Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Sustainable Flooring Guide

Sustainable flooring is flooring for the home or office that is made from a renewable or recycled resource. The main purpose of sustainable flooring is to reduce the amount of new trees that are chopped down in order to making flooring planks. There are many reasons for deforestation around the world, but one of the major causes is the economic value of certain timbers. Rare trees are often prized for their timber to make such things as furniture and flooring. Below is a guide to a few different types of sustainable flooring that is available for purchase in the West. Using sustainable flooring in the home is an important way to make an interior sustainable.

Cork Flooring

The cork oak grows mostly in the Mediterranean area. Portugal is the biggest producer of cork in the world. The cork oak trees takes about 40 years to mature. Once matured it can be harvested for its bark. It is the bark from which cork is made. Removing the bark from the cork oak does not damage the tree. It takes 9 years for the cork oak tree to grow another bark. The cork oak can live for 150 years. If the bark is removed correctly then natural habitat is maintained.

Advantages of Cork Oak Flooring

The great advantage of cork as a renewable resource is that the tree is not chopped down to harvest the resource.

Another advantage of cork is that it is composed of a honeycomb structure that is 85% air. This makes cork flooring soft and 'elastic' - it can take heavy weights and then springs back when the weight is removed. The structure of cork flooring makes it a great thermal and acoustic insulator. In a home cork flooring will help to reduce heating bills in the winter and it helps to muffle the noise of people walking on the floor.

Cork flooring naturally contains suberin. It is a compound used by the tree to conserve water. The suberin in cork flooring makes it water resistant and also fire retardant. Suberin also has antimicrobial properties and so is great for making a home more hygienic.

If you live in Europe and especially if you live in Southern Europe then the transport costs for cork flooring are greatly reduced. This further adds to the green credentials of cork flooring.

Bamboo Flooring

There is horizontal, vertical and strand woven bamboo flooring types. Horizontal and vertical refers to whether the bamboo is laid on edge (vertical) or flat (horizontal). Strand woven bamboo flooring is made by cutting bamboo into strands and compressing the strands under heat with a bonding agent.

Advantages of Bamboo Flooring

Bamboo is the fastest growing plant on the planet. Thus bamboo is the best renewable resource. Bamboo can grow without pesticide or fertilizer inputs and so it is often organic. Bamboo needs less water than trees and produces more oxygen than trees. Bamboo is a very hard material that looks like hardwood.

Bamboo flooring is hypo-allergenic because it does not allow dust mites to live. Bamboo also contains 'kun' that makes it antimicrobial. This makes bamboo flooring ideal for those people who suffer from allergies.

Bamboo flooring is easy to clean (just use a dry dust mop) and easy to maintain. The color of bamboo flooring is throughout the flooring plank and so can easily be sanded and a new finish applied.

Advantages of Strand Woven Bamboo Flooring


Of all the types of bamboo flooring the hardest is strand woven bamboo flooring. With a hard finish strand woven bamboo flooring can have a Janka Hardness Rating of about 2,500 pounds force. This makes strand woven bamboo flooring the most suitable for high traffic situations and for heavy furniture.

Disadvantages of Strand Woven Bamboo Flooring

Most strand woven bamboo flooring is made from moso bamboo grown in Southern China. This is the main problem with strand woven bamboo flooring - it is very hard to get Chinese companies to take environmental regulations seriously; it is almost impossible to get Chinese companies to participate in fair trade schemes. It is worth checking environmental certification before you buy strand woven bamboo flooring

Also strand woven bamboo flooring is made with a bonding agent that contains a small amount of VOCs. For this reason new strand woven bamboo flooring should be allowed to acclimatize and off-gas for a week or more before installation. VOCs are one of the main chemical pollutants in the average home in a developed country.

Reclaimed Hardwood Flooring


Reclaimed hardwood flooring is made from wood that has been discarded. The hardwood comes from numerous sources including house renovations, demolitions, building waste, park waste, salvaged wood from mine shafts, old fencing, barns and wine barrels. Such is man's love affair with hardwood that there is plenty of unwanted hardwood available to reuse. To make reclaimed hardwood flooring the salvaged wood is kiln dried and then sent to a mill to be cut into flooring planks.

Advantages of Reclaimed Hardwood Flooring

Reclaimed hardwood flooring looks beautiful. For those people who love the look of wood, the best eco-solution is to buy reclaimed hardwood flooring. The flooring often has a rich patina that is not found on new hardwood flooring. Also reclaimed hardwood flooring tends to be more dimensionally stable than normal hardwood flooring because it has had many years to acclimatize.

Another advantage of reclaimed hardwood flooring is that it stops dust mites breeding and causing allergic attacks for people.

Reclaimed hardwood flooring is great example of upcycling because it is taking something of little value and giving it much greater value. The fact that reclaimed hardwood flooring can be sourced, made and installed locally also cuts down on carbon emissions due to transportation.

Coconut Flooring


The coconut like the bamboo is often mistaken for a type of wood because it is hard and looks like wood. Also like bamboo the coconut matures very quickly - in just a year. Coconut palms produce coconuts for about 75 years and then become known as 'senile palms'. These coconut palms need to be cut down and be replaced with new coconuts. Coconut timber is thus a resource that is renewable and virtually free.

Coconut flooring is hard like hardwood flooring. It can take heavy traffic and heavy furniture. It is also easy to maintain and clean. As with the other types of sustainable flooring in this post it is also anti allergenic because it gives no place for dust mites to live and breed. For those people living in or near the tropics coconut flooring makes good ecological sense.


The flooring in a room makes a big impact on the beholder. In many ways the flooring can define the look and feel of a room. Hardwood flooring has a classic timeless look - but so does strand woven bamboo flooring, coconut flooring and reclaimed hardwood flooring. 

Cork is slightly different because it is a 'soft' type of flooring. It is easily stained and so can be made to suit most interior designs.

Carpets often have VOCs in their backings. They also are breeding grounds for dust mites. It is the excrement from dust mites that triggers many attacks of allergic rhinitis. One of the best ways to make an interior more sustainable is to use sustainable flooring.

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