Remember when selecting the right flooring for your home was as easy as pointing to the material you liked best?
Today’s homeowners are savvier than ever, knowing what they want – and what they don’t – long before they enter a store.
Increasingly, that means safety too. Is it safe to bring the flooring product into your home? Is it safe for your kids and your pets?
Or is there a better choice – a non-toxic flooring choice that will be better for everyone? We’re getting that more and more, especially with COVID-19 in our lives.
Why you should pay attention to what flooring you install
Let’s start with the numbers.
According to the World Health Organization, 4.3 million deaths were attributed to household air pollution in 2016.
One in eight deaths worldwide can be traced back to air pollution.
But of course, it’s more than that. Air pollution also increases heart disease, strokes, and cancers. It increases all sorts of problems with public health.
We need air to breathe. And if that air is filled with toxic chemicals, it impacts everything we take in.
While we have focused on improving our air supply, and paying more attention to the products we use, indoor air quality is still a problem. Because we spend the majority of our time indoors, sick building syndrome is increasingly impacting people’s lives in the western world. If you’ve ever experienced headaches, eye irritants, nose or throat problems, dizziness, fatigue, or other respiratory conditions without another explanation, it might be the indoor air quality.
While these problems can be attributed to a wide variety of products within the home, it’s important to start paying attention to every product you buy.
Is it time for new flooring? Why non-toxic flooring matters
As manufacturers listened to consumer demands, they started bringing new products to market. People wanted stain resistance, so they listened. They wanted durable materials. They listened.
The problem with that level of development was little thought was put into how chemicals impacted our health. Eventually, it couldn’t be ignored any longer. People started questioning, so manufacturers started backing away from using certain materials.
For example, recent pushback in the vinyl flooring market caused tens of millions of pounds of phthalates annually to be eliminated from vinyl flooring production. In 2015, consumers began pushing big box stores about the quality of their flooring products. Studies showed that floor tiles from some of the largest home improvement stores contained high levels of phthalates. Fifty-eight percent of all vinyl floor tiles tested back in 2015 showed elevated levels of phthalates. Four years later, the flooring sampled contained none.
That’s a good start. It’s clearing a path in the right direction towards making non-toxic flooring more common than not. Of course, it’s still up to consumers to find out more.
What is the healthiest flooring for homes?
Natural products are always going to be safer than laboratory materials. That makes some of the healthiest flooring choices predictable.
Hardwood is made from trees. True hardwood flooring is created from solid wood, and is harvested in such a way to make it both sustainable and chemical free. But you do have to pay attention to production. Avoid hardwood treated with chemicals. Choose non-toxic finishes. Avoid toxic adhesives for laying the flooring in place.
There are many products designed to compete with hardwood, laminate being one of the leaders. Laminate is made from synthetic products built to imitate hardwood. You may recall stories from several years ago about large manufacturers selling laminate flooring produced by unethical Chinese companies. They used illegally sourced wood, and contained many carcinogens, including formaldehyde in its production. This isn’t saying all laminate is bad. Instead, it’s a lesson in buyer beware.
Carpet is a popular choice, and can go both ways when trying to determine if you should bring it into your home. Natural fibers like wool and jute can be both sustainable and chemical-free. Some synthetic carpets can fill the house with volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which can include carcinogens like formaldehyde, benzene, and stain repellents. It’s important to ask questions before you make your final selection.
Tile is usually a safe choice to bring into your home. It’s made from natural stone, clay, and other safe ingredients to give it its style and color. However, installation can introduce toxic chemicals into your home if you don’t understand the installation process. Pay particular attention to the adhesives used to lay the tile into place, and sealers used to protect the tile from daily use.
Vinyl and linoleum are often linked together because of their similar look and feel. While we mentioned vinyl earlier, it’s important to give a shout out to linoleum too. Linoleum flooring is made from a natural, biodegradable material that includes linseed oil, cork dust, and pine resin. It’s a resilient flooring that can last up to 40 years if well cared for.
Paying attention to find non-toxic flooring for your home
This is where your choices matter most.
Many flooring manufacturers and retailers claim they carry “green” flooring, but the concept is so overused, it’s a buyer beware situation. That good deal you’re getting at a big box store might just be too good to be true.
Never assume a floor is eco-friendly because an ad or a website tells you so. Do your research. Pay attention to manufacturers. And do your own research by Googling a company before you bring it into your home.
Don’t assume a floor is sustainably harvested because it’s certified. Instead, pay attention to who supplied the certification. The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) is the only certification system that supports environmental work worldwide. They ensure things like selective harvesting of old growth trees, fair wages for workers within the industry, and energy efficiency throughout the manufacturing process, including waste product disposal. Be sure the FSC label is on every box entering your home.
And finally, pay attention to all products used within the installation process. Some sales associates will assure you the flooring materials are non-toxic. What they fail to address is how toxic other materials are, including glues and subflooring materials.
Trust your gut. If you want a cleaner house, and wish for non-toxic flooring materials to cover every inch of your home, do your legwork.
What questions can we answer about non-toxic flooring?