If you're looking to go green with your flooring, there are many choices available. Most people think of "green" as being made from a natural, renewable substance, but there's more to consider if you really want a floor that's environmentally friendly. These are the factors that affect a flooring material's impact on the environment.
- Ability to be Renewed
- Ability to be Recycled
- Responsible Manufacture
- Transport Distance
- Toxicity to Environment
- Life Cycle
Average price: $1.50 - $4 per sq foot. A naturally renewable material, cork is manufactured from the bark of the cork oak tree, which grows back after being harvested. It provides insulation against heat and cold, and is naturally repellent to bugs, mold, and mites. Some cork flooring is made from recycled bottle stoppers.
Average price: $2 - $5 per sq foot. Linoleum is made from oxidized linseed oil which is produced naturally from flax plants. This material is widely available and highly renewable. Production does not have a significantly negative effect on the environment and Linoleum floors can last for 25-40 years. When the material is no longer used it can be burned as fuel. The energy produced by burning one square foot of linoleum is roughly equivalent to the energy required to make the same amount of the material, making its life cycle a closed loop system.
Average price: $2 - $5 per sq foot. Bamboo is one of the fastest growing plants with a harvest cycle of just 3 – 5 years making it very renewable. The drawback to bamboo is that it is mostly produced in the Pacific Rim, and so there can be a significant amount of pollution created importing it to your location. Some bamboo is also made with formaldehyde, and so you have to ask your dealer about formaldehyde emissions levels before you purchase.
Average price: $3 - $13 per sq foot. You have to be very careful when buying carpet, as it is often produced from petroleum, a non renewable resource. Some carpets can also trap dust and mold, or can release toxins into the air which can be harmful to your health. The best choice is carpet made from natural materials such as wool, jute, and sea grass. If you’re worried about your carpet contributing to the toxicity of the air you can spray them with a nontoxic green carpet finish.
Average price: $3 - $12 per sq. foot. Hardwood flooring is a natural product of the earth that is constantly being renewed. It is completely biodegradable, and can be easily recycled at the end of its life and used as fuel, or in other flooring projects. However you have to make sure that the wood you choose comes from forests certified well-managed by the Forest Stewardship Council.
Recycled Hardwood Floors
Average price: $5 - $30 per sq foot. This refers to wood that has been recycled from other flooring or building applications. There are many types of wood that are scarce, but which can be sourced from recycling materials in old buildings. Use of these materials cuts down on waste, and prevents the chopping down of a living tree. But you have to be careful that the wood you are using was never treated with toxic chemicals over the course of its life.
Natural Stone Flooring
Average price: $7 - $35 per sq foot. Stone is a natural product of the earth which is constantly being recreated by natural tectonic processes. It does not harm the environment, and can be recycled into other flooring projects. However stone is quite heavy, so the transport impact on the environment for imported materials can be significant.
Recycled Metal Tiles
Average price: $30 - $70 per sq foot. Metal tiles are manufactured from scrap pieces of Aluminum, Copper, or Brass. Since this material is a finite resource which is not biodegradable, using it in a flooring application keeps it out of the land fill, and preserves dwindling supplies of metallic substances.
Recycled Glass Tiles
Average price: $35 - $100 per sq foot. These tiles are made from recovered glass waste such as discarded bottles and broken windows. Their use prevents these non-biodegradable materials from ending up in a landfill.