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.