Environmentally Friendly Flooring Options

There are a wide array of flooring options available in today’s market that claim to be the most environmentally friendly, but which really are?  I will go through the my top choices of eco friendly floors and include their durability, eco friendliness and price.  Here’s a quick table comparing each choice I will go through and how they rank in each of the categories:

Green Flooring Options

Cork Linoleum Wool Carpets Reclaimed Wood Bamboo
Pros Sustainable, Durable, Insulating Long Lasting, Water Resistant, Biodegradable, Inexpensive Durable, High Quality Strong, Lots of Character, Variety of Types Strong, Price Comparable to Wood, Quick Growing Plant
Cons Can't Hold Heavy Objects Thin, Limited Options Holds Moisture, Can Be Expensive Slightlot always Sustainabley more expensive than new hardwood Concerns about Sustainability
Cost $$ $ $$$-$$$$ $$-$$$ $$

Cork

Cork Tiles
Photo by Rev. Xanatos Satanicos Bombasticos (ClintJCL).

Cork is my favorite flooring material in terms of just how eco-friendly it is along with it’s unique look.  Cork is harvested from the Cork Oak tree by stripping the bark off of the trees, leaving the tree unharmed and forest intact.  The trees are harvested every 9 years and the trees live a life of around 200 years.  Combine the sustainability of it’s production with the fact that it is biodegradable or can be recycled make cork a truly environmentally friendly option.  There are so many positives about cork flooring that it would hard to list them all, but here are a few.  It is extreme durable yet lightweight, easy to maintain, noise absorbent, insulating and fire and water resistant.  All of these properties really make it a  popular choice in the kitchen.  A really cool feature is that they provide some resistance providing a little bit of a cushion.  This feature also makes it not desirable to put heavy objects on it, such as furniture as it can cause damage.  On top of all these great things, it’s also an affordable option, starting at about $4 per sq. ft. and higher for a more colorful floor or intricate design.  After installation, it can cost as much as $10 per sq. ft.

Linoleum

Linoleum Floors
Photo by bunchofpants.

Linoleum floors have been around for years and usually thought of as the “cheap” floor to buy.  It may be more inexpensive than other flooring options, but it is one of the more eco-friendly flooring options.  Don’t get confused with vinyl floors as they are not the same and it not eco-friendly at all.  Linoleum is made from all natural materials including linseed oil, wood flour, tree resins, cork dust and minerals that are then pressed onto a vegetable fiber backing.  It has many other great positives including it being long lasting, waster resistant, fairly easy to clean and biodegradable at the end of its life.  Linoleum has also taken on a new life with new designs and colors to make it more appealing that it once was.  They are definitely not as high end as some of the other options I am mentioning in this article, but are definitely the most affordable option.  At a cost of $1-3 per sq. ft and after installation cost of around $3-5,  you can’t go to wrong with this flooring option.

Wool Carpets

Not all carpets are created equal as some contain high levels of VOCs just as in paint and can be made from materials derived from petroleum.  Wool carpets on the other hand are made from all natural materials.  Of course wool is the main material, but use natural adhesives and backings.  You will not find harmful chemicals and everything is biodegradable.  It is a beautiful fiber that looks great as a carpet and is higher quality than the non-natural carpets.  This means that it will last longer and it much softer than those synthetic materials.  The major downside with wool is that it is ultra absorbent, thus holding in more moisture and susceptible to getting mold or mildew.  Their is a fairly high cost associated with wool carpets, usually around $25 all the way up to $100 per sq. ft.  The quality and durability usually make up for the cost difference between wool and synthetic material carpets.

Reclaimed Wood

Reclaimed Wood Floors
Photo by dreamymo.

Recovering wood from old and antique buildings or river bottoms and using it as flooring in your home can be a great eco-friendly option, while still getting beautiful floors.  The wood reclaimed from historic places can have great character and give your home a distinctive look.  There is also a reduced risk of bending because it has been dried for years.  This also means that the wood will be slightly more durable as well as stronger.  By recycling old wood, you get all the benefits of having beautiful wood flooring without having to cut a single tree down.  The cost is slightly more than new hardwood floors at around $5-11 per sq. ft.

