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Reclaimed Hardwood Carpet Linoleum Hardwood Cork Bamboo

Living Green


by Jason Best

No matter what, floors are the most used and abused part of any home. Those glossy brochures at your local flooring store may make the best-laid ones look like works of art, but as anyone who's ever dropped a jar of tomato sauce knows, you don't put a Picasso under your feet. Whether you're building a new house or remodeling, "durability" should be your mantra. The longer a floor lasts, the longer before you have to repair it or pitch it into a landfill. But just because your floors work hard doesn't mean they can't look great. The environmentally friendly options here are both beautiful and brawny. They may cost more than your average flooring, but in the long run, they're worth it.

No doubt, carpet has its detractors (it's a haven for mold and dust; it wears out quickly), but most people still want wall-to-wall at least somewhere in their homes. Nature's Carpet offers some of the best: all-wool, 100 percent biodegradable, and woven into a natural jute backing. No chemicals touch it at any stage of production -- even the sheep graze in organic fields.

Reclaimed hardwood flooring proves that character comes with age. Guaranteed unique by virtue of being anywhere from fifty to a couple hundred years old, antique wood floors are remilled from sources as unlikely as old barns, driftwood, and, in the case of the sample here, a Wild West bunkhouse. You get a bit of history, and often the type of hardy, old-growth timber rarely found anymore.

If you like hardwood flooring, but denuded mountains with five-o'clock shadows of tree stumps get you down, then you want responsibly harvested hardwood that's been certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (other types of certification are often industry decoys). EcoTimber has a great selection.

With a durability factor to rival some hardwoods, and sound-absorbing qualities to rival carpet, cork is a natural flooring alternative, at least for rooms not subject to lots of moisture. Cork is harvested from a type of oak most often found in Portugal. The trees don't die in the process, and in fact, it's not rare to find ones that are a couple of centuries old. To boot, the colors of Expanko's cork floors are all-natural variations -- no tints or dyes are used.

Somewhere along the line, linoleum got a bad rap, whether because it reminded people of the school nurse's office, or because they confused it with that most synthetic of floorings, vinyl. Truth is, the stuff that goes into making linoleum is about as wholesome as a loaf of organic seven-grain bread: linseed oil, wood flour, and rosins pressed onto a natural jute backing. For a range of colors far sexier than that hospital green, try Forbo's brand-name tiles.

Tough and resilient, bamboo isn't wood at all, but rather grass with attitude. And unlike timber, bamboo takes only three years to renew itself, which is great. But it's also a relative newcomer to the market, so be careful. You don't want flooring that uses toxic preservatives or adhesives, and because bamboo flooring is engineered (meaning the bamboo is only the outer layer of a different type of center), you want to make sure the core is also environmentally friendly. The flooring at Bamboo Hardwoods is all that.

Anatomy of a Carpet

For other tips on environmentally conscious living from OnEarth magazine, visit the Living Green index page.

OnEarth and NRDC do not test or endorse products. Product references are for information only.

Photo: Alison Rosa

OnEarth. Winter 2002
Copyright 2001 by the Natural Resources Defense Council