There was a time when the term eco-friendly evoked images of bland, boring and blah materials. Thankfully, that is not the case today. As more and more designers are seeking out eco-friendly materials for their environmentally savvy clients manufacturers have stepped up and given the design world many beautiful options to pick from. I have assembled a guide of the most popular eco-flooring solutions, some are new, some are old and a few will make you think.
Cork is relatively new to the flooring world. It is usually seen on walls or in your favorite bottle of wine, but it is great material for floors. Cork is harvested from the bark of the cork oak tree commonly found in the forests of the Mediterranean. The trees are not cut down to harvest the bark, which will grow back every three years, making it an ideal renewable source. It has anti-microbial properties that reduce allergens in the home, is fire retardant, easy to maintain and acts as a natural insect repellent too. Cork, like wood can be finished in a variety of paints and stains to suit any color scheme or design style. Its durability allows for uses in any part of the house. Cork floors, depending on the quality, can last between 10-30 years.
Bamboo flooring is another wood like option that is gaining in popularity. It is actually a grass that shares similar characteristics as hardwood. It is durable, easy to maintain and is easy to install. Bamboo is sustainable and made from natural vegetation that grows to maturity in three to five years, far less than the twenty years trees can take. Bamboo, while usually very light, is available in many hues that will work in any setting or decor. Its varied grains and wide array of colors give it an edge over traditional flooring by allowing for customization not often found elsewhere.
When one thinks of linoleum flooring, vinyl tends to come to mind and yet the two are nowhere close to each other. Vinyl is a synthetic made of chlorinated petrochemicals that are harmful. Linoleum is created from a concoction of linseed oil, cork dust, tree resins, wood flour, pigments and ground limestone. Like cork, it is fire retardant and water resistant. Linoleum is not new to the market; it fell out of favor with the introduction of vinyl in the 1940’s. As architects and designers began asking for it again, it reemerged with a vast array of bright vibrant colors and a new sealer to protect it from stains. It has a long shelf life and will hold up to a lot of wear and tear.
4. Glass Tiles
Ever wonder what happens to the wine bottles and beer bottles that are shipped to the recycler? They are converted into beautiful glass tiles. This renewable source is fast becoming a wonderful option for floors as well as bathroom and kitchen walls. Glass has similar benefits of other eco-friendly materials. It is non-absorptive and won’t mildew or mold in damp environments. It is easy to maintain and won’t stain. Glass comes in a limitless array of colors, patterns and finishes suitable for most design schemes. Unlike ceramic tiles, glass will reflect light rather than absorb it, adding that additional layer of light some rooms need.
Polished concrete is an unlikely sustainable material that is gaining in popularity. Concrete is typically slab on grade and used as a sub flooring in some residential settings. If it is polished and tinted to the homeowners taste and style there is no need for traditional flooring to be put over it. From creating a tiled effect with different colors to inlaying other materials such as glass the design possibilities are endless. Concrete is extremely durable, easy to clean and never needs to be replaced.
6. Wool Carpet
Carpet has long been a favorite go-to material for most homes. It is soft to walk on, comfortable to sit on and comes in a range of colors and patterns. Unfortunately, carpet has typically been made using volatile organic compounds or toxins that are harmful to the environment and to our health. There are eco-friendly options though. Consider carpets made of wool. Wool is a natural resource spun into a thread that can be dyed any color imaginable, and then be woven to create a carpet. It is one of the first materials to be used as a floor covering, is very durable and can last centuries. In some families wool rugs have been passed down from generation to generation making them family heirlooms. Other natural materials used to make carpets or rugs are sisal, jute and cotton.
7. P.E.T Berber Carpet
Polyester (P.E.T) Berber is another sustainable carpet to consider. It is made of recycled plastic bottles, and has a minimal impact to the environment. For every plastic bottle that is used to create this carpet it is one less sitting in our landfills. There are several benefits to this recycled material. It is durable, spill resistant and comes in a variety of aesthetically pleasing colors and patterns. It typically has a flecked appearance making it suitable to most color schemes. There are drawbacks too. Berber can be easily snagged causing it to unravel if not repaired promptly. The recycled material can be a little rough to walk on in your bare feet. Overall, it’s a very economical material and deserves a serious look.
Rubber flooring made from recycled tires is usually found at the local gym or on the neighborhood playground. It is slowly finding its way into our kitchens, sunrooms and bathrooms as a versatile, beautiful and lasting option. It is great to walk on and water resistant. It also comes in many color and pattern options.
Leather is a surprising material that can be used as flooring. It is derived from the center-most part of the cowhide and is thicker than the leather pieces used for such things as belts, wallets and handbags. The soft warm feel under foot makes it perfect for bedrooms, closets and small areas with little foot traffic. It is not a great material for bathrooms, kitchens or other moist areas of a home. It is very durable and will wear well over time. Worn, scratched and aged leather develops a personality of its own and can be beautiful to look at for years to come.
10. Reclaimed Hardwood
If you have your heart set on traditional hardwood flooring, while not usually considered eco-friendly due deforestation concerns, it can still be an option. There are two types of hard wood to consider. Reclaimed wood is ideal as it reuses existing wood from trees that were chopped down a long, long time ago. Salvaged wood flooring can look beautiful in older homes or in a beach cottage.
The other option is to purchase hardwood labeled FSC certified. This is a designation by the Forest Stewardship Council and they promote the responsible management of forests throughout the world with a focus on adhering to high social and environmental standards.
Luckily with today’s technology and a bit of imagination, eco-friendly flooring does not have to come at the expense of style. Smart consumers can have both. So what do you think, have eco-friendly materials evolved?