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As with all materials and products, keep in mind the following criteria, in addition to cost, when choosing flooring: source materials and content, installation considerations, durability, appropriateness for the location of installation, maintenance and replacement, comfort and appearance. Be sure to download the Green Product Buying GuideDownload PDF 500 K.

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Flooring choices

Flooring type

What makes it green?

Other considerations

Concrete

Concrete floors can incorporate recycled materials such as fly ash from coal-fired energy production, and are extremely durable. As a major thermal mass, they can be used in conjunction with proper passive solar design for increased comfort and efficiency.

Concrete is energy-intensive to produce, requires periodic treatments to maintain a surface seal, and can be cold and hard to stand on.

Cork

Cork is a natural, biodegradable and rapidly-renewable material that can be made into flooring materials with a variety of finishes.

Cork tile flooring is suitable for kitchens, is warm and cushy to walk on and also provides acoustical insulation.

Laminates

Laminates, or floating floors, have the appearance of wood, bamboo or cork but are composed of a thin pattern layer over a tongue-in-groove base of wood or wood fiber and may incorporate recycled material, which reduces the amount of virgin materials necessary to create it.

This flooring choice is easy to install and inexpensive. Drawbacks include: they cannot be refinished more than once or twice; are susceptible to moisture damage through the wood base, and oftentimes they are not recyclable. Look for the FloorScore label to ensure healthy ingredients.

Natural Linoleum

Linoleum is a close alternative to vinyl, but is made from natural, renewable materials and is durable, antibacterial and antistatic.

It comes in sheets or easy to install click tiles that can be installed without glue or nails. Most linoleums have a longer life cycle then vinyl products.

Tile

Tile is another durable option that can also contain recycled material, and can be repaired by replacing individual tiles rather than the entire floor.

Drawbacks include the need for increased detailing to prepare surfaces for a successful installation, production of tiles is often energy-intensive, and tiles can be cold and tiring to stand on.

Wood

Wood flooring provides a durable surface that can be refinished over time. Look for reclaimed or salvaged wood at building reuse stores, possibly from deconstructed buildings, salvaged trees or re-sawn salvaged lumber.

If you choose new wood, look for the FSC label which certifies that it was harvested and processed responsibly. Ensure you are using stains and coatings that meet healthy indoor air quality standards (look for no-VOC, low-VOC, or a penetrating oil or wax finish instead of polyurethane.

Carpet

Carpet is a soft forgiving surface that can be found with recycled content or natural fibers such as wool, jute, sisal or bamboo. However, carpet is not the best option for allergens and long term durability.

Consider using area rugs made of natural fibers on top of hard surface flooring as an accent or for warmth under your feet. By going the route of area rugs you have flexibility in design without compromising indoor air quality.

Vinyl

It’s NOT green. Although a popular and low-cost choice, vinyl raises concerns for environmental and health safety, especially during manufacture and disposal.

Vinyl provides questionable durability, and can produce harmful chemicals when burned. Avoid vinyl sheet and vinyl tile flooring.


Healthy flooring considerations

  • Prioritize hard surface flooring. Use floor rugs over hard surface flooring when a softer surface is desired. If you decide carpet is a must, choose only Green Label Plus carpet, Green Label carpet pads and no-or low-VOC installation products.
  • Choose flooring made with recycled content and low or zero volatile organic compounds (VOCs), and avoid VOCs in adhesives or finishes. Off-gassing from carpet is particularly problematic immediately after installation. Recycled content carpet tends to off-gas less than virgin carpet.
  • Choose natural fiber carpets, such as wool or jute, over synthetic carpets, as they are typically better for indoor air quality than synthetic carpets.
  • Choose a low-pile carpet or install smooth flooring, such as linoleum, cork, tile or wood in order to minimize allergens, such as pet hair and dust.

Flooring installation

  • Choose your subfloor wisely. Use plywood and composites of exterior grade or those that have no urea-formaldehyde. Urea-formaldehyde in the indoor environment can cause health problems.
  • Never install carpeting on concrete floors without first performing a calcium chloride vapor emission test. Concrete can wick moisture up from the ground, wet the carpet and foster hidden mold growth.
  • Consider carpet tiles that can be installed easily without harmful adhesives. Also, worn or stained tiles can be replaced individually rather than ripping up an entire carpet, and tiles can often be recycled.
  • Ask your contractor or carpet supplier to roll out your carpet in the warehouse or other protected area for a week or more before installation. This strategy speeds the off-gas process before introducing the carpet to your home.
  • Use a durable, spot-repairable floor finish. Spot-repairable floor finishes, also known as penetrating oil or wax finishes, soak into wood fibers unlike products such as polyurethane, which coat the floor with a plastic film. As polyurethane wears down over time, everything must be removed from the floor so screening and recoating can be done. This prevents many floors from being properly maintained, reducing the life span of the wood floor.

Flooring disposal

  • Ask your contractor to recycle carpet and other flooring. See the additional resources section below for links to help you find out where you can recycle carpet.
  • Look for one of the many recycled content options of carpet and other flooring. Carpet made with recycled materials performs as well or better than carpet made with virgin materials.
  • Carpet tile products can be installed easily without harmful adhesives, worn or stained tiles can be replaced individually unlike broadloom products, and tiles often can be recycled.

Flooring resources

Flooring product suppliers – salvage options

Flooring product suppliers – new products

Flooring product certifications

Related information

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