What’s New in Flooring?
Reclaimed wood is becoming more prevalent in houses and it’s now available to those with smaller budgets. (Photo courtesy of Shaw Floors, American Restoration Epic Hardwood line.)
Can flooring materials be both cost-effective and environmentally friendly? Absolutely.
A wave of new materials — and even some tried and true ones — are providing homeowners with a wealth of flooring options for any budget, while also creating a “green” environment indoors.
You wouldn’t think that anything new or terribly exciting was happening in the world of carpet, but you would be wrong. The old standard floor covering has been getting a makeover thanks to new technologies that are improving the quality and texture of carpet fibers.
“Carpet remains the most affordable floor covering of choice, particularly in bedrooms or living rooms,” said David Wilkerson, corporate director, sustainability & product stewardship with Shaw Floors, the world’s largest carpet manufacturer and a leading floor covering provider. “In the last year, we’ve had some technological and design breakthroughs in improving the softness of nylon carpet fibers, and the durability, too. These are becoming extremely popular with homeowners.”
Carpet is also more environmentally friendly that you may realize. Wilkerson said that the smell of new carpet often leads to questions from consumers about chemical emissions in the home, but he points out that there is no reason to be alarmed. Carpet is not installed with any kind of adhesives and is virtually free of VOCs (volatile organic compounds).
The Carpet and Rug Institute (CRI) tests carpets through its Green Label and Green Label Plus programs for VOCs and homeowners can check the CRI website to see how a particular manufacturer or carpet type measures up.
Carpet can also be reincarnated thanks to its recyclability. Wilkerson provided as an example one of Shaw’s carpet materials produced internally — nylon 6. “We can convert it back into the building blocks of nylon and make it over and over again,” Wilkerson said, adding that a large portion of Shaw’s product line has been certified as part of the Cradle to Cradle Certified Products Program, which reviews such criteria as material health and reutilization, renewable energy and carbon management, water stewardship and social fairness.
Hardwood is by nature a bio-based, renewable resource. With proper care and refinishing, a hardwood floor can be durable and long-lasting. For the environmentally conscious, the key is using wood grown in sustainably managed forests.
The most common species grown in North America are oak, hickory and maple. You can, of course, go the traditional route with solid hardwood, but there is also engineered construction, composed of layers of wood bonded together. Engineered wood offers more dimensional stability and can be installed where solid wood cannot, such as in a basement, where moisture levels are greater.
Reclaimed wood is becoming more prevalent for interior floors, as well, and is another way to include an added element of sustainability to your home. It can come with a hefty price tag. However, some engineered woods are now being made with reclaimed wood at a more affordable price point.
Wilkerson used Shaw’s “Epic” hardwood line as an example. At its core are ground-up reclaimed wood chips, with wood veneers on top and bottom. “It uses 100 percent of the tree, as well as 50 percent less forested wood,” he said.
Two niche areas of hardwood materials are bamboo and cork, both of which are renewable resources. In particular, bamboo, which is technically a grass, grows very quickly, contributing to its recognition as a “green” product.
Laminate flooring emulates the look of hardwood and is a great option for homeowners looking for a versatile and durable surface. It also happens to be at the forefront of both eco-friendly and budget-friendly flooring.
“Even the highest quality, best-looking laminate flooring is very affordable, super-easy to clean and maintain and will last a long time,” said Betsy Amoroso, director of corporate communications with New Jersey-based Mannington Mills, Inc., a leading manufacturer of fine flooring for both commercial and residential spaces.
Laminates can be easily installed using a tongue-and-groove locking technique that is not bonded to a subfloor with an adhesive. Mannington’s laminate product line is the only one that holds FloorScore certification, indicating that it has passed stringent air quality tests.
FloorScore certification more generally applies to resilient or sheet vinyl flooring and its adhesives. Manufacturers that produce FloorScore-certified resilient flooring use ultra-low VOC, water-based inks to print the surface image.
Resilient flooring has seen the fastest growth of any flooring materials over the last four to five years. It’s competitively priced, visually authentic (mimicking hardwood, tile or stone), durable and versatile, moisture resistant and can be installed with or without adhesives.
As with the other flooring categories, technology is having an impact on the evolution of resilient floors. One example is fiberglass flooring. According to Amoroso, fiberglass is a growing segment in the sheet vinyl category. “It is softer and more cushiony underfoot than traditional felt-backed sheet vinyl and it has all the same eco-friendly attributes as regular resilient flooring,” she added.
With flooring manufacturers committed to developing and producing environmentally responsible flooring materials, homeowners at all budget levels can rest assured that no matter which product they choose, they will be helping to create an environmentally friendly and healthy home.
Judy L. Marchman is a freelance writer and editor, with 20 years of magazine and book publishing experience. She covers a variety of subjects, including home-related topics. Her work has appeared in Kentucky Monthly, Keeneland Magazine and the Official Kentucky Derby Souvenir Magazine, among other publications.