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Ecologically speaking, wood can be the best or the worst of materials. It can be almost perfect when harvested sustainably. It's durable, it has a long life cycle, and milling can be simple and require little energy. However, wood that's not harvested sustainably can be environmentally destructive. When choosing wood floors, look for the following to ensure you're making the most sustainable choice.
Reclaimed wood floors. Smart manufacturers are seeking sustainable opportunities. Viridian Wood salvages shipping crates made of tropical hardwoods and repurposes them into high-performance FSC-certified floors. This house showcases Viridian's dark blend of Jakarta wood throughout the kitchen and the rest of the home.
Tropical hardwoods are the hardest woods on the planet, occupying the top positions on the Janka scale, which makes them a great choice for durable flooring. However, the harvesting of tropical woods causes significant ecological destruction. Seeking FSC-certified wood is especially important with tropical hardwoods, as it will ensure the wood was harvested in a sustainable manner.
Engineered wood floors. Extending wood floors into the kitchen is a terrific way to seam together several spaces, as this home demonstrates. Doing so requires a stout floor that can take the wear a kitchen doles out. Engineered wood floors can be a durable choice, since they have a thin veneer of finished wood backed by several layers, or plys, of more wood. This layered system makes engineered wood more stable than solid wood and less likely to warp when faced with temperature changes and humidity. Look for FSC-certified and formaldehyde-free options.
Linoleum floors. Poor linoleum. Over time it's been confused with ubiquitous and often not-so-nice sheet vinyl, when in fact the two have little in common. True linoleum is made of natural materials, including linseed oil, and is inherently antimicrobial — a pretty neat trait for a kitchen.
Linoleum is available in sheets, tiles or planks. If you're not creating a pattern with tiles, I recommend using sheets, as you'll have fewer joints and fewer places for the floor to show its age. Make sure that any adhesives are free of solvents and labeled "no-VOC."
Forbo's Marmoleum, the best known linoleum, carries a 25-year warranty and offers more than 120 colors of sheet goods. This kitchen shows how linoleum can be an artist's canvas for color and pattern.
Cork floors. The warmth and comfort of cork underfoot makes it a great choice for the kitchen, where we often stand for long periods of time. Cork also touts a lot of green cred: It's a rapidly renewable and carefully protected resource. Every nine years producers in Portugal and Spain strip the thin bark of cork trees into long, wide slabs, using care not to damage the tree. Wine corks are stamped out first, and the scraps are then ground and pressed to make flooring and bulletin boards, so that every bit that is harvested is used.
Cork is available in both tiles and planks. With both I seek prefinished products with a no-VOC finish. With any prefinished tile or plank product, the vertical edges often aren't prefinished, so it's worth adding a top coat of finish after installation to protect the edges and joints.
Cork manufacturers have broadened their palettes to include pale, dark and colored options, as well as a variety of patterns.
Rubber-cork-blend floors. Cushy cork gets a new look when blended with recycled rubber, like in CapriCork's And/Or line, made with 35 percent preconsumer recycled content. The product is available in both rolls and tiles, and comes in 17 different colors, from neutral to bright shades.
Concrete floors. The ultimate multitasker, concrete floors are often both the finished floor and the structural floor too. Simplifying a complex flooring system to a single material is a smart, efficient and cost-effective solution. To green your concrete, you can increase the fly-ash content (a by-product of coal processing), but do so only if coal is processed in your region. Otherwise the environmental impacts of transporting the fly ash outweigh the benefits. Alternatively, consider adding recycled glass to reduce the amount of virgin aggregate used.
Terrazzo floors. Seemingly indestructable, terrazzo gets an A+ for durability, and also for its good looks. This material, made of chips of marble or granite set in concrete and polished, can score high for sustainability too if no- or low-VOC sealers and low-impact aggregates (like recycled glass) are used. Terrazzo's one shortcoming is that it can be tough to stand on for long periods of time.
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