Deciding on what types of wood flooring are best for the environment and your renovations or remodeling is something we all tend to be a little unsure about, given the number of options available to us. In this article, we go over the environmentally friendly choices we have for the types of wood flooring and the laying down of the product in your home or commercial business.
There are many building products that we know harm the environment and our health. Many of these products relate to your flooring. Ensuring that we use products that have been strictly regulated in the manufacturing process using responsibly sourced materials can all help the health of your family and our environment.
Some inferior flooring types are made with chemicals that are not good for your health. These are often low-quality laminate flooring products at a budget price. Having a higher quality of environmentally safe products does not automatically mean that the flooring product is going to be more expensive. You just need to be informed about what to look for.
Common Types Of Wood Flooring
The most common flooring types for domestic and office uses, and that are readily available are;
Laminate Flooring – Usually installed as a “floating floor”, is easy to lay for DIY projects
Bamboo – Is very hard-wearing and is from sustainable bamboo plantations
Hardwood – Sourced mostly from hardwood plantations
Vynil – Vynil flooring planks may be trendy, but not the best choice environmentally.
Engineered Wood Flooring, What You Need To Know
Engineered flooring is a popular choice for both new homes and for home renovations and is the next best environmentally choice next to real timber. This type of flooring is hard-wearing and easy to clean. It is cost-effective although there are different grades as we will discuss. It requires no refinishing as the finish is already on the product so it is an ideal choice for many.
Engineered wood flooring is a combination of real timber and special composites that are laminated together. The top two layers are real timber and have a protective coating on top.
Bamboo flooring is available as a floating floor style and laid the same way as the laminate flooring over a foam underlay, however, instead of a click together system, the tongue and grooved bamboo boards need to be glued together. Other methods of fixing bamboo floorboards include secret nailing if fixing to existing timber, or gluing directly to the existing floor.
As a sustainable material bamboo grows very quickly and is harvested to make flooring after about 5 years which is many times shorter than traditional timber floors that can take 10 times as long to grow. As a flooring material, it is hard-wearing and looks great.
There are two main methods of manufacturing bamboo flooring. These methods are called Strand woven, and Horizontal and vertical.
With the Strand woven method, individual strands of bamboo are glued together with a special resin and highly compressed at the same time to form a large slab. The slab is then cut into individual floorboards and machined to the appropriate size required.
The types of wood flooring using the horizontal and vertical method is simply bamboo strips dried and glued together. These are fashioned into flooring planks and again, machined to the manufactures standard size.
Both methods result in a hard durable bamboo floor and is comparable to hardwood floors. It is used in all kinds of applications from offices, residential homes bars, and hotels. It is stylish, most sustainable and a great environmentally friendly product. However while environmentally friendly from a product point of view there are various glues used in the manufacture of the flooring product.
Of all the different flooring choices, real hardwood is the most environmentally ‘friendly’ as far as your health is concerned. However, we are all aware of the dangers that cutting down trees brings to the health of our planet. Eliminating natural forests is not a great idea and is a serious problem for the environment, especially if the long term goal is to turn the land into feeding grounds for cattle and sheep.
So what are our choices in using hardwood or any type of real timber in floors and furniture? First we have the options to use recycled timbers. This is more to do with timber that was axed years ago when we knew no better. There was an abundance of trees once and its a shame to leave this type of resource left unused, or worse, burnt. There are businesses that cheat when it comes to recycled lumber whereas they use new timber and destress it to make the product look old and pre-used.
Forests that are sustainably managed are really the only responsible way to use timber for flooring. These forests are well managed and are harvested in an eco-friendly manner so as to preserve the ecosystem they come from. If you are buying real timber flooring the make sure the product clearly shows where the wood comes from and that it has been certified as such.
Vinyl Flooring tiles and strips
Vinyl floors are not new but recently the choice and styles have dramatically improved making it somewhat trendy. It is a hard-wearing and attractive flooring system that will out-last the rough and tumble of kids growing up. It is durable, won’t scratch or dent or rip (within reason).
Vinyl floors are not the best choice for environmental reasons, mainly the chemicals and plastics that are used in production, carcinogen bioaccumulative toxins are emitted during manufacture. These toxins can travel many miles from the manufacturing plant affecting people, plants and animals alike, your food!
One of the primary ingredients of vinyl planks is petroleum, a non-renewable, but they mainly comprise of PVC, which is one of the worst materials produced. There is no easy way to dispose of or manufacture PVC. PVC combustion, in the manufacturing process dioxin, is released, this is one of the most dangerous carcinogens known. PVC is the largest emitter and contribution to the planets’ dioxin burden. There other phthalates that can be present in Vinyl that has been banned in many consumer goods.
All in all, not a great product
laminate floors aren’t the best in regards to environmentally safe products. They contain high levels of formaldehyde, basically, the glue that holds the boards together. This product can release gas that can cause eye and lung and nasal problems. Check the product well before you buy if this is a concern, good products will have proper labels and warnings if needed.
While most low-quality brands of laminate flooring are not that eco-friendly, you can find high-quality eco laminate flooring by checking the manufacturer’s website. Look for credentials such as Greenguard Certified, brands using recycled materials, Pan European Forest Certification, sustainability commitments from the manufacturer, and Forest Stewardship certification.
Types of Laminate Floor
There are basically three different grades of laminate. The timber laminate product itself has a plastic or particleboard base that contains a wood finish on the top, hence the laminate term.
The base type and cheapest laminate wood flooring is basically a projected wood grain image as the finish and has no timber at all on the surface. The product is still hard-wearing however the look and feel suffers. Definitely a budget choice.
The next grade up does have real timber laminated to the base by way of a thin veneer of timber. This style is probably the most cost-effective as it is hard-wearing and has an authentic timber look, the best choice for the price and quality.
Finally, the top grade of the laminated timber floor types contains a heavier plank of real timber. This is the top of the range and the price reflects this, but the look is fantastic and it wears very well. This style of flooring looks best when the longer style boards are used.
How To Lay Engineered and Laminate Flooring
The fixing system that engineered and laminated flooring has is second to none. It is very easy to lay and the type of tongue and groove system used, clicks together and ensures a perfect joint every time. No glues, nails or screws are needed for fixing. The flooring product is generally laid on top of a thin layer of foam underlay.
When laying you need to start from the top left-hand corner of a room as this will create a continuous flow to the end. The flooring needs to have about a 1/2′ gap (depending on the product) around the perimeter of the room to allow for expansion. Once you have laid the first row, cut the plank to fit to the wall using a miter saw, then use the offcut to start the next row.
For best results, the skirting boards should be removed before laying the flooring. Once replaced they will cover the expansion gaps. There are also extra skirting boards available to go against the existing skirtings should the expansion gap be too wide. This is generally the case if the existing skirting boards are too narrow.
Although laminate flooring is durable and will outlast many other types of wood flooring there are some considerations to be aware of. The product will scratch if heavy furniture is dragged over it co place felt feet on all your furniture items that are often moved. The product is resistant to spills, however, any water that is in contact with the boards for longer periods will cause the timber joints to swell and will ruin the flooring. Don’t lay this type of flooring in bathrooms or laundries where this type of water damage accident can occur.