Smart Design With Suzette: Sustainable Floors In Review

Wood floor in the living room. Courtesy photo
Smart Design With Suzette

Sustainable Floors In Review

Almost a year ago, I wrote about sustainable choices for flooring…tile, bamboo, cork, wood, linoleum (not vinyl), terrazzo and stained concrete. I stated I needed new floors. Well friends, another full year has past and I still don’t have new floors.

Our puppy has literally put holes in most of the carpet and/or area rugs we own, as well as, adding a new stain or two due to ‘accidents.’ Therefore, new carpet will NOT be coming into our home. However there are new carpets on the market today that have less off-gassing of chemicals then others in the past.

Let’s review the choices and benefits of these types of flooring and maybe by next year it will happen for me.

Tile is highly durable and lasts for years. It can be beautiful and classic if the correct color is chosen. However, it takes high energy to produce and transport so if you go with tile, look for it manufactured regionally. Overall, tile is healthy and can be installed with no off-gassing. Use sanded grout or low VOC solvents. Tile is most often used in bathrooms and entry areas.

Bamboo is technically a grass. It is harder than oak or maple. It’s high-density version works well for under-floor radiant heat. However, all bamboo is NOT created equal. Pesticides and fireproofing chemicals may have been used on some bamboo. Many manufacturers use urea formaldehyde as a binder – so check for details. High moisture can make it warp or weaken so do not install in baths where humidity exceeds 60%. The only disadvantage is that it is not grown here so transportation is a carbon problem.

Cork is extracted from oak trees. Avoid cork with vinyl or styrene backing. It’s benefits are that it is pliable, absorbs sound, bounces back, is naturally water resistant, has anti-microbial properties, doesn’t mold, non slip surface and doesn’t off-gas. I’m definitely considering cork, but not in any area that might get wet like a kitchen or bathroom.

Wood is logical for families with children, pets and people with allergies. It can last a lifetime so it is high on the ‘green’ list if that’s important to you. There is solid wood and engineered wood for residential homes. Engineered wood has a shorter life span.  Make sure you specify formaldehyde-free wood. Another type of wood is reclaimed wood, which is of course eco-friendly. Try to use it whenever possible.

Always remember to measure well to eliminate waste and that any new wood product you purchase is FSC certified. FSC stands for the Forestry Stewardship Council. It is an independent, non-governmental, not-for-profit organization established to promote the responsible management of the world’s forests. Look for the symbol on new wood flooring for sustainability. Wood seems to be the best option for my family. Plus, it’s at the top of the list with homebuyers who want to purchase a home.

Linoleum is made from renewable sources like linseed oil, cork and wood dust. It is not vinyl flooring. Natural linoleum is bio-based, non-toxic, anti-microbial, easy to maintain and lasts thirty to forty years.  For those of you with dogs, cats or children, it will wear well and is making a comeback. However, it is still at the bottom of the list with homebuyers who want to purchase a home.

Terrazzo is a highly versatile solid surface material invented by Venetian mosaic workers in the 15th century.  Modern terrazzo is made from recycled glass, non-toxic, zero VOC’s and stain resistant. Terrazzo is long-lasting and comes in fun colors—just don’t slip. This flooring is slippery and can cause falls, so it may not be a good choice for families with young or elderly members or clumsy like me.

Stained concrete floor. Courtesy photo

Stained concrete is one of my favorite choices. Decorative concrete flooring is a perfect blend of beauty, sustainability and economy, giving you a durable, low-maintenance floor that will last a lifetime. However, many people find concrete cold and sterile. Be sure to add area rugs if you are considering concrete.

Well, I hope this gives you something to think about as you consider what flooring is best for you. I will continue to campaign for the ‘greenest’ options, not just for my family, but for my clients as well.

Feel free to contact Los Alamos Interior Design Suzette Fox to suggest specific design topics or for help with your home. For more information, find her on Facebook at and on her website