Green Building    
Posted: July 1, 2014, 12:00am by Scott Allred

Eco-Friendly Flooring Options

If you are considering replacing your carpet or flooring, choose materials that are good for the environment and your home. EPA studies have shown that indoor pollutant levels can be up to five times higher than they are outside. Flooring can be a source of many of these pollutants. New carpet and flooring contain volatile organic compounds (VOCs), including known and suspected carcinogens like formaldehyde. Additionally, carpets are often treated with chemicals for stain resistance, and can trap allergens and lawn chemicals brought in from the outside.

There are many eco-friendly flooring options that can minimize indoor pollution and improve indoor air quality. You can now choose from a rapidly growing line of carpets and flooring made from recycled and eco-friendly materials that are tested by third party organizations to ensure the company’s claims are accurate.

Before making a final selection, all eco-flooring should meet the following criteria:
• Low Volatile Organic Compounds.
• Manufactured from renewable, sustainable, or recycled materials.
• Durable and long lasting.
• Locally manufactured.
• Certification from Green Label Plus, GreenGuard, or other national programs.

Carpet has long been considered a source for pollutants and allergens that can lead to health problems. Many carpets and carpet padding contain plastics made from petroleum. The Carpet and Rug Institute (CRI) offers Green Label Plus testing and certification to indicate carpet, carpet backings, padding, and adhesives that emit low VOCs. More information on the Green Label Plus Program can be found at

Most carpet in the US is manufactured from nylon or polypropylene. A greener, more economical choice is recycled carpet. Recycled content carpet fiber is made from used carpet, soda bottles and other plastics. Manufacturers say it is more colorfast and durable than virgin fiber carpet and priced about the same as new. Consider carpet padding made from recycled, natural, and/or synthetic materials. Natural materials include jute fibers and animal hair; synthetic materials include nylon and polypropylene waste from carpet manufacturing.

Wool carpets are another eco-friendly choice. They are made from organic material, durable, and attractive but more expensive than synthetic carpets.

Recycle: According to Shaw Industries, the world’s largest carpet manufacturer, more than 5 billion pounds of carpet are sent to landfills annually, waste that represents 2% of the total landfill volume. The carpet industry is concerned about the amount of old carpet that ends up in landfills each year. Carpet manufacturers are voluntarily addressing this problem by recycling old carpet materials back into carpet production, recycling old carpet into alternative uses such as building materials and auto parts, refurbishing old carpet into new carpet tiles and even reclaiming old carpet so it can be reused or recycled.

If new carpet is in your future, only purchase flooring from companies that will recycle your old carpet.
Hardwood Floors: Hardwood flooring is a favorite of homeowners, and fortunately there are many eco-friendly options to consider.  Many manufacturers specialize in producing green hardwood floors, which take into account the source, how it is manufactured and finished and the environmental impact the flooring has on the home and the environment at large. Reclaimed wood from demolition of older homes and buildings can be refinished and milled into hardwood flooring. 
In addition to the sources of woods, finishes have become more environmentally friendly, and many companies use non-toxic finishing products on their flooring. If a homeowner is having the floor finished by an installer after installation, they can request that the installer use a green finishing product to cut down on toxins and produce a beautiful finish for the floor without harming the environment.

Ceramic Tile: Ceramic and porcelain tile are extremely durable but more energy-intensive to produce than stone or other flooring alternatives. One benefit is that ceramic tile and grout release few, if any, VOCs. People with serious allergies or other chronic respiratory ailments often tolerate these materials better than other finish materials.

Florida Tile, a manufacturer of tile and stone products, says it's the first company ever to have its stone and tile certified by GreenGuard, an industry-independent, third-party testing program for low-emitting products and materials. GreenGuard establishes acceptable indoor air standards for indoor products, environments, and buildings. For additional information on Florida Tile’s line of GreenGuard approved products, please visit their website at or

Linoleum: Linoleum is one of the most environmentally responsible flooring materials a home buyer can request. Made from rosin (tree sap), wood flour (reclaimed from lumber mills), cork flour (from sustainable cork tree bark), and linseed oil (pressed from flax plants), linoleum will biodegrade in landfills without off-gassing.

Cork: While softwoods are rarely considered ideal flooring material, cork is an excellent choice for many reasons. The natural elasticity of cork makes these floors especially comfortable, quite, and durable. Cork floors are also hypo-allergenic and are produced using the bark of the cork oak tree, which grows back every three years.  

Bamboo: Bamboo, a popular green flooring option, is harder and can withstand more use than conventional hardwood floors. Bamboo floors are naturally resistant to water, mildew, and insects, and they are sustainable since bamboo grows quickly and abundantly.

Careful consideration should be given to the location in which eco-friendly flooring is manufactured. Many bamboo and pre-finished hardwood products are manufactured in Asia, primarily China. The embedded energy costs to transport the products to you home generally out-weigh all the eco-friendly benefits of the product. A reclaimed hardwood floor from a locally demolished building will always be a “greener” option than a bamboo floor shipped from China.

In summary, eco-friendly flooring can improve indoor air quality, creating healthier homes through durable, long lasting, and recyclable flooring products.

Scott Allred is chairman of the Triad Green Building Council and the owner of Precept Construction. He can be reached at or 286-6811. For additional resources on green building, visit

The Triad Green Building Council serves members of the Greensboro, High Point, Winston-Salem and Burlington Home Builders Associations that are interested in learning more about green building techniques, products and services.

The council meets monthly with an educational program as the primary focus. Additional seminars and workshops are offered throughout the year for industry professionals and consumers. To find out more about the Triad Green Building Council, contact the Greensboro Builders Association at 855-6255 or

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