Sustainable Flooring Options

The following guest post is written by Chris Long from Home Depot.  My plan in the next year and a half is to research and eventually build (or refurbish) a home.  A large part of that will be picking a sustainable and cost-effective flooring method.  I am from Calhoun, GA, which is right below Dalton (the carpet-capitol of the world!) and is a very large flooring center in itself, so flooring has been under (and around me) my whole life!  In fact, the book that set me on my sustainability journey in 2004 was Mid-Course Correction by the CEO of a carpet company, Ray Anderson.  Ray passed away in 2011, but I was fortunate to be able to hear him speak in person shortly before that (see my blog post on that here).    In my current townhome we have engineered hardwoods, and I'm not a big fan.  They dent way too easily and we'll probably have to replace or resurface before we move.  If we have to replace them after having them less than 10 years, I would say that's not very sustainable.  What's your experience with different flooring options?


You may not realize it, but every day one of the greatest platforms for sustainable ecological impact is right under your nose... and your feet! Eco-friendly flooring has many advantages for not only the environment, but also your family's health.

To avoid respiratory and other health problems, make the switch to greener floors. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, a variety of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are commonly emitted during the installation of flooring and may remain in the air for years. These even include carcinogens like formaldehyde and benzene. Carpeting is often additionally treated with toxic chemicals to ward off insects and moisture.

Sustainable floors are made from recycled products. Why waste resources when plenty of quality materials are waiting for a home?

They're recyclable too. Over four billion pounds of carpet enter the U.S.'s solid waste stream every year, according to the EPA. Reusing and downcycling can easily avoid this toxic dumping.

They're not produced by fossil fuels. So many industries are dependent on oil, but these resources are not going to last forever. Green flooring materials are produced with natural and renewable means instead.

They last longer. With the proper care, green floors can last a lifetime.

They look great! Besides impressing the neighbors with your savvy environmentalism, eco-friendly flooring offer an earthy and natural feel.

Considering redoing the flooring in your home? Check out the following healthy, eco-friendly materials:

Hardwood. Elegant and classic, wood floors have a popular aesthetic while contributing to a natural sustainability. Look for wood harvested in your region, such as maple and oak. Most importantly, ensure that it is certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). FSC-certified forests regenerate their trees and protect the biodiversity within. Check for reclaimed or engineered wood to add a recycled edge!

A factory finish on the hardwood will leave the toxins out of your home. Hardwood can be installed without adhesives, but if you do go that route, look out for VOCs.

Bamboo. Harder than maple or oak, bamboo floors are as tough and long lasting as wood gets! Bamboo is naturally resistant to moisture, mildew, and insects. It's also a very renewable resource since it grows abundantly and quickly.

Ceramic or glass tile. For a classic kitchen or bathroom, look for tile made from recycled materials. One big advantage to using tile is its abundant variety of colors and eclectic patterns.

Linoleum tile. Natural linoleum is commonly confused with synthetic, unsustainable vinyl - don't be fooled! Tiles can be installed like puzzle pieces with no adhesives required.

Cork. Softwood flooring? Most definitely! Cork is particularly durable and recovers well from wear and tear. Many people enjoy the rugged look that results. The natural elasticity of cork lends itself to a very comfortable floor with good insulation and hypoallergenic advantages. Cork floors are naturally fire, dust, and insect-repellent. And much like bamboo, cork bark regrows rapidly in the forest.

Green carpets and rugs. Starting to think you have to fully abandon the cozy, insulating comfort of carpet? Don't worry; there are many green – and beige, and blue, and multicolored woven - options!

From the beginning of carpeting's life until the bitter end, consider its environmental impact:

What's it made from? 
Carpets are most commonly made from nylon. Like anything else, natural, biodegradable materials from renewable sources are best. Look for materials like: sisal, seagrass, coir, organic cotton, jute, organic wool and bamboo. There are also recycled options, like carpet made from plastic bottles!

Does it contain VOCs or other toxic chemicals? 
Natural materials can still be treated with toxic chemicals. This is particularly true of the often-unconsidered carpet backing and padding. Look for natural materials here too, especially including words such as "non-synthetic" and "untreated." The backs and pads should be attached either by sewing or glued with adhesives that are non-toxic.

How and where was it manufactured? 
Research the specific companies who produce the carpet you are interested in. What is their commitment to their environmental footprint through energy emissions, waste, and their use of materials?

Consider where hand woven rugs are made. Many countries' child protection and labor laws are different than those of the U.S. Look for a guarantee or certification that ensures no one was harmed in the manufacturing process.

How will you install it? 
Tacking down carpet is best, but if you decide to glue, look for a water-based adhesive with low VOC content. To make your flooring last even longer, install a tiled system to facilitate easy replacement of troubled sections.

Is it recyclable? 
There are many companies that are willing to take your old carpeting off your hands to reuse it. If you think you can salvage it yourself, consider dying it a new color and revitalize the whole room!

Don't wait for the grass to be greener on the other side – install eco-friendly flooring in your own home, and let the green surround you.

Since 2000, Chris Long has been a store associate at a Home Depot in the Chicago suburbs. Chris contributes DIY flooring advice on hardwood and tile flooring for the Home Depot website. He also provides tips on carpeting, area rugs and other floor covering options for the website.

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