Green flooring options abound; what to look for, ask about

Rob Chewning has noticed a trend over the past few years: More and more customers who enter his Bethlehem, Ga.-based Southern Woods showroom have more than simple flooring on their minds and while they’re looking for green options, it’s not a color choice that drives their decisions.

What they’re looking for is flooring that has a gentle impact on the environment and/or their own health. Many types of carpet and flooring can negatively affect air quality by emitting volatile organic compounds (VOCs.) These compounds can be especially harmful to people with allergies and upper respiratory conditions.

“We’ve had more informed customers come through our doors in the past five to seven years knowing what they’re looking for and asking relevant questions,” Chewning said.

Some customers don’t have adverse health effects from traditional flooring options, but they’re intent on buying locally made or renewable products. The solution for both groups of concerned customers is what’s commonly referred to as “green” flooring.

“There are two things you want to look at,” said Lisa Joss, a representative for California Carpet, which has showrooms in San Francisco and San Carlos, Calif., and an online store ( that offer green flooring options. “Is it good for the home environment; the family so they’re not breathing in these fumes or off gases? The other thing is: Are you being good to the Earth?

Wool carpeting is a renewable resource and a healthy alternative to nylon or other synthetic carpets. Wool from New Zealand is chemical free, Joss said. Grass-made carpeting often produced from seagrass, sisal and hemp is also all-natural and renewable. Bamboo and cork have become two of the more popular green flooring options because of the source materials’ ability to regenerate quickly.

There is a carbon-footprint drawback to bamboo and cork, though. Because both of those products are generally manufactured and shipped from overseas, those transportation costs diminish the overall green benefit.

Hardwood flooring is renewable but some is considered less Earth-friendly because the trees that provide the wood must be cut down and re-growth takes many years. Recycled hardwood flooring, though, is an environmental win-win.

“What I recommend to people is they think about doing something that’s local and recycled,” Chewning said. “The most eco-friendly floor we could install here in Georgia is a floor that comes out of an old cotton mill. There’s one in Virginia that’s been harvesting wood beams for five years. We sand them and finish them with a water-based polyurethane. So it comes from within a few hundred miles with materials that were harvested 100 years ago, you’re not destroying new growth now and are using a low VOC to coat it.”

More carpet manufacturers are meeting industry standards for low VOC emissions. Those products carry a “Green Label” from the Carpet and Rug Institute. Many wood flooring manufacturers are having their products certified from the Forest Stewardship Council, which requires responsible harvesting of trees. Recycling has also become a big point of emphasis for flooring retailers. Both Joss and Chewning said their companies recycle all of the carpet they remove from a customer’s home.

“Five years ago, all this stuff was just going to a dumpster and now every bit of it from the padding to the edging to the carpet itself gets recycled,” Joss said.

There are also a number of products that claim to be green, but aren’t, so it’s important for homeowners looking to invest in eco-friendly flooring to research and understand the composition of the flooring, as well as the adhesives, glues and other products used during the installation.

“A lot of those products have the (green) name, but you’ve got to do your homework and be selective,” Chewning said. “You can walk into any showroom and read the labels. The information is there and available. When it comes to choosing the retailer you want to purchase from, I would suggest driving by their collection dumpster. What are they doing with what they’re ripping out of homes? If you see carpet rolls in their dumpster from a home they finished the day before, then that’s having a negative environmental impact. There are better ways to dispose of those products.”


Shopping for eco-friendly flooring? Before you buy …

– Look for a “Green Label” on the product from the Carpet and Rug Institute.

– Check specifications to determine if the product contains low or no VOCs.

– Ask if the flooring is made from renewable or sustainable materials

– Ask about the transportation method used to get it from its point of origin to you.

– Check that the company recycles the flooring it removes.

– Look for Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified wood

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