It's nice to know about green flooring, but can you shed any light on not-so-green products?

Asked by Karen Kieny, Teaneck, NJ

It's nice to know about green flooring alternatives, but can you shed any light on not-so-green flooring products? Do laminate flooring products offgas once installed in the home? Do flooring products that contain Teflon in the surface coating pose a threat to my family's health?


Piper Kujac

Answered by Piper Kujac

San Francisco, CA

Piper Kujac Sustainable Design Consulting

March 8, 2007

When selecting materials, I always consider the process by which they are made and what happens to the product after its use. As designers, we make choices about aesthetics, use, and appropriate cost, but the manufacturing emissions and probable landfill pile-up always loom over the selection process.

Laminate flooring products include both engineered hardwood and resilient flooring. Because I'm less concerned about offgassing with engineered hardwood products, I am going to focus on resilient flooring. I would first consider linoleum, cork or rubber flooring (or a combination of all three with high recycled content) before looking into other options.

If you must use resilient flooring with vinyl or Teflon (they are generally cheaper) it is best to use it in tiles rather than sheets because of the plasticizers used in roll products. In addition, using tiles makes replacing damaged areas easier and thus minimizes waste.

Regarding Teflon, the big culprit here is the primary toxic chemical used to make it, called perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA). Teflon shows up inside microwave popcorn bags, on nonstick pans, in stain-resistant carpeting and in laminated resilient flooring.

According to Environmental Protection Agency studies, 95 percent of Americans have PFOA in their blood. The trouble with the harmful chemicals that manufacturers argue are present in “only trace amounts” is that they are cumulative. Little by little they make their way into our air and water resources. Once we add up all the chemicals in the average household, from polyvinyl chloride (PVC) in sheet vinyl to formaldehyde in the substrates of veneer cabinetry, we get carcinogen exposure levels that are much higher than any one manufacturer is measuring.

If you already have a resilient floor containing Teflon or PVC, the best thing to do is keep it, use it, and wear it out. While it is in place and the adhesives are dry, the chemicals inside are virtually inert and walking or sitting on the floor will not harm your family. When the time comes to replace the floor, you can seek out a recycling center for construction waste and apply a revised value system for selecting your next floor.

Tagged In: cork flooring, lca, linoleum

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