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As a home inspector specializing in energy audits I have taken a special interest in energy efficient and eco-friendly building practices.  Measures taken to increase energy efficiency in the home result in lower utility bills and a reduced impact on our environment.

If you or someone you know is building or renovating and planning on installing new floors I strongly encourage considering the use of sustainable materials.  Using sustainable materials is a great alternative to traditional flooring.  I've compiled a list of what flooring types are eco-friendly and sustainable.  First let me share with you some facts on why flooring isn't good for the environment: 

Traditional flooring negatively impacts the environment because it uses valuable natural resources and harmful chemicals.  Its production can use wood and water at an extremely fast pace that often leaves the resources unsustainable.  The production can give off dangerous petroleum byproducts and the treatments and finishes for the wood can give off many volatile organic compounds that include carcinogens such as formaldehyde.

The alternatives and why they're better:


Many homes have concrete foundations underneath their floors.  One new eco-friendly flooring trend is to leave the concrete exposed, stain it, seal it, and leave that as the floor.  It never needs waxing, is easy to clean and removes the need for carpeting.  It can also be energy friendly: during the day, concrete absorbs heat from direct sunlight, conserves it, and releases it through the night.  Despite what many may think, concrete can be quite attractive when expertly finished.


Bamboo's vitality makes it a sustainable and eco-friendly alternative to traditional flooring.  The plant is fully grown within three to five years whereas a hardwood tree can take 40 or 50 years to mature.  If the plant is cut correctly and responsibly in a manner that leaves enough of the stalk and roots intact, the plant can regenerate.  Also, the plant doesn't need lots of chemicals such as fertilizers or pesticides to grow.  An important aspect of bamboo, however is that is grows in warm wet climates in Asia which means it has to be transported all the way from Asia which has a significant ecological foot print.  Nothing is perfect, but these are some better options to consider.


Cork can be a renewable and recycled alternative to traditional flooring.  It is either harvested from a tree as bark and the tree re-grows the bark for the next harvest or it is made from the waste from wine cork factories.  Cork is an excellent insulator so it conserves heat and has exceptional memory, meaning it retains minimal marks when dented.  Air pockets in cork make the product soft to walk on and reduce the wear and tear on the floor since the cushioning prevents shoes from grinding on the flooring.  A unique advantage is its noise-canceling. which is great for music studios.


Reclaimed wood is wood that has been taken form existing buildings, which is then refinished and recut.  It can come from old barns, factories, warehouses, boxcars, wine barrels, and from the bottom of riverbeds.  Reclaimed wood is great for several things that range from making furniture to installing new floors.  At the same time reclaimed wood can be regarded as reliable because it has already weathered the elements, so one can be sure of its stability


It is important to note that there are two types of rubber, one is synthetic made with petroleum, and the other is natural rubber, which is removed from the sap of the rubber plant.  These rubber plants are found in sub-tropical climates like Brazil.  The rubber is compressed then sold.  It is important to know what part of the world the rubber comes from and its manufacturing process because some rubber flooring may contain PVC, plasticizers, or halogens.  Rubber flooring is ideal for high traffic areas, although not so much for kitchens where grease and water become slippery.

I hope this information is helpful.  Remember, the world we leave behind is the world our grandchildren and great-grandchildren inherit.

Sustainably yours,

Scott Medlin



Paul Chavez
Earth Origins Realty - Albuquerque, NM
Albuquerque Realtor, NM EcoBroker, and General Contractor

Thanks for this posting.  It's exciting to know there are so many renewable flooring options out there.

Nov 14, 2008 11:34 AM