4 tips for picking healthy green flooring for your home

Floors have a long-term impact on indoor air quality and a home’s look, feel and functionality, since they typically account for the most space in a residence.

Installation and maintenance of flooring can require a large quantity of raw materials, finishes, adhesives and cleaners, but there is a wide array of materials to choose from in today’s market that are environmentally responsible. Finding the right one depends on your needs and aesthetic preference.

To make your decision easier and to help narrow down your choices, here are four factors to keep in mind when looking for flooring material that’s both sustainable and healthy.

1) Think about the raw materials and how they were manufactured.

Your flooring material ideally should derive from a renewable resource, such as wood or bamboo, both of which are made from plants. How wood or bamboo is harvested is important, though, since both can be cultivated in environmentally destructive ways. Look out for ones that are certified by the Forest Stewardship Council

Additionally, consider using refurbished stone and tile recovered from existing structures or recycled/partially recycled materials, such as rubber flooring made from used automobile tires. Although these have associated mechanical energy costs, they require fewer new resources.

Generally, it’s better if the material needs minimal modification during the manufacturing process. Stone, wood and bamboo require the least modification, while cork, ceramic tile, linoleum, rubber flooring and carpet require more energy to manufacture.

Review our buyer’s guide for a roundup of eight types of eco-friendly flooring materials.

2) How much transportation will it take for your materials to get to your home?

Consider using materials that have been extracted or harvested near your home to help lessen the environmental impacts of transportation. (For more, review the Materials and Resources credit category in the LEED v4 Building Design + Construction Guide).

For example, materials such as Asian bamboo have to be shipped from great distances, increasing their total environmental impact and embodied energy costs (the sum of all energy required to produce any goods or service).

3) Consider each room’s use and estimated foot traffic.

If you expect a particular space, such as a living room, to see more use in your household, it might be worth exploring installing a flooring material that’s more resilient and requires less maintenance.

A less durable floor likely will need to be replaced more often. The need to frequently clean and polish a more high-maintenance floor could potentially expose occupants to more harmful chemicals. Stone requires frequent refinishing, while linoleum requires little to none.

Read about USGBC’s web and graphic designer Amy Hedgepeth's experience in choosing environmentally responsible flooring.

4) Think about the material’s installation process and disposal.

Installing flooring could require a variety of activities—cutting, sanding and sealing—that could affect indoor air quality, so it's important to consider what the installation process will be like for your flooring.

It's also worth noting what will happen to the flooring material after you’re finished with it. For example, linoleum, cork and wood are biodegradable or can be burned for energy. 

Explore more flooring articles