What are my green options for wood flooring in the living room, dining room areas of my home?
We have a couple small dogs and are needing to replace the carpet with wood flooring.
What makes a hardwood floor green and good for small dogs can depend on several factors, all of which are important.
The Green Factors
- How is the wood harvested; either sustainably or not, legally or not, endangered species or not, clear cut or not?
- Is it manufactured and shipped in a socially, economically and environmentally responsible manner; how big a carbon footprint?
- Is it certified by third party? Most are not and those sourced from overseas are questionable at best. Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) or Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) are two independent organizations that certify responsible products from the forest to the consumer.
- How hard or dense is the wood? Generally the harder the better.
- How much urea formaldehyde is in the adhesives? From none added to several parts per million. There are different standards in each state and throughout the world as to what is acceptable. Do you want your wood to comply with OSHA standards of .75 ppm or European standards of .01 ppm?
- How much Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) are in the finish? From zero to several parts per million. Although some are UV cured in the factory, off-gassing may continue to affect your indoor air quality for weeks or months.
- How reparable is it? All hardwood flooring require routine maintenance but some repair easier than others which helps to make it last for generations.
All of the above questions should be answered before purchasing a green floor, but it is up to you to prioritize which are the most important to you.
To some, only a few items are important and to others they are all equally important. How green do you want to be?
The Dog Factors
Solid red and white oak flooring that is 3/4 inch thick and nailed down has been the industry standard for decades because of its hardness and accessibility.
However, there are now dozens of domestic and exotic hardwoods that are even harder.
- For example, Maple and Hickory to Strand Woven Bamboo, Brazilian Cherry (Jatoba), Amendoim, Patagonian Rosewood, Brazilian Walnut (Ipe), etc. are all much harder than oak.
- The Janka Hardness Scale measures the degree of hardness and red oak comes in around 1360 while most of the abovementioned species vary in hardness from 1380 to 3680.
These alternative hardwoods, and many more, can be found in both solid and engineered styles of flooring, however, hardness ratings apply only to the wood itself and not the finish.
Equally important is the finish because that's what you and your dogs are really walking or running on.
Most solid and engineered hardwood flooring purchased from stores are pre-finished (as opposed to sanded and finished on the job) with some combination of aluminum oxide, acrylic and/or polyurethane.
- These clear coatings are applied and cured in the factory in multiple coats and are highly resistant to wear and tear.
- Most manufacturers typically offer warranties from 15-25 years on this wear layer because it is highly resistant to wear and tear.
- But, no one yet has figured out how to completely prevent or eliminate scratch marks from dogs, high heels or skateboards appearing on the surface.
Let it be?
Once the floor is scratched, you have a choice: either let it be or repair it.
Small scratches created by small dogs, especially in high traffic areas, eventually dull the surface. If you are ok with this, then almost any type of pre-finished floor may be acceptable.
My brother had young black Lab that scratched the daylights out of his brand new hardwood floor, but he loved the dog and decided to just live with the scratches rather than get rid of the dog or re-finish the floor.
If, however, you've ever tried to repair an aluminum oxide or polyurethane floor you quickly come to the realization that it is not so easy to restore it to its original luster. Matching the sheen perfectly and avoiding lap marks are almost impossible. As a result, few people maintain their floors as frequently as they should which is why most hardwood floors tend to wear out and eventually require re-sanding.
Re-sanding and re-coating a hardwood floor
Re-sanding is the inevitable result of a neglected or improperly maintained hardwood floor.
- It can cost an average of $3-4 per square foot or more, result in excessive dust everywhere, require moving all your furniture and living somewhere else for a few days.
- But, when finished, you have a brand new looking floor all over again.
- Solid hardwood floors can be re-sanded 4-5 times while engineered floors can be re-sanded 1-3 times depending upon the thickness of the wood veneer.
In theory, routine maintenance should eliminate the need for re-sanding. Unfortunately, few people have the time or the knowledge to properly maintain their floors. And in today's society, most people don't want the hassle or the headache. This explains, in part, why some people covered up their hardwood floors with carpeting or plastic laminate flooring.
Regardless of the hardness of the floor or degree of maintenance, all floors eventually require re-coating with a few coats of polyurethane.
- Yes, you still have to move the furniture, but the process is much quicker and less expensive than re-sanding.
- All that is needed for re-coating is a few gallons of polyurethane, a good foam applicator and a few hours of time.
- Many people do it themselves. If you prefer not, it will cost you about $2-$3 per square foot to re-coat.
Oil and wax finish alternatives
Recently there has been a trend towards more natural and non-toxic finishes such as oils and waxes.
- These tried-and-true sealers were used by our grandparents for ages until they were replaced by synthetic time-saving technologies and products.
- But were they really time-saving and do they really save money?
Let's take a look at these old-fashioned procedures for finishing floors. At the turn of the 19th century, they certainly had dogs and kids both of which ravaged floors just like they do today. However, most floors were sealed with either boiled linseed oil or a tung oil and then coated with bees wax or carnauba wax. These natural products were readily available, easy to use and completely safe.
Smart homeowners figured out how to maintain their floors just in the areas that needed it with a little oil and a little wax so re-sanding was rarely required.
- Oil naturally seals wood from the inside and blocks moisture permanently.
- When coated with wax and buffed, oiled floors provide a very tough defense against moisture, dirt and light scratches.
- A deep scratch or gouge can easily be touched up without having to re-sand the entire floor.
- The oils blend in with nearby areas without creating noticeable spots.
- And the cost is almost inconsequential. This is a huge difference from a polyurethane floors which are almost impossible to repair easily.
The key here is repairability. Granted, an oiled and waxed floor will scratch easier than a floor with aluminum oxide or polyurethane, however, and this is the main point, a small repair job done every few months is way easier and cheaper than re-coating, re-sanding or even replacing the entire floor. And, it is also more sustainable.
Over the past few decades we have come to place a greater value on shiny plastic floors that look good when new, but are difficult and expensive to repair.
A nicely waxed and buffed floor is easy to clean, looks, smells and feels more natural and can last longer too.
If you are looking for a hardwood floor that is greener, be sure you ask all the right questions above, understand the alternatives and consider your own attitude towards scratches.