Wood is one of the best green flooring materials. The natural beauty of wood and the warmth underfoot, means that most sustainable hardwood flooring options will provide solid, timeless beauty, which is designed to last for many decades, and will increase the value of your home.
What is Sustainable Wood Flooring?
Sustainable wood comes from forests that are sustainably managed. By taking a long term, rather than a short term view of the resource, the forest stewards manage the forest to prevent damage to ecosystems, wildlife, watersheds and the trees themselves, thus making it a renewable resource.
Forests should be there to soak up carbon emissions and keep our air clean. It should be a haven for wildlife and still be there to many future generations, including our great-grandchildren.
Just 8% of the world’s forests are properly protected from destruction. Despite the efforts of conservationists, lawmakers and governments, unfortunately most timber is unsustainably harvested.
Buying unsustainable wood has a big negative impact on the area where it is harvested, including threatening the lives of endangered species and indigenous tribes and abusing human rights.
Illegal logging leads to wholesale destruction, so look carefully when choosing your sustainable wood flooring options.
Bamboo flooring, one of the sustainable wood flooring options, is discussed in this post on How Bamboo Flooring is Made.
Which Timber makes the Most Sustainable Hardwood Flooring?
Timber is usually classified as either hardwood or softwood.
- Hardwood is obtained from broad leafed trees such as oak and beech. Hardwood comes from slow growing trees, which can be sustainable, if forests are carefully managed and trees are grown and harvested the right way.
- Softwood comes from conifers like pine and fir trees. Softwood is obtained from fast growing species, which tends to be more sustainable, as it is replaceable.
Hardwood Flooring is a natural product which is being renewed through replanting all the time. Make sure that wood comes from forests that have been certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). It must carry a certificate from an independent and reputable certification body.
Buying European wood is normally a safe choice, as the EU has introduced legal measures to protect the forests and woodland. EU forests are actually growing rather than diminishing, as more trees are planted than felled.
Wood sourced from South America, Africa, Asia, USA and Canada, have fewer guarantees that it has been sustainable grown and harvested. Several international organizations are involved in these regions in accessing forests.
How to Identify What is Sustainable Wood Flooring
Always look for official certification of timber and wooden products.
- The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) is a non-profit, independent organization that promotes the responsible management of world forests. They have a certification system that provides setting of standards and trademark assurance, that is internationally recognized by everyone that is interested in supporting responsible forestry.
- Also look for the PEFC logo, which ensures that the Programme for the Endorsement of Forestry Certification, has been involved. The PEFC helps to guarantee that timber is replaced and replanted after harvesting, that wood comes from sustainable sources, and is harvested without damage to neighboring ecosystems and the environment.
Types of Wooden Flooring
Sustainable wood flooring options include these types of wood: bamboo, solid hardwood, engineered wood, parquet and reclaimed hardwood.
- Bamboo is one of the best green flooring materials. The variety of bamboo that is used to make the floors, is phylollostachys pubescens, an evergreen shrub that regenerates completely in just three years. This is one of the many reasons why bamboo represents an excellent solution to avoid the phenomenon of deforestation that causes serious damage to the environment, the climate and consequently to the health of living beings. Read more about How Bamboo Flooring is made in this post.
- Solid wood flooring consists of sawed planks from natural timber, like oak, ash or pine. So each floorboard is made from a single piece of wood. More about this below.
- Engineered wooden floor is constructed with multiple layers of wood, both hardwood and plywood, and each layer is positioned in a different direction. This prevents the engineered hardwood from warping and bowing, so it is suited for installation in moist areas like bathrooms.
- Parquet flooring is a type of hardwood floor, with wooden pieces laid in a geometric pattern.
- Recycled or reclaimed hardwood is a term that is used for timber that had previously been used for building or other projects. So it is wood with a past life, that is reused for a new purpose. Let’s have a closer look at wood that is reused.
Recycled or Reclaimed Hardwood
Using reclaimed hardwood for flooring not only helps to reduce waste, but also prevents live trees from being cut down and deforestation taking place. It can be sourced from recycling materials in old buildings and wood from other building applications. Old timber is usually taken from old wooden structures like barns, old houses or abandoned warehouses or factories.
Flooring in a house can be reclaimed, but it is not only flooring that gets recycled, but also old roof beams, beams from a railway bridge and old railway sleepers. Benefits of using reclaimed wood as one of the most sustainable hardwood flooring options, include:
- Age adds character and reclaimed hardwood is naturally attractive.
- Reclaimed hardwood is seasoned and therefore not prone to shrinkage as might be the case with new wood.
- Every floor looks different and individual.
Make sure no toxic materials or preservatives were previously used before it was recycled.
How to Recognize What is Sustainable Wood Flooring
- Pay attention to the origin of the wood and make sure the wood comes from certified forest that are managed in a legal and sustainable way. Timber must be subject to strict controls.
