What's the first thing you associate with bad air pollution? Maybe it's the smog-choked pictures you see in the news coming from places like Beijing, Shanghai, and Mumbai.
Now imagine that kind of pollution, but inside your house. Even if you can't actually see a cloud of smog hovering in your living room, there are still pollutants causing trouble in your house. According to the World Health Organization, 4.3 million1 people a year die from exposure to household air pollution. The Environmental Protection Agency even suggests that indoor air quality can be more polluting than outdoor air. With how much time people spend indoors (approximately 90 percent of their time), the health risks are even greater vs the outdoors.
A major source of indoor air pollution can be found at your feet. Your carpet could be releasing hundreds of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) into the air, including carcinogens such as formaldehyde and benzene. Some carpets are treated with toxic chemicals and pollutants tracked inside can become trapped inside.
If you are using traditional hardwood floors, they may be sourced from forests that aren’t sustainably managed, contributing to deforestation, a major cause of global warming because forests absorb a huge amount of carbon.
Thankfully, there are eco-friendly flooring options to ensure that the air you and your family breathe indoors is clean and fresh and the wood you use doesn’t contribute to deforestation.
There are many non-toxic carpeting options for the eco-conscious homeowner or renter.
Wool carpets are non-toxic. The textile fiber is naturally derived primarily from sheep and is durable, lasting hundreds of years in some cases.
Polyester (P.E.T) Berber is an environmentally sustainable carpet that is made out of recycled bottle caps and tires. The Indigenous Berber people of North Africa have been hand-weaving these types of carpets for centuries, thus the name Berber. Besides reusing materials that might otherwise end up in a landfill, these types of carpets are stain resistant. Drawbacks include “crushing,” which means that the fibers bend without reshaping, and “shading,” in other words the carpet can look dirty or shiny.
Carpet tiles are another sustainable solution. Made out of 100 percent recycled fiber, carpet tiles can reduce the amount of carpet waste that ends up in landfills and can be dried and recovered easier than a regular carpet in case of a flooding event.
Other green carpet options include carpeting made from natural, organic sources such as 4. natural sisals, 5. jutes, 6. seagrass, 7. hemp and 8. cotton.
Sustainable Hardwood Flooring
Another eco-friendly flooring option is to skip the carpet and go with a sustainably-sourced hardwood floor.
Cork is a sustainably harvested, renewable resource. Cork is harvested from the cork oak tree, found in Spain, Portugal, Italy, France and northern Africa. The trees are not cut down to harvest the bark, which grows back every three years. Cork floors are durable, reduce allergens in the home, are fire retardant and act as a natural insect repellent.
Bamboo is another environmentally sustainable option for homeowners that is increasingly popular. Although classified as a grass, bamboo is actually 13 percent harder than maple and 27 percent harder than northern red oak2. Besides being durable, it is a renewable resource because bamboo grows back to maturity fast, in as little as three years in some cases. Eucalyptus also grows quickly and like bamboo is hard and dense enough for kitchens and other areas of your home.
Other sustainable flooring options include 11. recycled glass tiles and 12. natural linoleum that is hypo-allergenic and biodegradable. Concrete is increasingly being considered as a sustainable flooring option. 13. Concrete is the most durable of all flooring options, reducing waste, because, well, it almost never needs to replaced. 14. Rubber flooring made out of recycled tires is usually associated with gym floors or the local playground, but can also be used inside the home. 15. Leather is another unlikely flooring option to consider as it is durable.
If traditional hardwood flooring is a must, check to make sure the wood is certified by the Forest Stewardship Council3, an international non-profit that promotes responsible management of forests. FSC-certified lumber is harvested sustainably, ensuring that trees are regenerated and biodiversity, air and water quality are preserved.
Reclaimed wood is another option as no new trees are chopped down to supply the lumber. Reclaimed wood comes from trees that were already cut down sometimes hundreds of years ago. Old-growth (deconstruction of old buildings) and Dredge Wood (recovered from river bottoms) lines were harvested 100 to 300 years ago.
Renewable, non-toxic resources for flooring your home are plentiful. Your family can feel safe, content with the knowledge that your floor is contributing to an indoor environment of fresh, healthy air to breathe for many years to come. Plus you will be helping heal the planet by not contributing to deforestation.