sustainable floors for eco-conscious homes

February 16, 2009 § 9 Comments

Do consumers have an eco-friendly flooring option?

When remodeling your house (cause that’s what it’s left to do in these crisis times) or building a new one (for you lucky ones) you should consider sustainable in every aspect of it. This article will focus on flooring.

The purpose of flooring in the house has both a decorative/comfort side and an engineering side.

The decorative side’s importance is obvious and I will discuss it briefly here. It’s down to each individual’s way of living and what makes him feel comfortable on a psychic level. The color or pattern is the most important aspect of this decorative aspect. Then the texture of the floor has it’s share of importance. From a sustainability point of view these must be achieved with low impact fabrication technologies and materials. It’s important when you purchase a flooring  product you search for low-VOC or VOC-free paints or stains.

As engineering is involved, it’s important the manufacturing process, the expected life of the structure, , the insulation offered, the level of resistance as shocks, traffic, water and stains are concerned. The manufacturing process needs to be inquired by customers as waste products can be dangerous and may not be visible in the final product, how heat-intensive the whole process is, how energy efficient it is and so on. Also the raw material provenience must be checked. In case of wood flooring well managed forests are a good example.

Unquestionably the most popular flooring product is wood laminate flooring. It’s light, strong, cheaper than other wood flooring options and can have unlimited patterns as a design choice.

From the many wood flooring options bamboo is the wood flavor on everybody’s lips. Actually it’s not even a wood, it’s a grass that grows so fast that some species can achieve two feet a day, that doesn’t need to be replanted as it grows again from it’s extensive root system. But the rapid growth and it’s forever renewable nature that derive from actually being grass don’t extend to other properties such as strength which overcomes even oak, considered the most durable hardwood. It’s even compared to soft steel’s strength. Looking down at the old hardwood floor in my apartment I can see it developed over time huge gaps some of them as wide as half an inch and here comes another advantage of bamboo: bamboo doesn’t swell or shrink as hardwoods do, making it ideal for flooring.

But laminate? I’ve always known that laminate flooring is more plastic than wood so it’s not sustainable, it’s not eco-friendly and the melamine resin used contains formaldehyde, so it might be dangerous to one’s health.

The laminate flooring usually consist of  four to five layers, in the following order: 1- wear layer, consisting of some cellulose paper saturated with melamine plastic resin that gives it strength and scratch-resistance; 2- design layer, some image printed on paper that mimics wood; 3- core layer, actually the structural element which is usually some form of processed particle board; 4- stabilizing layer, the bottom layer, is the layer that hold everything together and it’s usually the same resin-saturated layer as the wear layer; 5- noise reducing layer is the layer that some brands have introduced to absorb sound and makes some sort of cushion so walking on it is more comfortable. As a material, cork is usually used for the more eco-conscious brands.

More and more producers introduce earth-friendly solutions to laminate flooring like water-based solvents used in the production chain, water-soluble varnish and color systems, formaldehyde-free adhesives, print-on-core layer design reducing resin loaded paper, etc.

Regarding melamine resin: formaldehyde is found naturally in wood and melamine resin also contains it but the formaldehyde in the wear and stabilizing layers is permanently locked into the resin structure during hardening so it cannot be released into the air. The responsible manufacturers offer products that have formaldehyde emissions the same as those occurring for wood in its natural state. Wikipedia states about laminate flooring:

There has been increasing concern about indoor air quality from releases of volatile organic compounds from building materials made with formaldehyde. However, resin materials are believed to have significantly lower emissions than particle board and other materials where formaldehyde is used as a binder.

All of these being said bamboo laminate flooring seems to be a good contender for the earth-friendly flooring solution taking into account also life-cycle, durability, weight and space savings at transportation.

Another kind of laminate bamboo flooring which doesn’t involve such an elaborate layer system is strand-woven or stranded bamboo. This technique of manufacturing laminate consists of splitting the stalk lengthwise into strips and after some more processing the strips are bonded together with low phenol-formaldehyde glue into panels and then a few such panels are laminated together to get the final laminate plank. I suppose this would be more expensive than the classical laminate described above but actually seems more sustainable, the process is less complex and the actual image you see is genuine bamboo strands, not a printed image.

Extensive research is being done on alternative resin binders but at this time no other binder is used to manufacture wood laminated floors. I only hope for an risk-free, environmental friendly, sustainable 100% flooring solution.

If you can extend the info in this article, are an expert and can advice or if you know of other articles that would increase the knowledge in sustainable flooring please comment below or share it on your social network of choice:

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§ 9 Responses to sustainable floors for eco-conscious homes

  • […] Content Keyword RSS wrote an interesting post today onHere’s a quick excerptWhen remodeling your house (cause that’s what it’s left to do in these crisis times) or building a new one (for you lucky ones) you should consider sustainable in every aspect of it. This article will focus on floring. … […]

  • […] wood-based and thus “warm”, if it can perform as well as the controversed melamine than completely sustainable laminate flooring can be […]

  • […] sustainable floors for eco-conscious homes […]

  • realthor says:

    I hope it won’t remain the first time though. The template is one of wordpress.com’s templates, namely Contempt by Michael Heilemann – A more professional version of Kubrick, sporting hard lines and 2-columns.

  • Bill says:

    love the green options through cork. cool stuff. keep it green!

  • Steezy too Cheezy says:

    Although bamboo flooring does not shrink or swell, a large portion of floor board separation occurs through movement of the structure around the floor, rather than the flooring itself. This is also affected by soil type- if you are on a clay site, the swelling and shrinking of the foundations will do this regardless.
    Bamboo flooring has a MUCH higher water content than standard timber flooring, and as so MUST be left to acclimatise to relative humidity on site.
    To be truely sustainable, the purchaser must be sure of the VO2 levels in the resin- bamboo has one of the highest percentages of resin additives of any flooring product.
    Quality is also the biggest cause of separating bamboo boards. DO NOT skimp on quality- there are so many producers of bamboo flooring that cut corners leading to bad floors. Ive seen boards where the 3 layers line up vertically… Imagine making a brickwall with no staggered joins!
    Terragren is a top quality manufacturer for bamboo products… not that I work for them, but I have never heard of any complains with their bamboo products.
    Yay ESD!

  • linda Mathisrose says:

    but it also has formaldehyde and VOC emissions, I suppose you have to
    choose between cheaper and healthier.

  • Your post is extremely helpful. I will keep following. Thank you for sharing this information.

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