- Look at the transformation process to create the wooden floors and which treatments have been used to finish it off. High quality wood normally has an E1 certification to certify the low, if any, presence of formaldehyde. Formaldehyde is mainly in the adhesives that are used in the construction of pre-finished floors.
- Volatile Organic Compound (VOC) screening of the floor will verify the presence or absence of volatile organic compounds (VOC’s).
- There is a higher guarantee of safety and that the wood can continue to breathe, if natural water-based waxes, oils and varnishes are used. It will also assist in maintaining the thermoregulating characteristics of wood.
Characteristics of Sustainable Wood Flooring Options
To be sure that your wooden floor is eco friendly, most sustainable hardwood flooring will have these characteristics:
- FSC Certifications and PEFC guarantee the origin of wood from controlled forests. The production process is controlled by these bodies and they certify that natural materials are used to protect the wood from mold and fungi, and glues that are used for making and laying the floor, are natural. Periodic replanting of trees are part of the process.
- Presence of CE – DOP markings: this certifies that the product complies with safety requirements as established by the European Community. It includes the absence of formaldehyde and pentachlorphenol, an extremely toxic substance that is used as a pesticide and disinfectant.
- Colors and finishes that are used must be completely free of formaldehyde and volatile organic compounds (VOC’s) Ecological finishes and products used in green building, would be based on vegetable or mineral oil and wax, or water based paints. The European Eco label certifies the reduced environmental impact of a product including:
- reduced impact on forests.
- reduced energy consumption.
- limited use of hazardous substances.
- greater safety for health and home environment.
- lower emissions into air and water. Formaldehyde emissions in ecological parquet is certified by the CATAS body.
- Materials used for installation, like adhesives and glues, must be free from solvents and substances that are harmful to health and the environment and must be Eco label certified. Substances such as methanol, can lead to respiratory diseases. Request characteristics and specifications that certify biocompatibilty and installation materials.
- For safety, look for a CFL-S1 certificate, which certifies that the wooden floor is fire resistant.
A floor that complies with all these requirements, and guarantees safety during installation and for many years of use, can be considered bio compatible and ideal for green building, and what is sustainable wood flooring known for.
How Hardwood Floors Are Made
Timber goes through several processes to become what is sustainable wood flooring, before it is ready to be installed.
Step 1: Drying the rough wood – when the rough sawn wood arrives at the factory, it is wet and has a lot of excess moisture that needs to be removed. Big stacks of rough wood is placed in a huge kiln and, depending on the moisture content, it is heated for ten to thirty days to dry the wood. The moisture content within the wood needs to be around seven percent before it can be turned into hardwood flooring.
Step 2: Standardize wood sizes – after the wood has been dried, the rough planks are fed into a machine that cuts them into standard sized pieces. When making hardwood flooring, it is essential to work with standard sized pieces of wood.
Step 3: Removing defects – after the wood has been cut into standard pieces, the pieces are manually trimmed to remove defects. Cracks and knots are removed to ensure that the wood flooring will be strong and long-lasting.
Step 4: Molding the floor planks – a molder machine is used to give each floor plank a tongue and groove edge. The one side gets the tongue edge, and the other side the groove edge. This ensures that the floor will be level when it is installed.
Step 5: Quality checks – throughout the process, visual checks are carried out to make sure that no inferior pieces goes through to the next production stage.
Step 6: Sorting by grade and color – any additional imperfections are trimmed away before it is sorted by color and grade.
Step 7: Tongue and grooves ends – to allow each wooden floor plank to be evenly joined to the end of another piece of flooring when being installed, the ends of each plank are also given the tongue and groove edges.
Step 8: Final check and sorting – every piece of wood is checked again for quality and grade and then grouped for finishing.
Step 9: Sanding the wood flooring – each piece is sanded completely smooth by passing the wooden floor planks through a production sander which has multiple sanding heads.
Step 10:Staining – if the wooden floor requires a specific color, the sanded planks then pass through a staining machine to stain each piece. The stain is dried on the conveyor and each plank then receives up to ten coats of protective clear varnish.
Step 11: Packaging – the planks are packaged in sections, thus ensuring that the previously grouped floor sections remain together.
The hardwood flooring is ready to be shipped and installed in your home.
Benefits of Solid Hardwood Flooring
Wooden floors have a warm, intimate and welcoming look and is still trendy today, as it is suited for both modern and classic furnishings. Even with some wear and tear, it still looks great. All the reasons to choose sustainable wood flooring options:
- Wooden floors are elegant and warm and will enhance the look of your home.
- Easy to clean and low maintenance as it does not trap dirt.
- Strong and durable.
- Better air quality,
- Add value to your home.
- Long-lasting and cost effective as it is less likely to be damaged.
- Color does not fade, like with carpets and vinyl.
