When it comes to the definition of eco-friendly, the Global Ecolabelling Network says it well:
Eco is an abbreviation for ecology, the system of relationships between living things, and with their environment. Friendly implies beneficial, or at least not harmful. It should follow that the term eco-friendly, when added to services or products, indicates positive, or at least not harmful, effects on living things.
And there is a good reason for homeowners to be concerned. The EPA has shown indoor pollutants can be two to three times more toxic than outdoor levels. Because we spend up to 90 percent of our time indoors, that can be of great concern. And toxic chemicals exist in many of the things you use every day. Did you know:
- Asbestos can hide out in old roof or flooring tiles
- Benzyl benzoate is a common insecticide
- DEHP is commonly found in PVC pipe
- Formaldehyde is in pesticides, building materials, textiles, cosmetics, and more
- Parabens are in abundance in personal care products
- Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are in a variety of products used throughout your home
VOCs are especially concerning because of the many places they exist. They impact your health in many ways, causing eye, nose, and throat irritation in the short term, to cancer, kidney damage, and nervous system problems in the long term.
In the past, flooring often was filled with harmful VOCs. Pollutants from new carpet installation, for example, could fill the air with hundreds of VOCs. That new carpet smell isn’t just telling you it’s new; it could be dangerous for your health.
But times are changing. The more aware we become about harmful chemicals and less healthy eco-friendly flooring choices, the more conscious we become with both manufacturing and installation practices.
Maybe you want hardwood – it’s the number one flooring choice here in the Rocky Mountains. But part of you is questioning: is hardwood eco-friendly? Is it a sustainable, environmentally friendly option when it comes to installing in your home? Read on.
The first thing you should know about eco-friendly hardwood
If you’re looking for eco-friendly flooring, keep in mind it’s not all about the actual product you bring into your home. It starts at origination, how sustainable the wood source is from the beginning.
In 2008, the US banned timber shipped in from illegal sources. Of course, that doesn’t stop unscrupulous marketers from trying to sell illegal wares. That puts some of the burden on you to ensure you know where your final product is sourced from. Reputable flooring dealers only work with manufacturers with sustainable business practices. Ask questions before you buy; high quality flooring dealers will be happy to share with you the differences.
You should also look for manufacturers with proper certification. Sustainable wood should carry the seal of the US Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). The FSC ensures forests are regrown, biodiversity is preserved, and resource quality is well protected. Sustainability certification relies on 57 separate criteria to ensure the forest is managed according to FSC standards.
What are eco-friendly hardwood flooring options?
Taking all of the above into consideration, here are the most environmentally friendly hardwood choices you can bring into your home and use as wood flooring.
If we had to pick one hardwood flooring product to top the eco-friendly list, it would have to be bamboo. And what makes that even more impressive is bamboo isn’t a hardwood at all.
Instead, bamboo is a regenerating grass that takes only three to five years to harvest. Compare that with up to twenty years needed for most other softwoods used in floor production.
When you harvest bamboo, the roots are self-generating, meaning they start growing once again. You can get multiple crops from the same plant. Try that with any softwood or hardwood producing tree. That gives bamboo an additional edge in renewable technology.
And just like different species of trees will give you different types of wood, bamboo is versatile with hundreds of different choices. It’s not a “one size fits all” product line. You’ll find a variety of colors, styles, patterns, and textures to suit every personality.
Cork is sourced from the cork oak tree. Instead of cutting down the tree and using it as a resource, cork comes from the bark. Harvesters remove the bark of the cork tree, leaving the tree in place. The bark will regenerate about every three years, without harming the tree itself.
That makes cork a great eco-friendly addition to your home. It’s made from organic and renewable materials that are biodegradable, and recyclable. If you’re paying attention to lifespan, that throws the weight in favor of cork because of its sustainable qualities from beginning to end.
It also has properties that don’t come with other types of hardwood.
- It’s soundproof. Want to put it in a music room? It’s a good choice. Have people who work all hours of the day? This can add quietness where you need it most.
- It’s a great insulator. Remember the coldest day of the year? Cork naturally feels warmer underfoot.
- It’s comfortable to walk and stand on. And that can be a big deal if you deal with back pain.
What’s more, cork produces stunning results in flooring. And with today’s technological advances, you don’t have to worry about it scratching, denting, or wearing down quickly. Cork can create a beautiful ambiance for years to come.
While some homeowners look for reclaimed or repurposed hardwood, and use that as flooring for their homes, we would be remiss not to mention oak. Oak has long been the most popular type of wood flooring. That means there are an abundance of resources creating oak planks, and many of them putting a lot of resources into ensuring it’s a sustainable, eco-friendly product.
If you’re installing your dream floors, oak flooring can be a good choice. If you look carefully at the manufacturing process, care for your flooring well, it can last for decades. Pay attention to how the manufacturer manages their forests, and only select products with the FSC label. And if and when you’re ready for new flooring, be aware of what happens to the product when you pull it out. Can it be repurposed rather than ending up in the landfill?
When you’re ready for eco-friendly hardwood flooring …
Be aware you have choices.
Don’t rely on “sales” online, or your local big box store giving you a good deal. They buy in bulk, and it’s rarely a “good deal.”
Instead, take the time to study your options. Learn all you can about the product you’re installing into your home. It’s the only way you’ll be 100 percent satisfied with your purchase.