Picking out a sustainable wood floor isn’t as easy as doing an internet search of sustainable hardwoods. We’ve tailored this blog post for Coloradan’s because your location affects which wood floor options are the most sustainable. A home in Miami, Cape Town, Denver, and Tokyo could have different types of wood that would be considered the most sustainable for flooring.
There are great, sustainable flooring options for everyone. We’ll first take a look at what’s needed to determine if a type of wood floor is eco-friendly. Then we’ll explore some of our favorite sustainable woods for Colorado homes.
Is Wood Flooring Eco-Friendly?
Some wood flooring is more sustainable than others. To determine how sustainable a particular floor is for your home, there are a couple of things to consider.
First, you’ll want to consider where the wood was grown and harvested. It’s important to determine if it was legally sourced. We look for woods that are FSC Certified and that come from producers that don’t clear cut, which negatively impacts the environment. It’s better to use wood that’s from a local tree plantation, because the local shipping creates a smaller carbon footprint.
Next, consider how the flooring will be installed. This is important because some wood is treated with chemicals that are harmful to the environment. Many flooring options also require the installers to use adhesives that can be harmful to the installer’s health. You won’t want those chemicals in your home! Sustainable choices take into consideration each person that could potentially be impacted by the wood in your home.
Then, you’ll take a look at the carbon footprint for shipping. While some woods may be considered sustainable, if it has to travel half the globe to get to you, it becomes a much less sustainable option. This is why we recommend looking locally for your flooring options.
Lastly, consider the floor’s potential lifetime. The longer the lifetime of the product, the more sustainable an option it is. It’s also a good idea to consider if the wood can be recycled or upcycled when you remove it from your home.
To answer the question, yes, some wood flooring is eco-friendly. But it’s important to consider the entire life cycle of the wood, as this will help determine how sustainable the flooring really is.
What Does FSC Certified Mean?
FSC stands for U.S. Forest Stewardship Council. By purchasing a product that is FSC certified you’re getting mariels from a forest that provides environmental, social, and economic benefits. This council looks at forest management based on 57 different criteria. These criteria range from protecting indigenous peoples’ rights, to minimal use of pesticides.
As of 2020, the FSC has certified 35.2 million acres of forests. Yet only 18% of the world’s forests are protected. That’s why it’s so important to do your research to know what you’re bringing into your home and what you’re taking from the planet.
Another great certification to look for is the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI-Certified Wood Flooring). If you want to learn more about sustainable certifications in the home building and remodeling process, read our Principles of Sustainability article.
Most Sustainable Wood Flooring for Colorado Homes
#1: Reclaimed Wood
Reclaimed wood is the most sustainable, but the least accessible wood flooring option for your home. If you are lucky enough to find reclaimed wood to use for your project, do it!
Reclaimed wood is hard to find because it comes from buildings like barns, churches, or bowling alleys. This wood is often hundreds of years old because the trees that were cut down 100 years ago were much older than the trees we have available to us today. The older the tree, the more durable and dense the wood is, meaning the flooring will last you many years to come.
By using reclaimed wood, you’ll get a floor with extra character and will keep materials from heading to the landfill. Plus, no new trees are cut down in order to lay your flooring.
#2: Engineered Wood
An engineered wood floor is a plywood core with a solid wood layer on top of it. The plywood on the inside is made of soft wood, which grows faster than most hardwood. You’ll also be using less materials than with solid wood.
Engineered wood is the most sustainable and accessible wood Colorado homes. It’s designed to withstand constant expansions and contractions. This is ideal for Colorado’s weather fluctuations. Your floor will last longer given its flexibility to handle our weather conditions.
It also often comes pre-finished, which means installers don’t have to do a coat of chemicals during installation. We always recommend choosing a low or no VOC finish for any wood flooring. When it’s ready to install, engineered flooring doesn’t need glue and can be floated to install or floated and nailed. The acclimation time is also only a few weeks rather than several weeks, so it’s sustainable and good for your remodel timeline!
