Make your home healthier and greener with sustainable flooring. Here are some smart options to put underfoot.
If you want to green your home from the ground up, start with the floor.
We asked the following experts to describe today’s sustainable flooring options: Jarrus Steele of Go Green Flooring in Boulder, a retailer of environmentally friendly flooring products; Karen Deel of TORLYS Smart Floors in Mississauga, Ontario, Canada, a flooring company that offers environmentally responsible flooring options; Sean Griffin of Boulder Stove & Flooring, a sustainable flooring retailer; Scott Day of Forbo Flooring Systems in Hazleton, Pa., which manufactures Marmoleum, a natural linoleum floor covering; Rich Scott of Sustainable Flooring in Boulder, a manufacturing co-op for eco-friendly flooring; Chandra Shekhar of Eco-Flex Recycled Rubber Solutions, a manufacturer of recycled rubber products in Legal, Alberta, Canada; and Jerry Naro of Whispering Wind Designs in Nederland, a master woodworker who has worked with beetle-kill pine and other woods for more than 30 years.
Here’s what they said in response to our questions:
What is it? Hardwood flooring is a wood floor made from hardwood trees like oak, cherry, birch, ash and maple.
Why is it green? Wood is naturally renewable, but some kinds more so than others. Look for Forest Stewardship Council (FSC-certified) wood, which is sustainably harvested. The production of FSC wood also supports eco-friendly forestry.
What makes it cool? Strong and durable, hardwood floors add long-lasting value to any home. And, because it’s a natural product, hardwood flooring promotes healthy indoor air quality. However, shipping it to market destinations increases carbon emissions.
Where does it go? Hardwood is beautiful, resilient flooring for any room, except moist areas like bathrooms and mudrooms unless properly finished.
What does it cost? Typical hardwood flooring products range from $4 to $7 per square foot, depending on the grade of wood (preparation and installation costs not included). Exotic sustainable hardwoods, like Brazilian ipê, are much more expensive.
What is it? Reclaimed flooring is made of old-growth wood—often heart pine or Douglas fir—that comes from construction sites or from nature.
Why is it green? Reclaimed wood is salvaged from deconstructed buildings, from river and forest beds, and from fallen or dead trees.
What makes it cool? Because it’s old-growth wood, lumber from reclaimed wood often has unusual striations, markings or nail holes that give it distinctive character.
Where does it go? It’s appropriate for the whole house, except for moist areas like bathrooms or mudrooms unless properly finished.
What does it cost? A popular wood, like reclaimed heart pine, runs $4 to $7 per square foot (preparation and installation costs not included).
What is it? Cork flooring is made from the bark of the cork oak tree, which thrives in the Mediterranean, particularly Portugal. The cork is cut into panels, which come in many patterns and textures, and is sometimes mixed with rubber.
Why is it green? Cork flooring uses only the outer skin of a cork tree, which regenerates in six to eight years; the tree itself can live up to 250 years. About half the bark is harvested by hand, creating no greenhouse gases. Most cork flooring is made from the waste of the cork wine stopper manufacturing process.
What makes it cool? Cork is soft and compressible underfoot. Its cushion comes from the honeycombed cell structure of cork bark. People often add wool or foam backing to make cork flooring even softer.
Where does it go? Its texture and durability make it popular for the kitchen and other high-traffic areas.
What does it cost? Around $4 to $5 per square foot (preparation and installation costs not included).
What is it? Bamboo stems are sliced into thin strips, fused with an adhesive under extreme pressure, then milled into strand-woven flooring planks. Strands from different trees can be blended to give each plank a distinctive grain.
Why is it green? Bamboo is not a tree, but the product of a fast-growing grass. When harvested, the roots remain intact. Because it grows up to 2 inches a day, bamboo regenerates quickly. Flooring bamboo is sustainably harvested in China, and pandas do not eat that particular species. It’s also harvested on bamboo plantations.
