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Men laying new hardwood flooring

Green, sustainable, eco-friendly—oh my! All you want to do is find flooring that suits your needs and it seems as if the current green initiative has added another layer of confusion to some already puzzling choices. Here is some help demystifying green flooring materials. It’s easier than you think.

Because the ultimate goal is to leave as little impact on the earth as possible, there are several different ways a material can be considered green.

Reuse materials: Use salvaged, refurbished or reused materials in order to reduce the need for virgin materials. For example, refinish an existing wood floor rather than replace it, or purchase salvaged wood planks from a demolished house.  

Recycled content: These products contain waste material that can no longer be used for its intended purpose. This would include tile made from recycled bottle glass obtained from curbside recycling programs, or worn carpet that is recycled into the manufacture of new carpet.   

Regional materials: If a product is made locally, it cuts down transportation costs and emissions. An example would be choosing a limestone floor that was taken from a nearby quarry rather than one in France. 

Rapidly renewable materials: Use rapidly renewable materials and products, such as those made from plants that are harvested within a 10-year cycle or shorter. Consider materials such as bamboo (harvested every 3-7 years), wool, linoleum and cork (bark is harvested every 9 years). 

Low-emitting materials: Reduce the quantity of indoor air contaminants that are odorous, irritating and/or harmful to the comfort and well-being of installers and occupants. Carpet that meets the requirements of the Carpet and Rug Institute Green Label program falls under this category. 

The cost of eco-friendly materials varies widely, just as more traditional building materials do. To determine a budget, your best bet is to visit your local home improvement center and see for yourself how a material performs, what it looks like, feels like, and what it would cost to install and maintain.

As always, common sense and logic should prevail in choosing flooring material, regardless of its environmental impact. Consider its use, aesthetic appeal, durability, maintenance and even acoustical properties. For example, carpet will attract mold and other allergens if exposed to moisture and dirt or dust; it would never be a good choice in a bathroom or foyer. Natural linoleum would make it easy to keep a bedroom floor clean, but it would not provide the soft warmth and sound absorption properties that carpet would.

Carefully considering how a product would perform best in a specific location is the first step in determining how green your choice could be. After all, a poor choice that winds up in a landfill shortly after installation is never a good ecological solution.


Architect Lenore Weiss Baigelman is a founding partner of Full Circle Architects in Illinois. By incorporating principles of green design whenever possible, her projects continue to prove that ecological responsibility, comfort and beauty can be approached as a singular goal.

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