- Looks good in any decor as it blends with any type of setting.
- Most sustainable hardwood flooring can be refinished by sanding and sealing it, rather than being replaced.
- Improve the acoustics in the home and area. If you want a wood-like floor that will reduce noise, then look at cork flooring, one of the best green flooring materials.
Disadvantages of Solid Wood Flooring
- Most sustainable hardwood flooring has a higher price tag that synthetic flooring and carpets. But, remember that sustainable wood flooring options are a long term investment.
- Not resistant to humidity and moisture, as it might warp.
- Severe temperature fluctuations could make the floorboards swell when it is cold and damp, or shrink when it is very dry and hot.
- Watch out for termite attacks, which is most common in spruce and southern yellow pine.
How to take care of a Wooden Floor in a Green Way
To take care of your best green flooring materials, you want to avoid the spreading of harmful substances in the home. Thus, you must pay attention to care and maintenance products that you choose.
Use completely natural products such as beeswax, pure olive oil or wax, or treatments such as, mixtures of vegetable oil that are enriched with natural resins that will not release harmful substances into the environment.
Final Thought on What is Sustainable Wood Flooring
There are different types of wooden flooring available. When you are choosing a wooden floor, it is important to look at the technical characteristics, like resistance to wear and thermal shocks, and also the co compatibility.
Although wood is a natural and ecological material, the production of wooden flooring means it is often combined with other materials and treated with substances that might be harmful to your health and the environment.
If you have any experience or suggestions about the most sustainable hardwood flooring, then please leave your comments below and I will get back to you.
30 thoughts on “What is Sustainable Wood Flooring?”
Sustainable wooden flooring can make your living area and their surrounding place into a more modern look and make it look like a classic. Easy to maintain and lasts for years.
Sustainable wood flooring can certainly add a classic, yet modern feel and look to any setting. It is long-lasting and always beautiful to look at, while easy to maintain.
I like wood flooring. I used to live in a house with wooden floors except for the kitchen and bathrooms.
I must confess that I never thought of the effects, on the forests and the many inhabitants, of cutting down trees to make the wood panels. In fact, this post is an eye-opener. Now, I know how to identify sustainable wood – look for the logos, PEFC or FSC.
When people illegally log, burn forests, or excessively graze forests, they don’t realize the damage to our environment. That would include the destruction of wildlife and the main source of human and animal food. Thank goodness, many countries have realized this irreparable damage and decided to employ forest conservationists to protect and manage the forests.
I enjoyed reading your post. It is a wake-up call to ignorant people that don’t know what makes wood sustainable. And thanks for sharing.
Thanks Cal for your kind comments. Sourcing sustainable wood has become even more important to preserve the forests that we have.
Hi Line Cowley
Thanks for sharing your information on sustainable wood flooring .I always dreamt of a house with wooden piece on every nook and place and a unique wooden flooring creating a charm. Your article gave a lot of information on sustainability of wood flooring .Now I can recognize better that which certifications are required to be seen before going for the purchase of wood flooring. Thanks for your efforts and bringing all information at same place.
Hi Gaurav, at least with certification, we can be assured that we are buying wood that has been sustainably sourced. Reconditioning wood floors is also a great way of reusing what we already have. All the best, Liné
Thanks for the article. It is very interesting. I like the look and feel of hardwood floors and would agree with you that real hardwoods are better than synthetic ones, but as you say, they are more expensive. I have been in the real estate business and it is true that wood floors help to raise the value of a home more than carpets or vinyls. I like how you showed the benefits of solid wood flooring and also thought the info about recycled or reclaimed wood was interesting. Do you have a go to lumber store or place you’d recommend getting good, sustainable hardwoods from? Like do the big stores like Home Depot have them?
Each country and area has there own timber yards and DIY stores where you can enquire about sustainable wood. I live in Italy and have a very good wood source about 15 minutes away from me, but unfortunately that will not help somebody in the States or Australia. Important thing is to look for certification. I hope this helps.
Hello there! I never knew bamboo could be used as a flooring material. I got curious in how and clicked on your internal link and it made sense to how it was made. For some reason I had imagined bamboo being transformed into your typical wood floor. As I read on and to my surprise, you CAN actually make your typical looking hardwood flooring with bamboo still! Knowing that, I wouldn’t mind getting bamboo wood flooring when I need to remodel my house in the future. Thanks for including things to consider before purchasing wooden flooring.
Bamboo makes a beautiful floor which is sustainable and eco friendly. Sustainable wood flooring lasts for several decades and can be reclaimed as well, so is value for money.
I love your post! It is so informative. I plan on bookmarking this article for when I plan to buy and install hardwood floors in my home. The entire idea of sustainability is so important for our earth. I wish more people would be more eco friendly, however I think the trend is rising. As I tell my own children and those I taught, we only have one earth. It’s not a garbage can and it is here to sustain life, ours and nature so take care of it.
