The continuing interest in green building and in products that are manufactured with renewable resources has many homeowners considering alternatives to traditional building materials. The flooring category in particular is attracting a lot of attention as more and more earth-friendly options with great looks and high performance move to the mainstream.
"The consciousness of this country is moving into the green building arena," says Ann Knight, principal and vice president of marketing for TimberGrass, a manufacturer of bamboo flooring. "People are looking for new options."
The use of hardwoods for floors raises concerns with some homeowners because of long tree life cycles and depletion of resources. Alternatives include linoleum, cork, and bamboo, which use readily renewable resources. The bark of the cork tree grows continually and benefits from being harvested every 10 years, after which it regrows. Bamboo grass regenerates itself within three to five years after being harvested. Linoleum is manufactured from a combination of linseed oil (from the flax plant), wood and cork flour, ground limestone, tree resins, and pigments attached to a jute-fiber backing, all of which are biodegradable.
These products aren't gaining in popularity just because of their "green" qualities, however. "Most people want to buy something natural because it does something for them," says Piera Marotta, residential marketing manager for Forbo Linoleum, "not just because it's 'green.'" In addition to their green properties, linoleum, cork, and bamboo all have performance, aesthetic, and durability characteristics that make them even more appealing.
Cork dampens sound and is hypoallergenic because the material does not absorb dust and it resists moisture and mold growth, making it a good alternative for homeowners with certain allergies. Walking or standing on cork can reduce fatigue and stress because it has natural "give." Natural Cork, Artistic Tile, To Market, European Quality, and BHK all offer cork tiles and panels or planks.
Bamboo floors provide a look similar to hardwood floors but do not expand and contract like wood because bamboo's moisture content is reduced before it's manufactured into planks. Prefinished bamboo floors from TimberGrass, WFI Bamboo, Bamboo Flooring International, Smith & Fong, Plyboo America, and Bamtex are available in horizontal and vertical grains and are finished with UV-cured polyurethane. Many manufacturers also make bamboo stair treads, trims, and accessories.
Although it fell out of favor in the home for several decades, linoleum is making a comeback. The material's antibacterial and antistatic features make cleaning easier and also make it a good option for homeowners with allergies. Linoleum can be manufactured in a vast array of textures, patterns, and colors and can be installed with a variety of borders, cutouts, and inlaid designs. Forbo and Armstrong offer linoleum flooring products for the residential market.
Another plus to the new green flooring products is that most of them install similarly to hardwood, vinyl, or tile flooring.