Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Green Flooring: an oxymoron?


a suburban greenmom dives into home improvement...
That’s the beginning of our new bamboo floor.
Since stepping into the World of Green Anxiety, it seems like every time I do or buy anything, I freak out and fret at great length about whether what I’m doing is even remotely sustainably justifiable. (Remember my angst about a new computer? Which culminated in not even buying one?  Family camping trip? Nook? Angst, angst and more angst.)
When we bought our house 4 years ago, we immediately knew we wanted to rip out the cheap icky neutral carpet and put real floors down. We also knew we wanted to not just go out and buy the cheapest long-lasting option without regard to how it was produced and who made it. So finally, when we decided to suck it up and start the damn project, we (of course) did some research.
As usual, it seems like there’s no real green option for buying anything. You have to give up something somewhere. And some of the greenest options are so prohibitively expensive that they are just plain out of reach if we want our kids to have school shoes. In the end we went with bamboo, because even though there are varying levels of “green” in its manner of production, it is at the very least a renewable resource—it takes only 4-7 years to completely regrow a crop of the stuff from the ground up. And while there is apparently an emerging problem with growers in China chopping down old growth forest to plant new bamboo, and a whole “monoculture” issue developing over there, we went with a single company with its own source area, who rotates the crop around over a 7 year period and harvests every year, so they themselves are not buying willy-nilly from various random bamboo fields. Chinese labor and tariff issues mean that it would be much more expensive for them to ship the bamboo to the U.S. and make the flooring here, so they do make the flooring in China, which didn’t thrill me. (Is it hypocritical, though, that it makes me feel a lot better about the whole “made in China” thing to know that one of the company owners is himself Chinese—He lives here and started this American company but himself is the go-between from one nation to the other, not some random U.S. group outsourcing to the cheapest possible place?)
Below is a list of the links I’ve found about greener flooring materials, some aspects of which surprised me. For one thing, it had never occurred to me that plain old linoleum (not linoleum-looking-vinyl, which is awful) is one of the greenest possible choices.  Reclaimed wood is, of course, one of the best options, but is pretty expensive. Cork is another popular material, but it's pretty soft. (Although a friend of mine who had cork flooring put into her basement says it's also nice and warm--something I never considered.) And bamboo can be anywhere on the spectrum depending on how they process the raw grasses into hard flooring material, whether they use formaldehyde or not, and so forth. (I didn’t run across the formaldehyde question until after we’d paid for half the floor, so I never asked it, and honestly now I don’t really want to know.) How hard it is relative to wood seems to depend on how the flooring is produced and how dark it is, which is interesting: the darker color is drawn out by “cooking” it longer, but it also softens the fibers. So the lighter the grain, the harder the bamboo, apparently.
So here’s my linky list:
Treehugger muses about whether bamboo is or isn’t green, 5 years after their first article on the topic. I’m relieved that they are as bewildered by it all as I am.
Planet Green has a whole “green flooring guide” that covers a bunch of different flooring types—this is a great resource!
TLC has an interesting slideshow on flooring materials from an air quality perspective…an aspect of the process I might not have considered otherwise.
This one isn’t as much useful as plain old cool—using recycled wine corks to make a floor. Even I don’t drink that much wine! Or how about using actual pennies instead of tiles? It involves some fairly fume-y glue to seal the floor, but talk about an awesome repurpose!
I naturally perused a whole bunch of different sites, but these (and the ones they link to) were the ones I found most useful…anyone else undergone this process have any other wisdom to add?
Now we need to paint…Oh Lord, here we go again…
--Jenn the Greenmom

2 comments:

Betsy Escandon said...

I feel your pain. We have chosen to replace old vinyl flooring with porcelain tile and some solid hardwood. I was lucky to find some prefinished affordable sustainably grown (in the US!) and US-made hardwood in a local store. Mostly I think that any remodel is super exhausting, and having that green elf sitting on your shoulder casting doubt on all your decisions just makes it that much worse.

Truffula said...

Ugh! It is great to have these product choices, but they do boggle my mind! So many angles to consider! We have carpet and vinyl which needs. to. go. By yesterday. However, between considerations about price, and quality, and things environmental, I keep getting derailed. This summer, I saw a nice room design using both linoleum and what looked like oriented strand board as flooring.

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