What makes it cool? Strand-woven bamboo flooring is harder than most hardwoods, it comes from a renewable and plentiful resource, and the grain is very distinct.
Where does it go? Strand-woven bamboo is an attractive surface in any room, and better suited to our climate than low-absorption bamboo, which can dry out and splinter.
What does it cost? $4.99 per square foot (preparation and installation costs not included).
What is it? This flooring is made from 100-percent recycled leather scraps from the manufacture of jackets, upholstery, belts, shoes and handbags.
Why is it green? Leather scraps that would otherwise make their way into a landfill are recycled into leather flooring that snaps together with patented joint technology, eliminating the use of glue, chemicals or nails. If you ever decide to change out the flooring, you can donate leather tiles to Habitat for Humanity to be recycled into flooring for another home. Sustainably harvested and recycled cork is an innovative backing for leather flooring that makes it cushy underfoot.
What makes it cool? Leather flooring looks rich and inviting, it’s soft underfoot, and it comes in a wide selection of colors and beveled-edge tiles and planks. Because it’s not glued or nailed and instead snaps together, it can be moved to different rooms if preferred.
Where does it go? Any room, except moist areas like bathrooms or mudrooms.
What does it cost? Around $11 per square foot (preparation and installation costs not included).
What is it? Rubber flooring is made from recycled tires.
Why is it green? The process recycles a post-consumer product.
What makes it cool? Soft and comfortable, rubber flooring is modular and lends itself to many different designs.
Where does it go? As a safe, anti-slip material, rubber flooring is perfect for home gyms, playrooms, outdoor play spaces, entryways, decks and around pools. It’s also used in horse stables and trailers.
What does it cost? Around $5.50 per square foot (preparation and installation costs not included).
What is it? Beetle-kill pine flooring, also called blue stain, is made from trees that have been killed by the pine-beetle infestation in Colorado and adjacent Rocky Mountain states. The wood’s blue stain comes from a lethal tree fungus injected into the wood by the pine beetle.
Why is it green? Because the tree is already dead, no trees are harmed in the harvesting process. And you can request locally harvested wood, reducing carbon emissions from shipping.
What makes it cool? The wood’s blue color is striking, and each board is absolutely unique with natural colors that range from blue to gray with flecks of brown, red and green.
Where does it go? Any room, but it’s not recommended for moist areas like bathrooms or mudrooms unless properly finished.
What does it cost? $2 to $4 per square foot depending on the grade (preparation and installation costs not included).
What is it? Strandwoven™ timber is 100-percent, post-industrial scrap wood derived from the manufacture of furniture and paper. The scraps are compressed into a dense log, and flooring planks are milled off the top.
Why is it green? The logs from the furniture and paper industries are Forest Stewardship Council-certified sourced wood. Strandwoven™ timber is the scrap material leftover after those logs have been milled.
What makes it cool? The unique look of this wood makes it suitable for paneling as well as flooring. This wood is twice as hard as oak or maple, so it’s very durable.
Where does it go? It can go in any room, but it’s not recommended for moist areas like bathrooms or mudrooms unless it’s sanded and finished on site.
What does it cost? About $7 per square foot (preparation and installation costs not included).
What is it? Marmoleum is a natural linoleum floor made from wood flour, tree and wax rosins, linseed oil and natural minerals and pigments.
Why is it green? It uses 100-percent natural, raw materials and is manufactured in an environmentally friendly way. Marmoleum is also available in panels and squares that lock together with a simple click, eliminating the use of glue.
What makes it cool? It doesn’t outgas chemicals, and it comes in a wide array of vivid colors and patterns that distinguish it from the linoleum you may remember in your grandmother’s kitchen.
Where does it go? Because it can withstand heavy foot traffic and loads, and is scratch-resistant, Marmoleum goes smartly in kitchens, bathrooms and living rooms. The material’s exposure to air makes it even tougher over time.
What does it cost? Between $3.55 and $7 per square foot (preparation and installation costs not included).