The main con of engineered wood flooring is that it cannot withstand refinishing. If you’re willing to pay a little more, there are some lines that can be refinished once. Keep in mind that most floors need to be refinished every 20 years or so, so long as they’re not subject to heavy use.
If you’re worried about looks – don’t be. There are some great engineered woods out there. Sometimes it’s almost impossible to tell the difference!
#3: Cork Flooring
Cork isn’t just for your wine bottle, it’s also a great sustainable flooring option! Cork floors are technically made out of bark, so they’re a softer, faster growing wood.
To make cork floors, bark from cork oak trees is harvested. The bark can be harvested every nine to ten years for two centuries without damaging or cutting down the tree. The cork will simply continue to regenerate!
It’s great flooring for noise absorption and repelling water. We like to use a sheet cork floor in bathrooms or home gyms. We don’t recommend installing a cork tile, but rather one big sheet, as this prevents water from getting in between the cracks and damaging the subfloor. We’ve seen cork flooring in bathrooms in Europe that are hundreds of years old.
We don’t recommend installing a cork in areas with a lot of sun exposure, as the coloring will fade with intense UV rays from our harsh Colorado sun. That said, there’s nothing a great wool rug couldn’t help you to avoid!
#4: Hemp Wood Flooring
Hemp is all the rage in the sustainable world because it’s so diverse and abundant. Hemp wood flooring is a mix of hemp and soy resin. Its finished product is manufactured and looks similar to engineered wood floors, but it’s stronger than most engineered woods. Hemp also grows 100x faster than oak, is biodegradable, and it is scratch resistant. All around, it’s a great choice for a sustainable wood floor in your home.
#5: Palm Wood Flooring
Palm wood normally comes from coconut farms. These trees are cut down because they’re no longer able to produce fruit. So, by using the old coconut trees as a flooring type, you’re giving the tree a second life.
The wood is dense, and good for high traffic areas. Its long life span makes it a more sustainable option compared to other woods that will need replacing sooner. If you are going to install palm wood flooring, be sure to check the binders used to manufacture the floor before buying. With any wood floor, you want there to be low or no VOC (volatile organic compounds).
What if I Want Salvaged Wood Flooring?
Salvaged wood has a tendency to gap and warp. You would likely need to replace the flooring sooner than more traditional or other sustainable flooring choices. We encourage you to invest in salvaged wood bar tops and furniture, but not floors.
Salvaged wood is wood that comes from trees that were old or diseased, knocked down in storms, or removed for new developments. Beetle-kill pine wood also falls into the category. In theory salvage wood would make a very sustainable floor. In practice, this isn’t the case.
Isn’t Bamboo a Good Sustainable Flooring Solution?
If you’re doing a search for a sustainable flooring option, you’ll see bamboo ranking high as a great alternate to wood flooring. This is true for many places, but not Colorado.
First, Colorado is cold and dry which makes bamboo age and crack. While it does grow much faster than most woods, it would need replacing in a shorter amount of time. This makes it an impractical and unsustainable choice.
Bamboo is also not native to Colorado, or anywhere nearby. To get bamboo flooring, it has to travel a significant distance. This creates a much larger carbon footprint than some of the more local, sustainable options.
If you’re somewhere hot and humid where bamboo grows naturally, by all means use bamboo! If you’re in Colorado, there are better choices for sustainable flooring options.
The Most Sustainable Option for a Remodel Isn’t Always as Easy as doing an Internet Search
We encourage all of our clients, and homeowners, to do their own research before selecting a product or material. That said, the internet is a big place. It can be hard to find the right information that you’re looking for.
That’s why it can be so important to partner with an expert, like an interior designer. We have years of experience at Spark Interiors and have done all the intensive research for you. We’re here to help you explore your options and make the right decision for your home.
If you’re ready to work with a professional on your remodel, fill out a contact form. Or, if you’d like to gather more information before connecting with us, check out our additional blog topics. There, you can learn more about sustainable remodeling and best practices.