Finding Common Ground: Choosing Sustainable Flooring Materials

Page archived as of December 31, 2013

Finding Common Ground: Choosing Sustainable Flooring Materials

Bamboo FlooringWhen we think about sustainability and going green in our homes, one of the biggest opportunities is right under our feet. That's right, the floor. Floors get some the highest daily usage of anything in our homes, so how can we make sure it's safe for the environment and sustainable for years to come?

An excellent alternative to traditional wood floors is bamboo flooring. Bamboo belongs to the grass family and grows at one of the fastest rates of all plants. Flooring from traditional wood is harvested from cutting down trees that are generally 25-100 years old, compared to bamboo’s ability to develop into floor-making quality in 7 years.

Consumers may question the durability of bamboo, and this concern stems primarily from a difference in production methods.  Make sure to do your research before you buy: some manufacturers harvest bamboo stalks prematurely and don’t use the correct full boiling process in production, which creates a soft end product prone to scratches.  High quality bamboo can last up to 50 years, so look for warranties reflecting a long life span. Another tip to identifying high-quality bamboo is look for longer planks. Longer planks come from older, stronger stalks, while shorter planks tend to contain weaker fillers.  Finally, look for wider planks with horizontal layering. Horizontal layerings indicate strength and prevent the planks from warping over time.

Cork tiles or planks are another excellent sustainable flooring option. Cork is also rapidly renewable, and the bark of cork trees can be removed once every 7 to 10 years without harming the tree or its habitat. Cork flooring keeps its shape well and is naturally mold, moisture and rot resistant. Its durability matches that of hardwood flooring, and the material is nontoxic and biodegradable (and can even be ground up for compost at the end of its usable life).  As a softer material than tile or bamboo, cork can be installed in place of carpet, but can also be suitable as bathroom flooring. As an added benefit, cork is an insulator that works to help keep your heating costs low and minimize noise.

Even if cork or bamboo are not suitable for your situation, there are a number of other green flooring options that optimize the sourcing, manufacturing, durability, aesthetics and health benefits of flooring materials. Check out the “Buyer’s Guide to Green Floor Materials” for information about Green Label Plus certified carpets, tile flooring made from recycled content, and more. 

Additional Resources:

Green Flooring Advice | USGBC Green Home Guide