While consumers have gradually embraced a more eco-friendly approach to home improvement, opting for greener building supplies, water saving appliances and solar panels, a growing trend toward eco-friendly flooring could have one of the biggest impacts on the home improvement industry to date.
Covering every square inch of a home in one fashion or another,
flooring is becoming increasingly available in materials that have minimal impact on Mother Earth and on the air quality inside "Home Sweet Home."
While making an extra effort to buy environmentally conscious products that are likely to cost a few dollars more than non-natural fibers, the benefits of thinking green outweigh any decision that could justify chemically laden synthetics.
As with standard materials, eco-friendly options vary in cost according to origin of the product, thickness and weight (for carpet) and quality.
Overall, eco-friendly products probably cost up to 30 percent more to start, says Abbey Carpet Mart owner Eric Austad. Some products, such as recycled glass tile and PET carpet, cost about the same in order to provide incentive for purchasing recycled or renewable products.
Whether costs are similar or slightly more, the trade-off is lower toxicity, recyclable flooring and doing something good for the planet.
"People seem to be becoming more and more concerned about using natural products and fibers," says Eric Austad, owner of Abbey Carpet Mart in Ashland.
"I've had this shop 17 years and been selling those types of products for most of that time but I'm definitely seeing more and more demand. It's a better choice for the planet and for the air inside the home."
Flooring types range from recycled glass to grass and plastic bottles to exotic, and renewable woods. They are all worth checking into when the time comes to shop for carpet, tile or hardwood.
For basic carpeting, opt away from synthetic materials and off-gassing for PET Carpet. Made of recycled soda bottles, PET Carpet is naturally stain resistant, available in dozens of colors and is non-moisture-absorbing.
Priced similarly to regular carpet, some brands of PET carpet are equally as durable as synthetic versions, while other variations might be slightly less durable, says Ross Rier, owner of Completely Floored in Medford.
A longtime staple in the carpet industry, wool carpets have been around since the concept of flooring began. Naturally hypoallergenic and stain resistant, wool is the most durable of all rugs and available in loop or pile. To ensure an all-natural approach, insist on all-natural backing made with gum tree and jute rather than synthetic chemicals.
An attractive alternative to hardwood, bamboo is considered environmentally friendly because of its durability and fast-growing nature. Just five years of bamboo growth produces the same amount of flooring as 40 years of growth in hardwood. In addition, bamboo is more dent and moisture resistant than most hardwoods and finish options range from light blonde to darker wood with faux wood grains available or a true bamboo grain pattern.
Too often mistaken for synthetically produced vinyl, linoleum is actually a natural product derived from wood flour and cork with natural resins, chalk and waxes on a jute back, Austad says. Visually striking and highly durable, linoleum brands like Marmoleum offer a truly organic floor surface that hardens and becomes more attractive as time goes on.
A hardwood timber from coconut and date palms, palmwood is taken from plantation- grown palms ready to be cut down at the end of their 80-year production span. An alternative to rainforest timber, palmwood is a hard, dark palm with a unique texture. Tones range from golden to near ebony with dark brown flecks. Since coconut trees have no annual growth rings or branches, palmwood is free from knots and other imperfections.
Perhaps the least heard of, cork flooring is harvested from the bark of the cork tree. Trees grow back completely within nine to 14 years, making for a fully renewable resource. Like bamboo, cork is available as a "floating" floor system for applying over the top of existing wood, tile, concrete or vinyl. Due to its low density, cork is extremely insulating and acoustical, a nice choice for a home theater, and forgiving for sore feet.
Another recycled product, various manufacturers offer glass tiles, large and small, made from recycled bottles and other types of glass. While a common misconception is that recycled is ugly — pale green or clear — richly colored tiles are common, costing only a touch more than tiles made of non-renewable resources.
Whether considering beautiful glass tile or a bamboo floor for a family room, keep in mind that eco-friendly flooring is offered through both the usual and sometime harder to find sources.
"It's not available yet at the majority of places, but it's becoming more
and more mainstream with people focusing on being more earth-friendly," says Rier.
"It's definitely a good way to go "¦ for the most part people ask for it because they're earth-conscious and they want to do whatever they can to help the planet."