Given the plethora of green flooring options, you don't have to sacrifice quality and aesthetics for a healthy, eco-friendly floor. For a home with kids and pets, I recommend Forest Stewardship Council-certified wood, rapidly renewable bamboo and cork, and natural linoleum-all durable and nontoxic floor coverings.
Finishes, binders, and the allergens that collect in some flooring materials are the major culprits that affect indoor air quality.
- Avoid carpet, which can trap small particles.
- With wood or bamboo, I suggest that you choose prefinished flooring with little or no groove between plank joints (these can be dirt magnets in a busy household). By choosing a factory-finished floor, you greatly reduce the toxins that can offgas in your home.
- If you want to apply a topcoat for added protection in high-traffic or moisture-prone areas, I would suggest using a low-VOC, water-based finish. Bona Traffic is durable and dries quickly with little smell.
Fortunately, many if not most manufactured wood and bamboo floors now use binding methods that minimize offgassing.
- Bamboo Hardwoods offers a wide selection of engineered bamboo and FSC-certified wood flooring, and their products meet strict European air quality standards.
- GreenWood Products, EcoTimber, Berg & Berg, and Forbo also get high marks for low emissions and environmental responsibility.
All wood and bamboo floors are likely to dent and scratch under typical use.
- Janka Ball ratings quantify a wood species' resistance to denting, ranging from American cherry (950 pounds) at the softer end, to Brazilian cherry (2,820 pounds) and strand-woven bamboo (3,000+ pounds) at the harder end.
- Data aside, the true test is what works for your use and your aesthetic. I once had a mother throw her son's Tonka truck at a sample of tropical bamboo flooring and decide that it was not the right floor for their home!
- If possible, test a sample of a species you are considering, not just for its tolerance to denting, but also for your tolerance to its post-dent appearance. You might decide on a softer wood floor, like cherry or pine, because you want a more rustic, distressed look that continues to gain character over time.
The very best material for avoiding damage from denting and dog claws is cork flooring. We have heard this time and again from dog owners. Where wood and bamboo are durable because they are hard, cork is durable because it is resilient-it yields under the pressure of the dog's claw and then returns to its original shape. And cork is naturally quiet, warm, hypoallergenic, fire resistant-a great alternative to conventional carpet, yet as long lasting as a wood floor. Nova Cork flooring products are even FSC-certified!
Natural linoleum is perfect for a family home. Marmoleum from Forbo comes in three installation types and in many colors. It is nontoxic (made from natural materials), anti-static for easy cleaning, and antimicrobial for health. For moist areas like the kitchen and bathroom, Marmoleum sheet is best, since it can be installed seamlessly and can be "coved" up the wall.
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GreenHomeGuide's Green Flooring Know-How section includes buyer's guides, case studies, and advice from green professionals.