Bamboo

Quickly becoming an extremely popular option, bamboo is an ideal material to use for flooring along with being eco-friendly.  Bamboo is a much more renewable resource than traditional hardwood as it requires a much shorter time to grow and can be harvested from the same plants.  It is often just as strong if not stronger than most hardwoods and has similar properties to them as well.  Treehugger has a great article on some of the positives and negatives of bamboo and some helpful hints on where to buy your bamboo from.  Bamboo can sometimes be grown after cutting down a natural forest or habitat.  Be sure to pick a supplier that makes buying bamboo a green option.  Bamboo is comparable in cost to hardwood flooring and will really depend on the quality and probably supplier you buy from.

If you are in need of new flooring, consider purchasing one of these or the variety of other green flooring options.  There are other options that are just as environmentally friend than just the ones I listed above to choose from.  Make sure no matter which option you choose when buying flooring that you buy from a reputable source to make sure you are getting flooring that you can truly say they are environmentally friendly.

If you currently own or have had experience with any of the above flooring options, please share you thoughts on them.

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Comments

  1. Don’t forget the option of no floor at all! Most homes probably don’t have this option, but if you’re place is built with slab on grade construction (concrete floor throughout) you can leave additional flooring out of the equation all together and just polish the concrete. This can be a pretty interesting look whether the slab is brand new or 50 years old.

    • Pays to Live Green
    • July 29th, 2009

    Tyler: You are very correct. Using no flooring can not only be eco-friendly but be the cheapest option. You can also stain it with a natural stainer and get an even more unique look.

  2. Not to sure about the polished concrete option, perhaps in a warehouse or work environment, but it’s not very homely.

    I really like the reclaimed wood and bamboo (of course) options for their positive effects. Reclaimed wood has a lot of character and is a great way to recycle instead of buy new – however it isn’t easy to come by. Bamboo is a fast growing grass – a sustainable and beautiful material.

  3. As you state, the natural characteristics of cork make it an ideal choice for flooring. I just want to clarify one point –

    Your description of cork flooring states cork is “not desirable to put heavy objects on such as furniture”. Furniture can be placed on cork flooring. Because of the natural elasticity of cork, it is recommended that heavy furniture have pads placed under the feet. This helps distribute the weight which helps reduce denting of the floor. Dents in cork floors caused by heavy furniture will usually recover up to 90% over time once furniture has been removed.

  4. This is actually a wonderful idea. And to tell you the truth I didn’t think of it myself. I love Bamboo, and think it would work great as flooring. It is also nice to know it is a renewable resource. I didn’t know it was so popular.

  5. From what I can understand wood floors can be the hardest to keep up, especially when aged for years, but dark wood is better to maintain. Nice selection you have.

    • TI
    • August 2nd, 2009

    Excellent idea. Environmentally friendly building materials are our future!

  6. I was thinking about vinyl/resilient flooring, but it doesn’t appear to be safe for the environment which is a turnoff. I need something that can survive dogs and occasional fish tank overflows. Would linoleum (not to be confused with vinyl) hold up to that? I’d also prefer something that doesn’t need professional installation (I’ve heard that ceramic tile is a nightmare to install yourself).

  7. Great article! Thanks.

  8. I have bamboo flooring in parts of my house, and here are my thoughts about it:

    Pros:

    Botanically classified as a grass, bamboo is easily processed into flooring that looks like hardwood and can be stronger and more durable than oak.

    It grows faster than harvest demand, which makes it perfectly sustainable, and it can be stained to provide many colors to meet most decorating needs.
    Bamboo can be grown inexpensively and can be installed by most moderately skilled homeowners using the same techniques as installing traditional hardwood floors, either glued, floated or stapled.

    Cons:

    The bamboo plant takes six years to fully mature and harden to the condition where it is stronger than oak, and many manufacturers don’t have the patience to let it age. Discount bamboo flooring can be easily dented and wear rough in a short period of time. The immature product can warp in humid conditions, and faded stains can leave an uneven appearance.

    A majority of bamboo flooring is imported from China, where warranty claims are difficult to settle and replacement can be troublesome and costly.

  9. Me and my husband decided to recently get this new flooring in our new home. It is a beautiful alternative to regular flooring, worth checking out.

    • Joan L. Salters
    • July 14th, 2010

    Has anyone had any experience with Staybull Flooring? Reclaimed looks so old-fashioned to me, and I’m curious about this company’s exotic species.

  10. I have to say, out of all the options my favourite are reclaimed wood and bamboo (clearly).

    But great article, lovely ideas for greener choices for greener homes.

  11. Obviously, we are biased but bamboo is a fantastic option… it’s tough, great looking, environmentally friendly and great to walk on… I accidentally dropped a table on my bamboo floor and it barely left a scratch.

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