It’s the item in your home that was made to walk on — stand on, work on, dance on or play on.
It holds up your furniture and appliances. But it can do so much more, like insulate from heat and cold, keep the noise level down and cushion and support you as you move freely around your house.
And it can beautify and decorate your space, all the while lowering your environmental footprint.
Yes, your flooring is constantly multi-tasking. When it’s time to make flooring choices, the more you know, the more tasks your flooring can take on. Fortunately, consumers today can make environmentally friendly choices without sacrificing comfort and beauty.
Traditional hardwoods have long been considered a “green” option. They grow naturally and can be replenished by continued cultivation. But practices, such as clear-cutting forests, have often outweighed any benefits to the environment.
More and more, flooring companies are following environmentally responsible planting and harvesting methods that ensure future growth and minimize negatives. Plus, other material options are gaining popularity — materials such as cork, bamboo, vinyls made from linseed oil and recycled carpeting — and are touting a greater commitment to environmental protection.
“Cork is not new,” said Zollie Smith, manager of Pilot Floor Covering, 309 E. King St. in King. “It’s been around for over 100 years and is now becoming popular again.”
Indeed, cork was first used for flooring in the United States in 1890 and was popular in the first half of the 20th century. Cork flooring was used in the Mayo Clinic, the U. S. National Archives and the U. S. Library of Congress.
Cork is the bark of the cork oak tree that grows primarily in Portugal, Spain and Northern Africa. Maturing at 25 years of age, the bark can then be harvested. The tree is unharmed in the harvesting process.
The re-growth of bark occurs in short intervals and can be harvested in nine-year cycles. Cork oak trees can live up to 250 years. This makes cork an exceptional building material since the source is sustainable over centuries.
But it’s unlikely that purchases are made on sustainability alone. Fortunately, cork has many other amazing attributes.
Cork flooring comes in a wide variety of styles, offering a range of design possibilities to complement just about any decor. There are as many as 40 different colors available and shapes ranging from squares and rectangles to hexagons, according to Randy Hatteberg, co-owner with his wife, Marty, of Floor Coverings International of the Piedmont Triad, 116 North Main St. in Kernersville. Cork can also be stained or painted.
But that’s not all.
“By nature, cork flooring has 200 million closed air cells per cubic inch,” Hatteberg said.
If you squeeze it, it will condense then bounce back to the original shape, giving the flooring a cushioning effect under foot.
Also, cork acts like an insulator, trapping heat and is warmer to the touch. Cork is also sound-resistant and has a degree of fire-resistance. Of interest to allergy sufferers, cork contains a naturally occurring wax called suberin, which is insect-resistant and anti-allergenic.
While cork flooring is known for its resilience, it is softer than hardwoods.
“It can dent and show wear patterns with time, but that’s part of the charm; it gets a look to it,” Smith said. “Barring calamity, it can last a very long time.”
One of the things Smith considers a calamity is a woman in high-heel shoes. “Not just on cork but on any wood floor.”
According to Smith, a 125-pound woman with a stiletto heel places 2,000 pounds of pressure per square inch upon the flooring. To put this in perspective, an elephant delivers 50 to 100 pounds of pressure per square inch.
Bamboo is one of the more recent materials to be used in flooring. A type of grass, bamboo can be harder than oak. It grows around the globe, though much of the bamboo used in the United States comes from China, according to Smith.
Bamboo can be harvested within seven years of planting. Its inexhaustible supply makes it perfect for use as a sustainable flooring material. Its natural beauty makes it a popular choice.
Consumers can choose to use a vertical or horizontal grain. The vertical grain gives a smooth look. A horizontal grain shows off the bamboo’s random growth rings. Colors vary depending on the combination of bark (green) and interior material (yellow) used. Known for its strength and durability, bamboo flooring carries less risk of damage due to expansion or contraction. It is resistant to insects and mildew.
Another option is recyclable carpet. It is often made using recycled materials and can be re-purposed once its time in your home is done, according to Hatteberg.
Shaw Floors is an example of a major corporation taking action to protect the environment. Its new Clearly Chic Collection is manufactured using recycled PET (polyethylene terephthalate), a type of plastic used in water and soda bottles. On average, Shaw uses 160 million pounds of plastic drink bottles annually.
For those places in your home where a vinyl product may be the most appropriate, there are now vinyls made from the linseed oil from flax seeds. Forbo Flooring Systems’ version of this is a flooring called Marmoleum.
Whatever your tastes and needs, if you wish to act out your concern for the safety of the planet, you must look at multiple green products. Green products can be sourced, processed, manufactured and installed in ways that are dirty for the environment.
Check on every step of the journey from the source to your home to make sure every effort is made to minimize damage.
Some questions to ask are:
u How are materials harvested?
u Are sources being replenished?
u What methods are used to transfer them from their home to yours?
u How far must they be transported?
u What type of energy is used to process them?
u What kinds of chemicals are used to treat, dye or complete other processes?
u What chemicals are involved in installation?
Most manufacturers and suppliers have websites available that answer many of these questions.
“Start with what you like in aesthetics and characteristics, have your budget in mind, make a decision that you can afford and make sure that the manufacturer is environmentally responsible,” Hatteberg said.
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