Hardwood flooring is available in many guises from boards that are suspended above ground to hardwood laminate products that are installed onto a screeded concrete slab. There are veneered wood products, modular strips that clip together, contemporary parquet flooring products, and solid floorboards that lock into one another or are fixed on the screed. But how do you know how to choose environmentally friendly hardwood flooring?
One excellent option for an eco-friendly floor is to use salvaged wood – in other words old wood that has been used before. If you opt for new hardwood, make sure it is certified and that no toxic glues or sealants have been used for laminates. Another possibility is to use products that look like hardwood, but that are considerably more sustainable and renewable than wood that relies on cutting down forests. These include bamboo, palm and cork.
Recycled hardwood flooring
There is something wonderfully appealing about wooden floors that are made from secondhand timber. Not only does it mean that you are avoiding using chopped down trees, but old wood can add a unique character to your home.
The most common source of recycled hardwood flooring is from old homes that have been demolished. While old wood used for building or old railroad ties are also available, these are more commonly used for making furniture.
It might be possible for you to salvage old wood yourself, but there are several companies that specialize in the supply of reclaimed hardwood. These include Canadian Heritage Timber, Logs End, NADURRA Wood Corporation, Nostalgic Wood and Second Wind Timber.
- Canadian Heritage Timber (www.canadianheritagetimber.com) rescues wood from abandoned buildings including mills, warehouses and even trestle bridges. The company remills the timber for various uses, including sustainable plank flooring which may be sanded to a new, smooth finish, or left so that it has a weathered, textured look, together with nail holes and even characteristic insect tracks.
- Logs End (www.logsend.com) supplies wide plank flooring made from hardwood that has been reclaimed from the Ottawa River where it has been lying since it was logged in the 19th century. The company also supplies environmentally-friendly new hardwood floors.
- NADURRA Wood Corporation (www.nadurrawood.com) reclaims Douglas Fir timber from historic Toronto building sites and use it to mill wide plank flooring.
- Nostalgic Wood, Inc (www.nostalgicwood.com) also rescues wood from barns and other old buildings. They manufacture tongue and groove flooring, leaving distinctive marks including nail holes, checks and seasoned knots, and the patterns left by burrowing insects to add to the “antique” appeal of the flooring.
- Second Wind Timber manufactures recycled wide plank flooring and decking from antique timber that they salvage from old buildings including sawmills, grain storage buildings, canneries and so on.
New environmentally friendly hardwood flooring
For hardwood flooring to be genuinely “environmentally friendly” it must be harvested from sustainable forests. There are several organizations that certify wood and provide guidelines for sustainable forestry. The Program for Endorsement of Forest Certification Systems (PEFC) – www.pefc.org, established in 1993 in an attempt to prevent continued global deforestation, and now nationally represented in more than 50 countries worldwide, certifies forests. The Toronto-based Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) – https://ca.fsc.org/ – also certifies forests in an endeavor to ensure that people like you and me don’t get conned into using wood that comes from environmentally unacceptable sources. The FSC has members from 70 countries around the world.
Another organization that has certification standards for forests is the US-based Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI). It is, however, a rather controversial organization since it does not appear to actively discourage logging or buying of lumber from biologically diverse and sensitive areas. It also permits the conversion of natural, native forests to single species, fast-growing pine plantations.
Another way that North American homebuilders can check eco-friendly standards of lumber is to contact the Ontario-based Canadian Standards Association (CSA) – www.csa-international.org. The CSA certification is dependent on conformance with the international PEFC Council’s Chain of Custody (CoC) requirements. The CSA Group has its European headquarters in Germany, so a number of other countries, including the United Kingdom, also rely on the CSA Standards. In addition, the Malaysian Timber Certification Council (MTCC) scheme is accepted as assurance of legally logged lumber in Europe.
Another issue to consider is the way the wooden flooring is manufactured or finished. It’s all very well using wood from eco-friendly, sustainable forests, but if it is sealed with products that are even vaguely toxic, what’s the point? Some hardwood products, including laminates, are made using glues; these too should be non-toxic.
Shaw Floors (www.shawfloors.com) promotes laminating flooring because it uses a lot less newly harvested lumber than conventional hardwood flooring. Their product is installed using their patented “locking technology” which means that it’s quick to do, and no adhesive is required. The company also produces eco-friendly hardwood floor products that incorporate an inner layer that comprises recycled wood fiber. They also only use legally sourced and delivered material.
Alternative options for eco-friendly floors
Bamboo and bamboo plywood flooring tops the list of alternative options because it is such a rapidly renewable material. Its popularity as a flooring material has also grown incredibly rapidly. North America’s leading producer is the San Francisco-based Smith & Fong (www.plyboo.com). They offer an amazing choice including 25 SKUs (stock taking units) bamboo flooring products that include flat, edge, strand (that is woven) and end-grain styles. They were also the first company to introduce bamboo plywood products to the US market in 1996, and they now have 50 SKUs in this range.
The Toronto-based NADURRA Wood Corporation produce a composite bamboo flooring product which they state is 180% harder than maple.
There is some criticism of bamboo as an environmentally friendly hardwood flooring type since it is often transported thousands of miles, adding to emissions. However bamboo is easy to grow in many parts of the world and it appears that local production is increasing in many areas. Like hardwood, bamboo flooring has FSC certification to ensure it comes from bamboo plantations.
Palm flooring hasn’t taken off quite as quickly as bamboo flooring, but it is another option offered by Smith & Fong. Flooring products are made from sugar palms and coconut palms that no longer produce coconuts. When the palms are not longer productive, they are normally removed. This means that the material the company uses for this type of flooring is potentially waste with no use at all. Smith & Fong cut the palm logs using a special process and then slice and kiln dry the material prior to a lamination process that uses only non –toxic adhesives. Like bamboo it has to be transported from wherever it is grown, in Southeast Asia for example. It is currently quite an expensive flooring product.
Then there is cork that has a similar color to that of wood – not surprising since it is made from the bark of mature cork trees. Trees aren’t cut down, but it does take about 10 years for the bark to regenerate. In the past it was not uncommon for cork flooring to be made with glues containing formaldehyde – a pungent gas that is believed to trigger asthma and other allergies, and possibly even increase the risk of cancer. Today eco-friendly products are made with non-toxic glue.