I hope people search your website to become more informed of the damages of deforestation and the different ways we can avoid purchasing wood that was harvested improperly. I know I learned what to look for when becoming eco friendly. Thanks for sharing.
Thanks for your kind comments Nina, I hope more people are becoming more aware of the importance of looking after the planet. Sustainable products are on the rise and consumers should be educated, so I hope to help with that.
Hey there Line Cowley,
Thank you for the great article. This is actually something i was looking for but more for commercial use. I just have a question.
What wood flooring would you suggest for commercial use? to be more specific, it is for an aerobics theater in a gym.
Your input and advise would be greatly appreciated. Thank you
Hi Lawrence, I would suggest any of the types of wood flooring discussed here, so bamboo flooring or the solid or engineered wooden flooring would be suitable for an aerobics theater. Alternatively you could look at cork flooring as well. I hope it helps.
I’m in the process of redoing my floors. I am curious if these floors are budget friendly? I have a limited budget, so have to go with that and not ultimately what I really want. But, I plan on selling my house so I also cannot go cheap. it has to be quality. So how does the price compare to wood flooring?
Engineered wood flooring is often cheaper than solid wood. Sustainable wood flooring is cost effective as it will last for several decades. A good floor adds value to your property if you plan on selling it.
Hi. This is such a sensible article. Thank you for bringing to our attention the sensitivity of sustainable flooring. I am a sucker for wooden floors. Since it is way too expensive I instead covered my floor with a look like wooden tiles. Through your detailed article, however, I have come to appreciate the fact of why it is not cheap to have wooden flooring.
Unaware to me was the use of recycled hardwood for flooring. Now, this sounds like a better option worth considering for future projects. All the beautiful qualities that you pointed out about reclaimed hardwood have but heightened my love for such floors.
Thank you for rekindling the hope that one day I will have my sustainable wood flooring.
Reclaimed wooden floors are beautiful and a sustainable wood floor will last for many years. So in the long run it is cost effective.
Thank you very much for this informative article about sustainable wood flooring. After carefully examined my apartment flooring, I can see that it used old hardened woods. The display is good and still attractive (yes, I agree that age makes them more attractive), but I notice that ants or bugs tend to love them too, which is quite annoying. Is there any way to prevent it? I don’t really want to replace my wood flooring.
Reclaimed wooden floors are beautiful and unfortunately some bugs also like it. If you suspect that you have an infestation you will need to treat it, and for that it’s best to contact somebody in the area where you live. I hope it helps you.
Wow, I didn’t realize that it could be as easy as looking for a certification to figure out what new wood flooring is sustainable. This makes it really easy for anyone to figure out how to make smarter choices.
I know a few people who opted for bamboo flooring and they love to tell their friends all about it. Where possible, a reclaimed wood floor can be both beautiful and a good environmental choice. Thanks for sharing this information!
Certification does make it easier to determine the sustainability of the wooden flooring that you are buying. Bamboo flooring is a very sustainable choice as well and looks beautiful.
Hi Line. Thank you for interesting article. Im trying to be eco with my family but its not always easy to find green equivalent of common products. Wood is great material, and its used in my house a lot, but to be fair I didn’t know that there are certificates that confirm that it was produced in sustainable way. Definitely going forward I will be looking into it to make sure that my action are environment friendly.
Certification does mean that wood has been grown and harvested without destroying the forests and environment.
Interesting and I had no idea that Bamboo grew so quickly, which probably explains why it is such a popular choice for flooring and other products.
I actually never thought to make sure the wood I was purchasing was sustainable before, as I naturally presumed if it was sold in a shop it would be. I will definitely be more mindful when purchasing anything made of wood after reading this, as if we all do our bit, it can go a long way in protecting our environment.
Bamboo indeed grows very quickly and doesn’t require any pesticides or fertilizers, making it a very sustainable material. To ensure that you are buying sustainable wood, look for certification from FSC.
Oh, I remember the cool place where I grew up. Our flooring was made of bamboo and after a decade or more, was replaced with timber flooring. It is really nice to stay in a home with wood flooring.
I like your advises in selecting sustainable wood flooring and caring for our ecosystem. And I definitely agree with the warm, intimate and welcoming look. I used to apply wax, brush and polish our floor to make it shine. The feeling is great with its shine and nice look.
I also grew up in a house with wooden floors, all parquet, and I can remember the days when the floor was polished and the lovely smell of the beeswax. Wooden floors are warm and look welcoming.
Love the website as a whole you have more info on your selected types flooring then home depot and lowes does, I was a contractor in the past I would have definitely used your site for info .I’ve used real wood laminate and know switching everything to vinyl ,Your site is very easy to get to other topics,
Thank you for your kind comments and I am very pleased to hear that you found it useful.