmental Qualities

Renewable resource: cork trees regenerate bark after harvesting and live for 100-200 years

Hypo-allergenic: doesn’t collect dust; contains suberin, which repels allergens and pests

Pros:

Shock-absorbent: comfortable for standing on; also reduces breakage in dropped items

Holds in warmth so you can walk barefoot

Muffles sound well

Comes in a variety of tones and textures

Can be easily dyed or stained to suit your taste

Easier to install than hardwood flooring; less maintenance than carpeting

Cons:

Requires constant maintenance to prevent scarring

Furniture can leave permanent dents

Impractical for damp areas (e.g. bathroom, basement, laundry)

Can fade due to sunlight

Can buckle more easily than hardwood flooring

Maintenance:

As we mentioned, this is perhaps the biggest downside. Cork flooring is by no means a “leave it and forget it” kind of home feature. You’ll need to sweep/vacuum the floor at least once a week. Also, you’ll have to re-seal it on a periodic basis. For re- sealing, you have two options: use a coat of polyurethane every few years, or use a coat of wax at least once a year. Even pre- finished cork flooring requires maintenance. Also, never clean with water. Prolonged contact with water may ruin the floor.

Timeline:

Installation time depends on the size of the area you’ll be converting, but it generally takes 1-2 days per room. After installation, sweep/vacuum at least once a week and re-seal every couple of years.

Steps:

Preparation

1.Decide which floor(s) you want to convert to cork. Measure the square footage and then add 10% to that number to account for off cuts.

2.Shop around for a suitable type of cork flooring and buy the appropriate number of planks/tiles.

3.Purchase molding to go around the perimeter of the room to hide the gap between the cork and the walls (cork needs room to expand). If the room already has a baseboard, you can leave it in place during installation, but be sure to keep a ½ inch gap between the flooring and the wall, and then cover the baseboard with the molding. If the baseboard already has molding, you’ll have to remove it and reinstall it.

4.Cut a scrap piece of plywood into ½ inch long pieces to use as spacers between the flooring and the walls.

5.Buy a pack of 4D finish nails to fasten the molding.

6.Buy some polyurethane to give the cork its first seal after installation.

7.Make sure you unpack everything 72 hours before installation in order for the cork and other wood to become acclimated to the climate of your house. While you’re waiting, remove the existing flooring or carpeting.

Installation

1.Place one of the cork planks on the threshold of each doorway to the room. Use a flush-cutting backsaw to trim the door stop

1.(not the jambs!) for each side of the door. Use this method to trim the casings on the wall around the door as well.

2.Follow all manufacturer instructions for installing the floor. If necessary, get help from a flooring professional.

3.After installation, replace/install the molding and seal the floor with polyurethane.

Cost Estimator:

$2-$22 per square foot (avg. $6-$8). Professional installation adds to the cost.

Quick Tips:

✓✓Put protective coasters under chair legs, etc. to keep furniture from damaging the floor.

✓✓Use a polyethylene film before installation.

✓✓Do not attach the cork flooring to the subfloor. ✓✓Install the planks/tiles in the same direction as the main source of light.

✓✓Keep the flooring from being in prolonged contact with water.

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Reclaimed

Wood

Flooring

What is it?

Reclaimed wood flooring is made from salvaged wood that is repurposed into elegant floors with beautiful character. This type of flooring is very similar to a new hardwood floor with the distinction that reclaimed wood does not come from virgin timber. Instead, reclaimed wood is salvaged from old structures such as a historic barn or old railroad ties, often from extremely durable old-growth trees that are no longer around. Another benefit of using reclaimed wood is that it has already aged, meaning it won’t warp, shrink, or crack (which can happen with new wood).

Why do it?

Environmental Qualities

Recycled natural material

Reclaimed wood is usually extremely durable, allowing it to last longer than most flooring options which reduces waste.

