Flooring Brattleboro VT
When it comes to flooring, you don't have to give up style and aesthetics to turn your home green. In fact, many of today's homeowners may find themselves choosing eco-friendly flooring options primarily for visual appeal, with the green and healthy aspects of their selections pleasant side benefits.
Options for good-looking wood- or plant-based flooring that don't deplete natural resources are plentiful, with many of the raw materials coming from unlikely sources and places, such as fresh-cut trees of many species from well-managed forests, responsibly harvested plants from around the world, beams and timber from pre-1900 structures and logs reclaimed from river bottoms.
The most common reclaimed wood for flooring is heart pine. Once abundant in the Southeastern states, longleaf heart pine, which is as hard as or harder than oak, was a primary source of construction lumber for buildings, bridges and ship keels during the 1800s. The slow-growing trees, which matured in 150 to 450 years, reached heights of up to 170 feet and widths of up to 5 feet.
Typically, forest tracts were cleared all the way to riverbeds, where the logs were stripped of branches, tied and strung together into large shipments, and floated downstream to sawmills. By 1900, the virgin longleaf heart pine forests were nearly extinct.
The heart pine recovered from rivers in the Southeast by Goodwin Heart Pine, a reclaimed-wood flooring manufacturer based in Micanopy, Fla., was cut between about 100 and 200 years ago, loaded on rafts for transport to mills, then lost to river bottoms when the logs rolled off the rafts on the trip downstream. The dense logs settled in the river depths, where the cool water temperature and lack of oxygen acted as natural preservation, precluding deterioration of the wood.
The company also salvages antique heart cypress from rivers and antique heart pine from the beams and timbers of old warehouses, textile mills and other old buildings. In addition, it offers flooring made of cherry harvested from sustainable forests in the South.
Mountain Lumber, located in Ruckersville, Va., also specializes in producing flooring from reclaimed wood. Founded more than 31 years ago to salvage chestnut wood from barns in the mountains of Virginia and West Virginia, the company expanded into reclaiming wood from century-old commercial buildings and other sources around the world.
About a dozen years ago, while bicycling in France, the company's founder encountered workmen dismantling a "retired" French National Railway boxcar and bought the wood. International sources since then have included a 15th-century elm from China, a 60,000-gallon vat used to age Guinness beer, and oak originally scheduled for use over 100 years ago on a trans-Siberian railroad that was never built; the wood has since sat untouched in a warehouse.
Wine-barrel flooring, from Fontenay Woods, is made from the heads (tops and bottoms) of disassembled reclaimed wine barrels. To make the hardwood flooring, the company, based in Stanton, Calif., dries the heads and mills the wood (typically French and American white oak) into two distinctly colored boards.
One, naturally blond-colored, is representative of the outside of the barrelheads. The other features the wine-infused red color representative of the inside of the barrel. Homeowners can mix the two colors to create a parquet-type floor, points out company owner Rick Merwin. Often, the flooring retains a bit of the aroma of the original barrel contents. The flooring is frequently used in wine rooms, and in dining rooms and elsewhere as an inlay into another type of wood floor.
Lyptus and Bamboo
A relatively new type of green flooring is made from Lyptus, a renewable, high-yield exotic hardwood harvested from fast-growing Eucalyptus trees grown on responsibly managed plantations in South America. The trees typically grow to harvest size in 14 to 16 years, much faster than comparable hardwood species in colder climates.
Developed by Weyerhaeuser, an international forest products company based in Portland, Ore., Lyptus compares favorably with many hardwoods in density, strength and technical properties. In appearance it rivals cherry and mahogany. It is available three ways: as high-grade hardwood and plywood, as solid flooring and as engineered flooring.
Lyptus engineered flooring uses the solid-sawn face of the Lyptus hardwood and features a smooth finish. Engineered wood flooring products consist of a durable wear surface over a manufactured substrate, which usually is made of plywood-based strands glued in different directions to minimize expansion and contraction. Engineered wood products can be glued down, nailed or floated, and can be installed directly over concrete or below grade. They are widely available in textured or smooth finishes that mimic high-grade traditional wood flooring.
