Green building options are gentle to the environment and consumer health, in manufacturing practices, materials, and durability. Green flooring is definitely possible, but there aren’t very many options that are both eco-friendly and attractive. Cork flooring is an exception. It is durable, healthy, inviting, and environmentally friendly.
Traditional flooring products can be hazardous for our health as well as the environment. Consider the environmental disadvantages of the following materials that might be contaminating your home:
Nylon carpet, which covers a majority of floors in the U.S., wears badly while giving off hazardous volatile organic compounds. When nylon carpet is replaced, it can’t be recycled, and ends up in landfills, even though it is not biodegradable.
Synthetic laminate wood flooring, although composed of recycled lumber waste, contains formaldehyde which is needed to make up the fiber board.
Vinyl flooring, common to kitchen and bathrooms, also has environmental and safety hazards. The material has been known to contain pthalates, which can effect normal child development.
Hardwood floors, though natural and healthier, are often not produced sustainably. The finishes used on many of them are damaging to air quality because they are petroleum based.
In contrast to these materials, cork flooring is sustainable, durable, and long lasting. It is harvested by hand from Mediterranean cork oak bark about once every decade. It is completely renewable because the cork grows back and the tree is not harmed. Mediterranean cork oak trees can last for more than 200 years. All of this makes cork a significantly green material. Excess is even used to make bottled corks and there is no waste. The cork can be treated to have different textures and colors to go with any home décor.
Because it is hypo-allergenic, cork makes a great material for kids’ bedrooms and playrooms, as well as the homes of allergy sufferers. It has insulating properties for both sound and heat. Cork makes for a gentle walking surface that is beneficial to your knees, back, and feet. It is also naturally resistant to moisture, fire, and insect damage.
If you’re going to invest in cork flooring, there are just a few things to keep in mind. Pay attention to installation methods. Some finishes contain VOCs, which can be an environmental hazard similar to petroleum based materials. Wax is a nontoxic finish, but not as durable. The recommended eco-friendly installation for cork is a tongue and groove pattern without glue.
Also, remember that cork is not meant to be permanent flooring. It requires replacing about every ten years. It is vulnerable to scratching, and will wear faster in high traffic areas. Resealing a cork floor can make it last longer, and a floor that is well sealed can be cleaned or mopped with a gentle cleanser that is non-abrasive.
Though you need to keep the installation methods in mind and minimize wear and tear, cork is still an environmentally friendly option for green flooring that is renewable and sustainable. It is much safer and greener than traditional flooring materials and can make an attractive addition to your home.
Most U.S. homes have carpet flooring, where children and pets play and families gather. Not much thought is usually put into how healthy or green the carpeting may be, but hazards of traditional carpeting may surprise you.
Conventional synthetic carpeting is made from polyester, nylon, acrylic, or polypropylene, and is backed with polyurethane, PVC, or synthetic latex. It may also be treated with additional chemicals such as fire retardants, dyes, fungicides, antistatic treatments, and stain resisters. During installation, adhesives are regularly used that contain dangerous VOCs (volatile organic compounds). None of these materials are the sort that you would voluntarily bring into your home. Yet these toxic chemicals can leach out of standard carpeting over time and present a health hazard.
Not only is conventional carpeting potentially not safe, but it is also not environmentally sustainable. When it wears out, as all carpets do, it is not recyclable. Fortunately, there are environmentally friendly options for green carpeting that are healthier and can compliment your home just as well.
Before synthetics were invented, wool was used to make carpets. Believe it or not, carpets made from llama or sheep wool are still available. Not only are these carpets renewable and biodegradable, but they last longer than traditional carpets because of their rich texture. Wool carpet doesn’t attract dust mites like synthetics, and is naturally resistant to fire, dirt, moisture, and static without needing chemical treatment. However, some wool carpeting might be treated with a chemical to ward off moths. When looking for wool carpet, try to find one that is naturally dyed and that has a jute backing.
To maintain a wool carpet, be careful to keep it dry and vacuum it regularly. Use natural cleaners to make it healthier. Though it might be more expensive than synthetic carpeting, wool carpeting will feel better and last longer.
Post Recycled Content Carpets
Carpets are now being made out of post recycled material content, such as discarded wool, nylon, discarded soda bottles, and even discarded carpet. This is clearly an eco-friendly option because it keeps the recycled items out of a landfill and uses less energy by reusing them. Recycled carpet pads are also available. When installing a recycled carpet or any green carpet, tack it to the floor rather than gluing it. This eliminates the need to worry about VOCs, and doesn’t affect the look or feel of the carpet.
Plant Fiber Carpets
Plant fiber carpets make another great green carpeting option because they are untreated, biodegradable, and VOC free. They are often backed with latex or urethane. The most popular plant fiber used in carpeting is sisal, but other plant and reed fiber carpeting are also possible, such as seagrass, coconut fiber, abaca, and jute carpeting. Most plant fiber carpeting is undyed because several plant fibers are resistant to dye. However, their natural colors can be very attractive and unique, such as the greenish browns of jute and sea grass.
Although traditional carpeting is not environmentally sustainable or healthy, there are greener options available. Carpets made out of wool, post recycled content, or plant fibers can all be renewable, safe, and attractive options to make your home warm, inviting, and eco-friendly all at the same time.
Sustainable or green building practices are those that use methods or materials that have a minimal impact on the environment and human health. Traditional roofing is not sustainable, as most shingles are made from asphalt. Asphalt cannot be reused and this means it can have a negative impact on the environment in the long-term. If your roof needs replacing, there are a number of green roofing options for you to consider.
Cedar shake roofing, made from nontoxic untreated cedar wood, is an environmentally friendly option since it doesn’t rot like other woods and can outlast asphalt. Unfortunately, production of cedar shakes requires tree harvesting, but that can be offset with responsible replanting processes.
An attractive Southwest tradition, ceramic tile roofing is also long lasting and nontoxic. Individual tiles might require occasional replacing, but the roof as a whole is very durable. These properties make tiles an eco-friendly roofing option. However, they are costly, very heavy, and require vast amounts of energy for kilning in the manufacturing process.
Metal roofing can be labeled sustainable due to the fact that it is so long lasting that it almost never wears out and is recyclable when removed. Enameled metal roofing is also an eco-friendly choice because it is non-contaminating, making rainwater collection safe. However, like ceramic tiles, metal roofing requires a great deal of energy in the production process, which is not environmentally favorable. A green alternative could be to use recycled metal for roofing, but that might not be feasible. Because metal roofing is heavier than traditional asphalt shingles, the building needs to be able to support the weight.
The Living Roof
A living roof is literally a green roof. Sounding like something from a fairy tale, it contains a soil layer (or soil substitute) so that plants can grow right off of it. They are aesthetically pleasing, and increase the home’s insulative value, ensuring decreased energy bills. They also can help recycle displaced topsoil from a home’s construction.
The green benefits of living roofs don’t stop there. They provide an attractive outdoor space to enjoy and can grow native plants or herbs. In urban areas, they reduce storm water runoff on the ground and street and help remove air and water pollutants. They also attract and sustain local wildlife. Because of all of these advantages, many large cities are offering incentives for placing living roofing on buildings.
There is one caveat for acquiring a living roof, however. It must be painstakingly and adequately designed, as a building needs sufficient infrastructure to hold the weight. Without proper planning, they could leak or result in unwanted visitors when animals are able to colonize the home.
All of these options are green, sustainable ways to replace a traditional roof. With the benefits to the environment and your family’s health, as well as possible government incentives or decreased energy bills, you can’t afford not to research these possibilities for your next roof replacement.