Green flooring options

Dick Clarke helps a reader struggling to find the right flooring with a minimal environmental impact.

Q – I’m trying to choose replacement flooring for our kitchen and family room that’s good for the environment and human health. Each option I look at seems to either be made from non-renewable materials or include potentially nasty glues or finishes or similar.

We had chosen Marmoleum, but now I find that the sheets are only two metres wide and this necessitates joins. I had assumed it would look quite seamless, so now I’m not sure about this option aesthetically. Solid timber could be suitable if I can find someone who will install without toxic glues or other preparations and use a natural or at least water-based polyurethane finish. The flooring needs to go on a combination of not-that-nice pine floorboards and a small piece of concrete flooring in the same area. Any thoughts would be much appreciated.

A – Everything has an impact – what we call ‘sustainable materials’ are those with the lowest, or at least manageable impacts.

Linoleum is fairly benign. It is certainly benign once installed, and can be composted at the end of its life, although it’s not currently recycled into a high-value product. The joins in sheets are almost imperceptible if installed by a skilled tradesperson. This will require a sheet underlay of either hardboard (Masonite) or fibre cement sheet.

Solid timber overlay floors can also be installed without toxic products. Some float over a soft underlay, with the boards clipped or glued together with non-VOC PVA glue to make a large contiguous sheet. Others may be stuck down to the substrate with glue under each board. There are various non-VOC adhesives that can do this. Most of these boards are pre-finished, and while some of those may have off-gassed during curing, by the time they are laid it’s all gone.

Another option would be magnesium oxide cement sheets (MgO), which can be glued down with a non-VOC adhesive and clear finished with a water-based sealer. This finish usually has the sheets laid in a staggered pattern, rather like very large concrete floor tiles. Most MgO is carbon neutral, or better, due to its take-up of CO2 during curing.

– Dick

Dick Clarke is principal of Evirotecture, a sustainable building design firm in Sydney and Redland Bay, Queensland 

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Cover of Issue 25
You can read more about Green flooring options in Issue 25 of Sanctuary magazine.

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