Another sustainable flooring option is bamboo, a rapidly renewable species of grass that matures in five to six years but can be harvested in as early as three years. To make bamboo flooring, the round hollow shoots are cut into strips, which are then boiled to remove the starch. The dried strips are laminated into boards and milled into planks for flooring. Though glue is typically used in the manufacturing process, it is usually low in or devoid of volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which can affect a home's indoor environment.
Bamboo flooring varies in hardness from as soft as fir to about 15 percent harder than North American Oak. Generally, the closer to maturity the bamboo is harvested, the harder the resulting flooring.
Typically, manufacturers offer bamboo flooring in two colors: natural, which is blondish yellow, and carbonized, which is a darkened shade achieved through applied heating. The boards, which can be glued or nailed down, may feature horizontal or vertical graining.
Solid bamboo flooring from EcoTimber, a flooring manufacturer in San Rafael, Calif., is derived from plantations that grow the crop without pesticides, herbicides or chemical fertilizers. The product is available finished and unfinished. Another manufacturer, Teragren, based in Bainbridge Island, Wash., notes that it harvests bamboo, grown in Zhejiang Province in China, when it reaches maturity in five to six years, which results in harder fibers and ensures that plants left behind can quickly send out new shoots.
Cork and Natural Linoleum
Cork flooring is quiet, resilient, durable and easy to maintain. And because it has lots of cells that can trap and hold heat, it is also a natural insulator. Cork comes in light and medium shades, which are natural, and darker colors achieved by controlled burning of the cork during the manufacturing process.
A rapidly renewable resource, cork is harvested from cork oak trees that grow primarily in Portugal. Typically, the cork bark is initially peeled off a cork oak tree after about 17 years. After that, "the tree naturally sloughs off the bark every nine years," explains Randy Gillespie, marketing manager at Expanko, a cork-flooring manufacturer in Coatesville, Pa.
Expanko's cork flooring is made from cork left over after other products are manufactured from the harvest. The cork is ground up and pressed, with a small amount of water-based adhesive, into blocks that can then be milled like wood to make cork tiles of various dimensions, with the density of oak. When the tiles start to show wear, they can be refinished in a manner similar to a wood floor.
The company's engineered cork floating floor system, Expanko Vallarex, features top and bottom cork layers sandwiching a high-density fiberboard core that adds strength and durability. The system, which installs without glue or adhesives, is available in nine 12-by-36-inch patterns in several natural cork shades and two stained colors. It is suitable for applications over many hard surfaces, including concrete, plywood, vinyl and hardwood floors installed over plywood.
Wood and sometimes cork powder are components of natural linoleum, a flooring option for well over 100 years. The main ingredient is linseed oil, which is derived from flax plants. Other ingredients include resins and ground limestone.
Though much of linoleum's place in the home (most notably in kitchens and playrooms) has been usurped over recent decades by newer products, it is now enjoying a renaissance and can be an attractive option among ecologically minded homeowners because it is made from sustainable products.
Natural linoleum can last upwards of 40 years. It is biodegradable, does not emit harmful gasses and has antistatic properties, so dust doesn't easily cling. Colors are achieved through the use of organic pigments that extend through the product. Exposure to air hardens the product, increasing its durability and antimicrobial qualities.
Most linoleum sells as sheeting, in traditional marbled patterns, vivid saturated solid colors and contemporary flecks. Typically, the backing is made of jute (an abundant, renewable fibrous plant), which helps absorb sound and cushions the surface for comfortable walking.
Marmoleum, natural linoleum by Forbo Flooring, a Hazleton, Pa., manufacturer, is available as sheeting in 128 colors and as glue-down, 13-by-13-inch tiles in 30 colors. Also available is Marmoleum Click, an engineered product available as 12-inch squares and 12-by-36-inch panels, which have a 2-millimeter wear layer of natural linoleum over high-density fiberboard with a bottom layer of cork.
Armstrong World Industries, based in Lancaster, Pa., also makes natural linoleum flooring, called Marmorette Genuine Linoleum. Available as sheeting in 58 colors, it affords homeowners design flexibility to create patterns with multiple colors or custom designs incorporating cuts from multiple sheets. It's just one of the many green, healthy and good-looking flooring options available to savvy homeowners.
William and Patti Feldman write frequently for Smart HomeOwner. They're based in New York.