Pros:

Unusually high quality: reclaimed wood usually comes from old-growth trees which exhibit a durability and quality that is difficult to match from new, less mature trees.

Very easy to maintain: needs to be swept or vacuumed to remove dirt particles and occasionally cleaned with a wood floor cleaner

Character and beauty: wood floor are highly desirable in modern homes and using reclaimed wood adds additional character and value to your home.

Cons:

Although some wood floors can be very reasonably priced, some exotic and high-end woods are expensive.

While beautiful and durable, all wood flooring does need to be refinished from time to time, especially in high traffic areas which costs between $1.25-$4.00 per square foot.

Hardwood floors can be noisy, creating a nuisance for any downstairs neighbors.

Maintenance:

Wood floors are very easy to maintain. They need to be swept or vacuumed to remove dirt and occasionally cleaned with a

wood cleaner. Avoid mopping because excess water can warp the wood. Use felt pads under furniture to avoid scratching the wood. As needed, such as when selling a home, it’s a good idea to refinish the wood to give it a polished look.

Timeline:

2-4 days for a DIYer depending on how much flooring you’re installing.

Steps:

1.Choose which type of reclaimed wood you would like to use and allow several weeks (or more) before installation. This time takes into account that some vendors need to collect the wood you order, unlike new wood which is stocked and stored at a warehouse. Also, allow plenty of time for the wood to adjust to its new climate before you install. Let the wood sit in a warm, dry, and well-ventilated environment for 1-2 weeks.

2.When you buy the wood make sure you purchase about 15% extra to allow for mistakes and irregular boards

3.Measure the room and decide in which direction you want the flooring to go.

4.Lay down a vapor barrier over the subflooring, leaving at least 4” of overlap.

5.Install a transition board between rooms.

6.Start installation by gluing a starter board 3/8”from the wall to allow for natural expansion and contraction.

7.During installation, work in small sections, connecting the boards as you go. Use a rubber mallet or a block of wood to push the planks together, ensuring a tight fit. Secure boards into place using glue or nails.

Cost Estimator:

The cost of reclaimed wood varies greatly due to limited quantities, local availability, and the potential use of exotic or extinct woods. The price of most reclaimed wood ranges between $3.00 to $13.00 per square foot (without installation) and can get as high as $30.00 per square foot for rare woods like antique chestnut. Adding wood flooring throughout an average home will cost a minimum of $4,500 for a do-it- yourselfer, depending on the color and style of wood you want.

Quick Tips:

All reclaimed wood is a “greener” option than new hardwood floors as long as it is salvaged and refurbished properly. Look for FSC certified reclaimed wood to ensure it has been responsibly handled. Also, reclaimed wood is limited, so you may spend some time finding the exact wood you want, and when you do find it, buy it because it won’t last!

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Laminate

Flooring

What is it?

Laminate flooring is a manufactured flooring product that has become increasingly popular as an affordable and easy-to-install alternative to natural hardwood. It is composed of multiple layers of composite wood pressed together in a high-temperature lamination process. A photograph or image is applied to the wood composite and then covered with a clear protective resin. Unfortunately, this resin is a plastic material that, while durable, is composed of toxic formaldehyde, which creates some health concerns.

Why do it?

Pros:

One of cheapest flooring options.

Engineered product designed to be easily installed.

Water-resistant, making it an affordable option for kitchens and bathrooms, and only needs to be swept or mopped to remove dirt.

Comes in a variety of patterns that mimic natural materials, such as a variety of wood textures and stone.

Cons:

While the top layer of laminate flooring is scratch-resistant and durable, it is difficult to repair and often requiring entire pieces to be replaced (whereas hardwood can be refinished).

Laminate floors are made of a plastic that often releases large amounts of VOCs, and uses toxic urea-formaldehyde in its resin and adhesives.

Most people view laminate as a cheap, low-quality flooring option, making it less desirable for resale.

