There was a time when the term eco-friendly evoked images of bland, boring, and neutral colored materials. Thankfully, that is not the case anymore. As more designers seek out eco-friendly materials for an environmentally aware clientele, manufacturers have given the design world many beautiful options.
Cork is relatively new to the flooring world. Traditionally seen on walls—and obviously in your favorite bottle of wine—cork is great material for floors. Cork is harvested from the bark of the cork oak tree commonly found in the forests of the Mediterranean. The trees are not cut down to harvest the bark, which grows back every three years, making it an ideal renewable source. Cork has anti-microbial properties that reduce allergens in the home, is fire retardant, easy to maintain, and acts as a natural insect repellent too. Like wood, cork can be finished in a variety of paints and stains to suit any color scheme or design style. Its durability allows for uses in any part of the house—depending on the quality, cork flooring can last between 10 and 30 years.
Bamboo flooring is another wood-like option that is gaining in popularity. Bamboo is a grass that shares many characteristics of hardwood—it’s durable, easy to maintain, and easy to install. Bamboo is sustainable because it’s made from natural vegetation that grows to maturity in three to five years (far less than the twenty years trees can take!). Bamboo, while usually very light, is available in many hues that will work in any setting or decor. Its varied grains and wide array of colors give it an edge over traditional flooring by allowing for customization not often found elsewhere.
When one thinks of linoleum flooring, vinyl tends to come to mind—and yet the two are nowhere close to each other. Vinyl is a synthetic made of chlorinated petrochemicals that are harmful. Linoleum is created from a concoction of linseed oil, cork dust, tree resins, wood flour, pigments, and ground limestone. Like cork, it is fire retardant and water resistant. Linoleum is not new; it fell out of favor with the introduction of vinyl in the 1940s. As architects and designers began asking for it again, it reemerged with a vast array of bright vibrant colors and a new sealer to protect it from stains. It has a long shelf life and will hold up to a lot of wear and tear.
4. Glass Tiles
Ever wonder what happens to the wine bottles and beer bottles that are shipped to the recycler? Some are converted into beautiful glass tiles. This renewable source is fast becoming a wonderful option for floors as well as bathroom and kitchen walls. Glass has similar benefits of other eco-friendly materials. It is non-absorptive and won’t mildew or mold in damp environments. It is easy to maintain and doesn’t stain. Glass comes in a limitless array of colors, patterns, and finishes suitable for any design scheme. Unlike ceramic tiles, glass will reflect light rather than absorb it, adding that additional layer of light some rooms need.
Polished concrete is another sustainable material that is gaining in popularity. Concrete is typically slab on grade, and is used as subflooring in many residential settings. However, it can be tinted and polished to suit the homeowner’s taste and style—there is no need for traditional flooring to be put over it. From creating a tiled effect with different colors to inlaying other materials such as glass, the design possibilities are endless. Concrete is extremely durable, easy to clean, and never needs to be replaced.
6. Wool Carpet
Carpet has long been a favorite go-to material for most homes. It is soft to walk on, comfortable to sit on, and comes in a range of colors and patterns. Unfortunately, most carpet has typically been made using volatile organic compounds or toxins that are harmful to the environment and to our health. Wool carpets are eco-friendly since wool is a natural resource spun into a thread that can be dyed any color imaginable, and then be woven to create a carpet. It is one of the first materials to be used as a floor covering, is very durable, and can last centuries. Other natural materials used to make carpets or rugs include sisal, jute, and cotton.
7. P.E.T. Berber Carpet
Polyester (P.E.T.) Berber is another sustainable carpet to consider. Because it is made of recycled plastic bottles, it has a minimal impact to the environment—every plastic bottle that is used to create this carpet is one less sitting in our landfills. There are several benefits to this recycled material; it’s durable, spill resistant, and comes in a variety of aesthetically pleasing colors and patterns. It typically has a flecked appearance making it suitable to most color schemes. However, it comes with its drawbacks: Berber can be easily snagged, causing it to unravel if not repaired promptly—and, the recycled material isn’t as soft as other carpets. Overall, it’s a very economical material and deserves a serious look.
Rubber flooring made from recycled tires is usually found at the local gym or on the neighborhood playground. However, it is slowly finding its way into our kitchens, sunrooms, and bathrooms as a versatile, beautiful, and lasting option. It is comfortable to walk on as well as water resistant, and comes in many color and pattern options.
Leather is a surprising material that can be used as flooring. It is derived from the center-most part of the cowhide and is thicker than the leather pieces used for such things as belts, wallets, and handbags. The soft warm feel under foot makes it perfect for bedrooms, closets, and small areas with little foot traffic. It is not a great material for bathrooms, kitchens, or other moist areas of a home because it’s easily water damaged. It is very durable and will wear well over time. Worn, scratched, and aged leather develops a personality of its own and can be beautiful to look at for years to come.
10. Reclaimed Hardwood
If you have your heart set on traditional hardwood flooring, while not usually considered eco-friendly due deforestation concerns, it can still be an option. There are two types of hard wood to consider. Reclaimed wood is ideal, as it reuses existing wood from trees that were chopped down some time ago. Salvaged wood flooring, planks, and whole segments taken from other structures, can look beautiful in older homes or in a beach cottage. The other option is to purchase hardwood that’s labeled FSC certified. This is a designation by the Forest Stewardship Council—they promote the responsible management of forests throughout the world with a focus on adhering to high social and environmental standards.
Luckily with today’s technology and a bit of imagination, eco-friendly flooring does not have to come at the expense of style. Smart consumers can have both.