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Your home... floors
 
Bamboo Flooring

Fast & Easy Info

  • Carpeting is the most popular flooring surface. It's warm. It's cuddly. It also causes the most health problems.

  • Dust mites that burrow into carpet fibers leave behind droppings or "allergens" that can cause asthma.

  • Carpets that have been treated with stain-resistant and moth-proofing chemicals or floor adhesives may "off gas," releasing toxic fumes into the air that can make you feel headachey, nauseous, or worse.

  • Carpets also collect pollutants, mold, animal dander, paint fumes, synthetic fragrances, and other particles that can contaminate your living space.

  • Vacuuming or steam cleaning cannot remove all of these contaminants. Unless you vacuum with a High Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filter, the majority of the dust collected will blow out the back of the vacuum onto the carpet.

  • Almost all carpets are petroleum-based, except those made from wool. Creating carpets generates millions of gallons of wastewater.

  • PVC, or vinyl, flooring is also hazardous. Its main constituent is chlorine, which can create dioxin when it is manufactured or burned in incinerators. Other hazardous chemicals in vinyl floors include phthalates, chlorinated paraffins and tributyl tin. All of these chemicals can leach out of the PVC and contribute to chemical sensitivities, asthma, or worse.

  • Hardwood floors may be milled from virgin and tropical forests, even though these are the most important forests on earth and should remain intact.

  • Promising alternatives to carpet, vinyl, and virgin and tropical wood include floors made from bamboo, coconut, and refurbished wood.

 
 

Dollars & Sense Options

  • Wool - If you must buy carpet, consider natural wool. Or try carpet "tiles" instead of a broadloom. Individual tiles can be replaced more easily than an entire carpet. Install carpet using tacks rather than chemical-laden adhesives.
  • Area Rugs - Area rugs can be used with all types of flooring, as well as wall-to-wall carpeting. They're easy to move, easy to clean, and easy to change when you want a different feel to a room. You can even get the look of wall-to-wall carpeting with an area rug if you have it custom-bound to the same size as your room.
  • Padding - Avoid pads containing styrene-butadiene rubber. Use wool or recycled fiber padding, available from the Environmental Home Center, or felt.
  • Jute or Seagrass - Jute is a flexible vegetable fiber that attracts little dust, absorbs sound and insulates well. Seagrass is one of the strongest grass plants. Its fibers are spun into thick yarns, then woven into rugs.
  • "Natural" linoleum - Most commercial linoleum is actually vinyl. "Natural" linoleum is made from wood, cork "flour," limestone dust, pine tree rosin, various coloring materials, and linseed oil, all baked onto a jute backing. Natural linoleum is reputed to be quite durable and require very little maintenance. However, it does off-gas linseed oil fumes, so check your reaction to it before selecting it. "Marmoleum" by Forbo will give you some ideas if you're thinking of this option.
  • Wood - Any hardwood you purchase should be certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) as grown and harvested sustainably. Look for the FSC logo on the timber or wood product AND the letters "FSC" next to the product name on the receipt.
  • Reclaimed Wood - Increasingly, lumber that originally came from beautiful virgin forests is being salvaged from old warehouses, buildings, bridges, and other structures. Wood is also being reclaimed from the thousands of trees being removed from city streets, backyards, and parks due to disease and storm damage.
  • Bamboo - This fast-growing plant can be harvested every three to six years. It is desirable as long as it is grown, without the use of herbicides and without destroying native habitat.
  • Natural Cork - Cork insulates well, buffers noise, and is quite durable.

For Your Shopping List:

Buyer Beware!

Wood suppliers may claim their material comes from "managed" or "sustainable" forests. Without independent certification, you can't really know. Often, such claims are used as a marketing ploy to "greenwash" wood that comes from forests that are being destroyed in order to take advantage of consumer demand for "eco" timber. According to the U.S. Green Building Council, questionable certification systems include:

Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) ( Funded by the North American timber industry),
ISO certification ( Standards address business practices rather than ecological issues),
IBAMA certification ( Low environmental standards, poorly enforced).

The only forest certification system that environmental groups support is that of the Forest Stewardship Council ( FSC), which is independent, non-profit, and tracks wood from the forest to the consumer. The U.S. Green Building Council recognizes FSC certification as evidence of the sustainability of a non-recycled wood product. If you want to verify that the wood you are purchasing came from a truly well-managed forest, demand FSC-certified material, and demand proper documentation.

RugMark - Many hand-woven rugs are made in Asia and Africa, where workers' rights are often nil and children labor long and hard under abusive conditions. When buying international products, look for the RUGMARK, which symbolizes that the rug was crafted without child labor.

In My House

We have a mixture of slate, wall-to-wall carpeting, and hardwood floors covered by cotton throw rugs in our home. I regret the carpeting so much that I'm in the process of researching my options for replacing it. When we built the house twenty-some years ago, we were on a tight budget and carpeting for the living areas was less expensive than putting hardwood throughout. I also wasn't aware of the environmental costs involved in using carpeting (though I did have a headache for about a week after it was installed). Now that the carpet needs to be replaced, it doesn't make sense to install more of the same, especially when options like bamboo and coconut in addition to reclaimed oak and maple are available. I'll let you know what I decide to install.

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What Else?

  • Use a doormat to keep from tracking dirt, dust, yard pesticides, and other undesirable grit into your house. Some outside options: recycled tire mats ; Crate & Barrel's Kona rug, made from coconut wood; coir mats made from coconut husks. Target carries a wide variety.
  • Inside the door, use throw rugs to trap dirt and grime. Durable hemp rugs are available in a wide variety of colors. Gaiam offers rugs made from jute, sisal, and even recycled plastic soda bottles.
  • Natural Home Rugs offers beautiful options made from 100% seagrass.
  • Have More Questions? Visit The Healthy Flooring Network. Green Seal has also pulled together everything you could possibly want to know about the environmental impacts of carpets here.

If you still want to buy carpet.

  • Air it out - choose a carpeting supplier that will unroll the carpet and air it out in the warehouse prior to shipping to you.
  • Sprinkle zeolite powder on the carpet periodically. Zeolite can absorb some of the chemicals that would otherwise out-gas into your house.
  • Apply a nontoxic carpet finish like SafeChoice Carpet Seal, available from American Formulating & Manufacturing. SafeChoice forms an insoluble water- and odor-resistant barrier that prevents chemicals from outgassing from carpets for up to five cleanings or one year.
  • Rather than throw old carpet away, try to recycle or donate it. www.carpetrecovery.org, can tell you what recycling options you have. Contact the Salvation Army in your community to make a donation.
  • If you're not buying wool, 100% nylon is considered to be one of the safest alternatives.
  • Keep babies and young children off any new carpets, since they're particularly susceptible to carpet-bound chemicals.

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