Unfortunately, Dan, it's not the cushion underneath the carpet that causes the real problems, but the carpet itself.
The average carpet taken from a home weighs seven times more than when it was installed. What makes up this increased weight? Anything carried in on feet, paws or wheels, including: pesticides from landscaping, hydrocarbons from the streets, dirt, dander, dust mites, highly allergenic excrement from any other insects, carpet cleaners, food and drinks, and anything else that falls onto it in the 5-8 years of a carpet's expected life.
Additionally, most carpets are made of petroleum products, are bound to petroleum product-based backing materials with glues made of petroleum products and are adhered to floors and padded with petroleum-based products.
These materials degrade over time, resulting in particulate and off-gassing contamination of indoor air quality. Ironically, the first highly publicized case of "Sick Building Syndrome" came from a new carpet installation at the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) headquarters in Washington, D.C.
Lastly, many carpets are treated with chemicals including antistain, antistatic, antimicrobial and mothproofing pesticides of unknown biological consequence. These issues can pose a real health problem to people with chemical sensitivities, mold allergies, or compromised immune systems, including the old and the very young (especially since the latter age group tends to spend a lot of time sitting and laying on carpet).
Green building principles tell us that we should stay away from wall-to-wall carpet for several reasons:
- Carpets are much harder to clean than any other type of flooring, which results in floors that have a constant level of contamination, organic matter and pest presence, including dust mites, fleas, bacteria, mold and mildew.
- They last only 20-30% as long as other flooring choices like hardwood floors, tile, concrete and natural linoleum.
- They are much more expensive to clean and have to be cleaned more often because they are more easily soiled and are much more easily damaged.
- They will cost more over the long run than any other type of flooring because they have to be replaced so often. If they are damaged, they must be wholly replaced and cannot be repaired.
- Until recently, most types could not be recycled, and used carpets made up 1-2% of all landfill space in the nation. Even now, only two places in the state of California recycle carpet and only 1-2% of carpet companies recycle used carpeting. Only some types of carpets can be recycled.
Instead of carpets, we can use hardwood, tile or concrete floors. These green flooring options are much more durable and can be partially covered with throw rugs made of cotton or wool. Throw rugs can be removed and thoroughly cleaned, are biodegradable and, if tastes of the homeowner change, can be sold to another homeowner.