Making a sustainable choice when designing your home doesn’t mean that you have to sacrifice on style. Because flooring covers more space in your home than almost any other material, choosing your flooring is no small task, and it’s a decision that makes a big impact on your home’s design.
The look of hardwood is appealing to many, but there are some popular misconceptions about wood products that can turn people off. It’s important to know the facts about hardwood before you start making decisions.
Wood is a renewable resource, and government regulations have been set to protect both the timeframe and amount of wood that can be harvested.
What people often fail to realize is the fact that harvesting trees has a very minimal effect on the environment, when it’s managed carefully and with sustainability as a priority. For every cubic foot of trees that are cut down, an average of 1.66 cubic feet are planted back, ensuring that the rate of harvest is always less than the average growth rate.
While it takes hardwood trees up to 60 years to mature, the current supply is enough to last through at least the next 100 years, giving newly planted trees time to grow and mature.
For a more specific look at where and how these hardwoods are being harvested and replanted, check out The American Hardwood Export Council's interactive map.
So much of the manufacturing process for floor coverings can result in waste. Left-over raw materials and chemicals used in processing can have a major effect on the environment and a project's bottom line.
Wood and stone require the least amount of energy to produce, however. Carpet, linoleum, and tile require considerably more energy to engineer, and more chemicals are used in in the manufacturing of these products.
Wood production has very little waste since manufacturers use wood chips and sawdust to produce paper and other composite products. Excess wood can also be burned and is considered clean bio-energy. These waste management alternatives allow wood producers to use 99% of each tree that is harvested.
With proper care and maintenance, wood floors can last over 100 years and can be refinished and restained if needed. Linoleum and laminate, however, have an estimated life span of 15-25 years, while carpet lasts only about eight to ten years.
Stone and tile flooring can also last upwards of 100 years, but these materials can’t be refinished and are prone to staining and cracks. Hardwood, on the other hand, is extremely durable and does not show the everyday wear and tear like many of the alternatives.
When it comes to price, carpet and linoleum are typically cheaper than wood, while stone and tile are usually more expensive. Although wood may not be the cheapest option initially, floors should not need to be replaced within a homeowner’s lifetime, saving you time and money in the long run.
The demand for sustainable and environmentally-responsible solutions is growing, so it benefits designers and builders to keep the environmental footprint in mind during large scale projects. Trees take in carbon dioxide and produce oxygen, so wood is considered a carbon-neutral product and remains that way even after being harvested. Through sustainable harvesting and their carbon neutral status, hardwood floors create a very low environmental impact.
Another positive note: research by the Environmental Protection Agency shows that wood flooring improves overall air quality in the home. This is because hardwood floors are hypoallergenic, and contamination from animal dander, mold, and dust is minimal. Other flooring alternatives use glues and harsh adhesives that can have a negative effect on the environment and household air quality due to emissions during the life of the flooring.
Hardwoods are one of the few flooring options that can be used more than once for flooring and other building projects. As mentioned above, hardwoods can be sanded and restained to match many different design plans.
If the wood is too damaged to be used again as flooring, there are many ways to recycle wood for other projects like furniture, accent walls, or other decorative features. Reclaimed wood has grown in popularity, and many people even prefer the look of recycled wood that has been exposed to the elements. Wood is also biodegradable and in some cases can be burned for fuel.
Aside from the aesthetic appeal that wood floors add to a home, they are a sustainable option for building owners or designers who make environmental responsibility a priority. Having one of the longest-estimated life spans, a relatively small energy footprint, and high recycle potential, hardwood floors are not only a smart option for current home builders, but will also benefit future residents.