Maintenance:

Laminate is very easy to maintain. It only requires regular sweeping and occasional mopping to remove dirt. It is very

water-resistant, but you should avoid letting water stand on it

for long periods of time.

Timeline:

1 day per room.

Steps:

A DIYer should look for newer types of laminate flooring that have a click-and-lock design with dry glue already applied. This type of product only requires you to run a moist rag over the sub-flooring to activate the adhesive.

1.Remove existing flooring and clean the subflooring, removing any nails or staples in the process.

2.Measure the room and plan in which direction the laminate planks will go.

3.Practice: do a dry run by laying the tiles or flooring down to determine the final layout, and cut the flooring to fit along the walls.

4.Prepare to put the materials down. This means applying adhesive to the subflooring, or, if your subflooring is concrete, applying a waterproof barrier first. If you’re using a click-in with a laminate layer, you won’t need adhesive, but you should use a rubber mallet to securely attach each piece.

5.Flatten and secure using a heavy roller to ensure the product is flat, level, and secured to the subflooring.

6.Clean the floor and reinstall all baseboards and trim.

Cost Estimator:

Leading retailers the United States sell laminate flooring for

$0.70–$3.50 per square foot. This is one of the most affordable flooring options, allowing you to finish a 1,500-square-foot home for just over $1,000.

Quick Tips:

To avoid negative health concerns, purchase laminate flooring products that are low in or free of VOCs and that do not use resins containing formaldehyde.

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Hardwood

Flooring

What is it?

Wood flooring, or hardwood, is a general term for flooring products made from lumber derived from any number of tree species such as oak, maple, or Brazilian cherry. Wood is a natural and beautiful material, but it does take a long time for trees to mature and they have to be destroyed when the wood is harvested. There are two types of wood flooring: solid hardwood and engineered wood. Solid hardwood floors are made up planks cut from a single piece of timber, whereas engineered wood floors are composed of three or more layers of wood, or wood composites. Engineered wood is the most common type of wood flooring because of its versatility of where it can be installed, such as over concrete.

Why do it?

Environmental Qualities

Solid wood floors are an all-natural material.

Wood floors can come from locally or sustainably harvested sources.

Pros:

When properly cared for, hardwood flooring can last up to 100 years, adding rich character to any home.

Hardwood floors only need to be swept or vacuumed to remove dirt particles and occasionally cleaned with a wood floor cleaner.

Wood floors are highly desirable in modern homes, and add a lot of value to your property. They also come in a variety of beautiful colors and textures that allow you to customize your home..

Cons:

While some wood floors can be very reasonably priced, some exotic and high-end woods can be expensive.

Many engineered wood flooring products use laminates and glues containing toxic urea-formaldehyde and other chemicals that release VOCs.

While beautiful and durable, wood flooring does need to be refinished from time to time, especially in high traffic areas, which can cost $1.25–$4.00 per square foot.

Hardwood floors can be noisy and create a nuisance for any

downstairs neighbors.

Maintenance:

Wood floors are very easy to maintain. They need to be swept or vacuumed to remove dirt and occasionally cleaned with a wood cleaner. Avoid mopping because excess water can warp the wood. Use felt pads under furniture to avoid scratching the wood. When selling a home, it’s a good idea to refinish the wood to give it a brand new look.

Timeline:

2–3 days for click and lock products, whereas direct stick installations could take 3–4 days.

Steps:

1.Decide which kind of wood flooring you want. If you’re a DIYer, it’s easiest to choose pre-finished planks with tongue-and- groove edges on all sides.

2.When you buy the wood make sure you purchase about 15% extra to allow for mistakes and irregular boards.

3.Lay down a vapor barrier over the subflooring, leaving at least

4inches of overlap.

4.Start installation leaving a gap about 3/8 inches wide along each wall to allow for wood expansion.

5.When you’re installing the flooring, work in small sections, connecting the boards as you go. Use a rubber mallet or a block of wood to push the planks together and ensure a tight fit. Secure the boards into place using glue or nails.