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Flooring

The floor covers the entire area of a house. It gets heavily used. Children play on floors. It is important to choose flooring materials that ensure a healthy environment and fit your living style. Here is a table comparing different types of green flooring materials.


MaterialGeneral DescriptionAdvantagesDisadvantagesProduct Green Check
Bamboo
  • Bamboo floors are typically engineered by bonding smaller strips of bamboo horizontally, vertically, or in strand-woven manner.
  • Bamboo flooring is relatively new to the North American market, hence the product qualities vary, depending on the manufacturers and the type, age of bamboo used.
  • Bamboo is one of the most sustainable resources. Technically a grass, it is a fast growing and resilient plant which requires little attention, such as irrigation, fertilization and pest management.
  • Bamboo flooring is durable.
  • It has enough hardness but still easy on the leg and back.
  • Solid bamboo products can be resanded many times.
  • Quality varies and that impacts the durability.
  • Bamboo can warp under moist condition hence unfavorably for bathroom uses.
  • More brittle hence may dent, chip or scratch.
  • Color may fade over time.
  • Bamboo grows mostly in Asia, thus may increase the transportation cost to other parts of the world.
  • Check that the bonding materials do not contain formaldehyde.
  • Make sure the sealants and finishing have low to no VOC.
  • Look for high quality products.
Concrete
  • New concrete floor is made by combining cement, water and aggregates such as gravel, sand, stone and rocks to improve stability.
  • Recycled concrete includes made out of various industrial waste materials such as fly ash.
  • Long lasting.
  • Has high thermal mass so it can be used to store solar heat during day time.
  • Works well with radiant floor heating system.
  • Heavy and very hard surface, hard for the body joints and back.
  • May crack which will show.
  • Porous material that can stain. Frequent application of sealant or wax may reduce staining possibility.
  • Making concrete is an energy intensive process.
  • Look for products that are made from recycled materials.
Cork
  • Made from the bark of cork trees, by grinding the material, adding bonding agents, gluing into sheets and baking into finished pieces. Many patterns and colors are available.
  • Cork floor has been used for over a century in commercial and public buildings such as schools and only in recent years manufactured for the residential market.
  • Has a natural fire inhibiting substance. Generally moisture and stain resistant.
  • Has heat and sound insulating properties. Warm to the feet.
  • Cork is naturally hypoallergenic. Also has shock absorbing property so it is easy on people’s joints.
  • Despite the apparent softness cork is remarkable tough, being resilient to pressure and impact. Cork bark is a sustainable material which replenishes itself quickly.
  • Can be finished with water-based polyurethane or plant-based oil.
  • Does not complement floor radiant heating system.
  • Mild linseed oil scent.
  • Requires careful floor preparation during installation to ensure evenness.
  • Prolong exposure to water can damage the floor like other natural material.
  • Prolong exposure to sun can cause color to fade.
  • Check that the bonding materials do not contain formaldehyde.
  • Make sure the sealants, finishing, and adhesives used during installation have low to no VOC.
Engineered Wood
  • Typically made by laminating layers of wood together, the topmost layer (veneer) being the best layer for good looks and finished for use. The sub layers may be particle board.
  • Conserves the more valuable wood for the surface by using faster growing wood in the sub layers.
  • Shares many of the durability and comfort advantages of solid wood.
  • The hardwood veneer can only be resanded a small number of times because of the thinness.
  • Processing is required to glue the layers together.
  • Similar disadvantages as solid wood.
  • Check that the bonding materials and the sub layers do not contain formaldehyde.
  • Make sure the sealants and finishing have low to no VOC.
  • Avoid faux-wood laminates.
Linoleum
  • Linoleum is made by pressing renewable materials such as solidified linseed oil pine rosin, ground cork dust, wood flour, mineral fillers such as limestone and pigment together, most commonly on a burlap or canvas backing.
  • It has been used for over 150 years and is recently making a comeback into the residential market. Often confused with vinyl floor, it has yet gain popularity as a quality product.
  • Available in sheet or tile form.
  • Source material is renewable, durable.
  • Linoleum is resilient hence comfort and easy for the joints and back.
  • Antibacterial. Water resistant.
  • Small dents and gouges will heal as the linoleum expands to fill them.
  • Does not hold static electricity.
  • Easy to clean.
  • The smell from the linseed oil ingredient may persist.
  • While linoleum is water resistant, it is important to keep moisture coming up from beneath and to keep the subfloor dry. Sealing the joints is important.
  • Installation required skill so DIY may not be a good option.
  • Ensure that adhesives used during installation have low to no VOC.
  • Do not mistake vinyl floor for linoleum.
Solid Wood
  • Many different kinds of wood can be used, the most popular being pine, oak, walnut and cherry.
  • Price will depend on the quality and finish.
  • Solid wood can be sanded and refinished many times. They can also be reused.
  • Wood floor does not collect dust and is easy to clean.
  • Wood floor can provide nice decoration from the pattern of the wood.
  • While wood floor is strong and tough, it is still comfortable to stand on.
  • Wood is quite expensive, particularly for rare woods.
  • Preparation of subfloor and floor installation itself takes time and must be done carefully to keep moisture away and avoid warps. Hence the labor cost will be higher.
  • Wood floor can be slippery to walk on in socks.
  • Look for FSC label, and reused floor. Make sure the sealants and finishing have low to no VOC.
Stone
  • Many different types are available. A popular one is travertine. Another is marble. They are quarries, cut and milled into small slabs. The fabricator will do the final polishing and sealing.
  • Long lasting.
  • Material is often available from regional quarries, and requires little processing. Salvaged stones are available.
  • Heavy material with good thermal mass to store sun’s heat during the day.
  • Hard surface for the joints and back.
  • Heavy material with good thermal mass to store sun’s heat during the day.
  • Some stones may stain.
  • Some stones such as marble may be slippery, particularly when wet.
  • Look for stones that are quarried as close to your home as possible.
  • Use low to no VOC sealants.
Tile
  • Tiles are made by pressing wet clay into shape then left to sun dry or kiln dry. They are then glazed and baked.
  • Material is a natural and abundant source.
  • Durable. Moisture and stain resistant. Non toxic.
  • Easy to clean.
  • Many are manufactured locally.
  • Broken pieces can be replaced easily.
  • Hard on joints and back.
  • While the tiles themselves are stain resistant, the grout does not. Grout further absorbs moisture and allows mold to develop.
  • Minimize grout line during installation, seal the grout.
  • Depending on the glaze, tiles may be slippery.
  • Look for locally made products.
  • Ensure low to no VOC additives are used.
Wool Carpet
  • Wool carpet has been used for ages. The most popular form was area rugs with great woven patterns. Nowadays, wall-to-wall wool carpets are readily available. Wool carpets are more expensive than those made from synthetic materials.
  • Wool replenishes readily.
  • More durable than synthetic fiber. Strong resilience to wear and tear, and retains shape well. Dye fast.
  • It has high heat and sound insulating properties. Absorbs moisture without showing wetness.
  • Soft, warm, comfortable feel, and non-slippery.
  • Natural fire retardant.
  • More expensive than other carpets made from synthetic materials, but are comparable to wood floors.
  • All carpets will trap dust so frequent vacuuming is required.
  • Wool carpets may shed.
  • May stain.
  • Required periodic wet or dry cleaning.
  • Look for material from farms that do not use toxic chemicals to raise sheep or treat the wool.
  • Look for products that are not treated with toxic insecticide during manufacturing.
  • Make sure non-toxic, low to low VOC adhesives are used during installation.


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