Question

We need sturdy flooring for a kitchen and family room. Would a wood look, cork backed formica made by Armstrong work?

Asked by Linda Judd
Walnut Creek, CA

We have large dogs with long toes. We would like to be as green as possible, but fear cork would not hold up w/ the dogs.

Answer

Kirsten Flynn

Answered by Kirsten Flynn

Palo Alto, CA

Sustainable Home

October 17, 2011

Hello Linda,

It sounds like you need something that has the look of wood, and is resistant to scratching by your dog's long toenails.

First off, I agree that cork would not hold up to the dogs. I love cork but one of the qualities that make it so great, the give or resilience, makes it susceptible to the kind of localized tearing or scratching pressure that a dog's nails exert on a floor.

I tried to research what you might have been looking at from Armstrong, and could not identify any "wood look" formica, so I cannot respond in reference to that particular material.

  • It might well be that you mean laminate flooring, and I will incorporate that possibility in my answer.
  • I will give you some general guidelines, and questions you can ask the vendor.

I am not fond of laminate flooring

Laminate flooring is made of layers.

  • The top layer is plastic, much like you would have in a vinyl sheet floor.
  • The second layer is a picture of what they want the floor to look like, this could be tile, stone or wood.
  • The bottom layers can be a flexible layer of plastic if your flooring is sold on a roll, like vinyl sheet.
  • Some newer laminate floorings, like the Pergo, use a tongue in groove plank base.

Laminate flooring is manufactured like engineered wood flooring, but instead of a real wood wear layer, it has the plastic wear layer and then the image layer. In the case of a wood look flooring this layer would be a photograph of wood that has been pieced together so it can repeat over the surface of the floor.

I am not fond of laminate flooring. There are a variety of reasons.

Aesthetics.  The first reason is an aesthetic rather than an environmental one. Pictures of wood are not the same as real wood. A product made from natural materials has almost infinite visual variations. Even the best laminate floors I have seen look fake. Your eye sense the repeating nature of the image of wood, and it is much flatter than actual wood. Real wood has some depth of reflection, you can see down into the grain, and laminate does not. I guess I could not be a designer without caring deeply about how things look, and I have not found a laminate floor that I like. 

Indoor air quality.  I also am concerned about the component parts of laminate flooring. The concerns of consumers about formaldehyde in composite wood products have done a great job raising awareness. It is easy now to find out whether the plank (usually made of some kind of manufactured wood product, like plywood or compressed wood) contains formaldehyde.

  • It is still important to ask, and furthermore you can ask if the product you are looking at is Greenguard certified. This certification is awarded after a product is shown to be free of many emissions that are unhealthy for indoor air.
  • An alternate certification which checks for emissions is Floor Score Certified, please check that your flooring meets one of these standards.

Vinyl.  The wear layer on laminate flooring is usually made of vinyl plastic. Vinyl itself is inert once it is manufactured, but is hard and inflexible. To make it flexible plasticizers, including pthalates, are added. These can be released into the indoor air during the life of the floor. Even more compelling is the completely toxic, carcinogenic and dangerous by products of vinyl manufacturing. I avoid products made of vinyl as completely as possible. Make sure you ask whether the wear layer or any other part of the flooring is made of vinyl.

Green options

I have done a pretty thorough job of telling you what not to use, what then are some green options?

My favorite floor for high traffic areas, where a wood look is desired, is strand woven wood flooring.

  • It is durable, and good looking.
  • Its green qualities include being very low VOC, and using wood or bamboo very efficiently. Because it is made of woven strands of scrap wood or bamboo, there is very little waste in the manufacturing process.
  • As with any product, it makes sense to go with a reputable manufacturer. I like the products from Eco Timber which makes a product from two different rapidly renewable woods, Poplar and bamboo.
  • I also like Smith and Fong and TeraGren.

All the other options I could suggest would not have the wood look that you seem to prefer.

  • I think Linoleum would be a great durable option.
  • Also, you could consider one of the recycled rubber floorings like Expanko's colorful XCR4, which also contains rapidly renewable cork.

Good luck and have fun with your project, and your dogs!  

Tagged In: bamboo flooring

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