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Find out what makes a flooring material "green" and learn about eco-friendly flooring options such as bamboo, cork and linoleum.
LESLIE: Well, are you in the market for a new floor? If you are, are you worried about choosing flooring that’s eco-friendly? Well, we’ve got some good news for you. There have never been more options for flooring materials that are also good for the planet.
TOM: That’s right. And while no flooring product has zero impact, some materials are definitely better than others. Kevin O’Connor is the host of TV’s This Old House and he joins us now with some green options for your floors.
KEVIN: Hi, guys.
TOM: So what makes a flooring product very green? It’s not just a color we’re talking about here.
KEVIN: Not just a color.
Well, several things, I think, will classify it as green. Is it sustainable or is it renewable? Or does it have any toxic chemicals involved in the manufacturing process? These are all things to think about when you’re looking for a green floor.
TOM: Let’s talk about the first point: being renewable. It means something like bamboo is incredibly renewable; grows fast and also makes a super-tough floor.
KEVIN: Yeah, it’s funny. You see bamboo all over the place right now. A lot of people are scratching their heads. Why is that? Well, it does. It grows super-fast so that means that when you harvest it, it actually comes back very quickly. So the yield is very high in terms of how much material you can get out of an acre of land. It’s oftentimes harder than oak, it’s a good look and so it definitely goes into the renewable category.
LESLIE: And I think previously with bamboo flooring, it had a very modern, stark look to it. You definitely saw the ends and the nodes of the bamboo themselves. Now, bamboo flooring really just looks like a beautiful hardwood, so there’s a lot of great options out there.
KEVIN: I think we’re getting used to it. There are different ways to cut it. But mostly, it’s just because we’re accepting it more and we like looking at it. It’s a sharp look.
LESLIE: Mm-hmm. And another one that’s a really nice, renewable source is cork. And cork floors, super-durable, great for moist conditions and really looks fantastic.
KEVIN: It feels pretty good underneath your feet, too, right, or if the kids are rolling around?
LESLIE: It does.
KEVIN: Cork, it comes from a tree and they actually cut it off around the tree. They don’t kill the tree, so it grows back. So that is a sustainable material, as well, and it’s a very distinctive look.
TOM: It is. And in fact, this past summer, we were on vacation and got a chance to look at one of the most outstanding examples of American architecture: the Fallingwater House, built by Frank Lloyd Wright. Back in the early 1900s, he was using cork on the floors and cork on the walls of the bathroom.
KEVIN: He was a visionary, wasn’t he?
TOM: He certainly was. And you know what? The original cork is still in good shape today; it’s amazing.
LESLIE: Now, Kevin, here’s one that’s surprising: linoleum. I wouldn’t necessarily think of that as a green flooring choice, nor something that’s modern.
KEVIN: Well, I mean it’s been around for a long time. They make it the same way they’ve been making it for the last century. But it’s all made from natural materials. So, we’re talking about linseed oil, cork dust, wood flour, tree resins, ground limestone. And they’re all pressed onto a jute backing, so the materials are natural.
But just because it’s been around for a long time doesn’t mean you can’t get a real sharp, modern look out of linoleum. There are tons of styles, tons of colors out there. And it fits into that green category.
TOM: Good point. Now, recycled flooring is also very popular. Rubber flooring, for example, made from old tires and that sort of thing?
KEVIN: Yeah. Made from old tires, rubber. Here’s my favorite recycled flooring: wood.
TOM: There you go.
KEVIN: Think about this. We did this on a project a couple years ago. We took the beams out of an old mill building. They were shipping off for disposal. We stopped them and we had them actually milled into flooring. And so, the wood has already been cut down; it was being used as beams for hundreds of years and now we’re using it for flooring. So we can reclaim a lot of these materials and put them down on our floors.
TOM: And what’s nice about choosing a green floor, there really are very few trade-offs. They’re all durable floors. Most of them are reasonably green. But what about carpeting when it comes to that? Are there green choices in carpeting, as well?
KEVIN: Well, generally, you want to look for natural fibers in your carpet, because that’s going to be a little bit more green. Things like wool or jute.
But carpets used to have a really bad name – the synthetic ones – because they were made with lots of resins and glues. And they’ve cleaned up their act considerably. So just because it’s not natural fibers doesn’t mean you just can’t get one with recycled synthetic fibers and also ones that don’t have any toxins or off-gas.
TOM: Great topic. Kevin O’Connor, the host of TV’s This Old House, thanks so much for stopping by The Money Pit.
KEVIN: Thank you for having me.
LESLIE: Alright. You can catch the current season of This Old House and Ask This Old House on PBS. For your local listings and step-by-step videos on flooring and even articles and projects that you can tackle, visit ThisOldHouse.com.
TOM: And This Old House and Ask This Old House are brought to you by The Home Depot. The Home Depot, more saving, more doing.