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Home flooring needs to be attractive, non-toxic, durable and easy to clean. Typical flooring options include:

  • Timber Flooring Systems
  • Bamboo
  • Linoleum and Vinyl
  • Carpet


Timber Flooring

Timber flooring can either by solid timber of timber veneer.

Solid Timber Floors

Solid timber flooring systems are more durable than veneer systems. This is largely because solid timber can be sanded a number of times, whereas sanding is not possible with most veneer systems.

When selecting timber flooring, always select timber from sustainable sources which has been certified by a third party.

Consider recycled tongue and groove flooring , available from salvage yards at a reasonable cost.

Timber Veneer Flooring

Timber veneer flooring consists of a thin layer of wood on plywood or chipboard.

When choosing a veneered system, ensure the plywood or chipboard has been manufactured with low or no formaldehyde content. Also check the wood layer has also been sourced from certified sustainable sources. NOTE: Beware of floor systems which claim to be "70% certified" ; this generally means the substrate is certified, but the surface timber is not. Many exotic veneers are being produced from endangered timbers, sourced from Asia.

Fixing Timber Floors

The most ecologically sustainable method of fixing floor systems is using mechanical means. This makes it easier to salvage floor materials during demolition.

If adhesives are to be used, consider using low odour water based alternatives.

Timber Floor Finishes

Timber flooring requires a durable finishing system to protect the timber. The most environmentally friendly options are natural wax and oil systems. These however, do require a significant amount of maintenance over their life.

The most commonly used timber floor finishing is Polyurethane. Polyurethane can contain solvents, VOCs and isocyanates.

If polyurethane is used, select water based polyurethane endorsed by the environmental choice labelling scheme. And where possible, get the finish applied in environmentally controlled factory spaces, rather than onsite.


Bamboo Flooring

Bamboo is an attractive, hard wearning alternative to timber flooring, being avaiable from rapidly renewable sources. The drawbacks of using bamboo are:

  • The high levels of VOC emissions from the adhesives used.
  • Distance to renewable resources, transport adding to the carbon output.

More on Bamboo in Construction.


Resilient Sheet Flooring

Resilient sheet flooring includes a wide range of synthetic, petroleum based products such as vinyl sheet flooring and man-made rubber. On the other side, there are totally natural and sustainable products such as linoleum, cork and natural rubber.

  • Vinyl flooring uses PVC, not acceptable to environmental groups as the production, use and disposal of these materials are produce dangerous and toxic pollutants such as dioxins.
  • Linoleum is made totally from natural products and is biodegradable at the end of its useful life.
  • Cork flooring is made from a natural product, can be extremely durable, and is biodegradable.

Recycled Synthetic Flooring

Some manufacturers of synthetic flooring materials are improving the environmental performance of their products by increasing their recycled content. This includes vinyl flooring with recycled PVC and rubber flooring made from recycled rubber.

Some also provide recycling schemes for their products.

Fixing Adhesives

Flooring adhesives are a regular source of internal air pollution. Always select water based low emission glues and adhesives.

See: American Resilient Floor Covering Institute


Hard Flooring [Tiles]

Hard flooring is both durable and low maintenance. By eliminating carpets and rugs, dust mites and underlays manufactured from petrochemicals are avoided. Hard flooring has many other environmentally friendly attributes:

  • Therma Mass - when positioned in direct sunlight, hard flooring provides passive solar heating and cooling of the building.
  • Heating System Efficiency - Hard flooring materials do not interfere with the efficient operation of under floor heating and cooling systems. Timber floors, carpets or other surfaces insulate the floor from the room, dramatically reducing the effectiveness of the underfloor heating system.

The downside of hard flooring systems are that they are often cold underfoot, can be slippery when wet, and provide no cushioning should breakable objects be dropped.

Good levels of underfloor insulation are required, especially around the perimeters of the building, and underfloor heating is essential in areas where occupants are often bare footed, such as bedrooms and bathrooms.

Energy Rating

Ceramic and porcelain tiles are generally manufactured overseas. Together with their production and firing process, long distance transport adds up to a relatively high embodied energy. This is largely offset by the durability and beneficial thermal properties.



Carpets are generally manufactured locally from natural materials such as wool, jute or goats hair. There are some carpets manufactured from synthetic materials.

To ensure your carpet selection is environmentally responsible:

Choose the correct carpet grade for each locations - to avoid early replacement.

Select carpet manufactured from natural materials with credible environmental certification such as the Environmental Choice labeling scheme. This covers the material, dyes, cleaning agents and scouring chemical used in processing.


Synthetic Carpets

Modular carpets manufactured from synthetic materials (or synthetic/ natural mixes) can seem the most appropriate choice for some heavy duty commercial locations. Synthetic material is often mixed with natural fibers such as wool to improve the performance of the product..

Synthetic broadloom or carpet tile are long wearing, stain resistant and easy to clean. Tiles make damage easy to repair.

Solution dyed nylon requires less chemicals than wool carpets, although this advantage is only appreciable in locations where high wear or hygiene demand frequent washing of the carpet.

Select synthetic material with improved environmental performance such as those manufactured from recycled materials, bio-based synthetic materials or carbon neutral manufacturing processes. Check the Environmental Choice labeling scheme where available.

Fixing Synthetic Carpets

Many synthetic carpet tiles do not require seam sealing. Seam sealers are a major source of VOCs. Where seam sealers are required, use a low emission water base low VOC type.


Broadloom carpets can be loose laid or fully adhered. Loose laying is generally environmentally preferable as it reduces the use of adhesives and improves the potential to remove and recycle the material on demolition.

However, fixed carpet generally uses an underlay to increase its lifespan. Avoid underlays manufactured from 100% synthetic materials - there are many underlay options manufactured from natural materials such as natural rubber or recycled wool scraps.

Modular carpet tiles create less waste from off cuts (1%-2%). Professional broadloom has a wastage of 5-6%; an improvement on old laying techniques that had an average 10% wastage.

Demolition and Recycling

Carpets manufactured from natural materials are biodegradable, making them easily disposable. They are often recycled as weed mats. Some countries have carpet recycling programs, and many carpet manufacturers offer to remove and recycle their carpet products on demolition.

Synthetic and modular carpets often contain synthetic backings containing bitumen or PVC. B

Bitumen backing - can contain sulpher and heavy metals such as lead, chromium, mercury, arsenic, selenium and other toxic elements. Ensure this product is disposed off in accordance to a green recycling policy. Do not dispose of in landfills.

PVC backing - select carpets with the highest recycled content and a manufacturer with a buy back and recycling policy.

Modular carpets can easily be sourced with recycled fibres and recycled backing,

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