It is essential to distinguish between renewable flooring materials and rapidly renewable flooring materials when considering sustainable building products. Renewable flooring materials include traditional hardwood flooring, which replenishes if properly harvested. Yet, despite responsible forestry techniques, stands of hardwood might take several decades to a half-century to return to former levels. On the other hand, the term rapidly renewable refers to materials that generally replenish within less than a decade. Both renewable flooring materials and rapidly renewable flooring materials can fit within a green design, and an overview of common varieties allows you to choose the right type for your project.
Bamboo is a rapidly renewable flooring material. Following harvest, bamboo typically regenerates within three to five years (see References 1, 5). To create a flat, flooring plank from bamboo, producers cut bamboo poles into strips, soften the strips in water, flatten the strips by pressing, and laminate or glue the pieces into a plank form (see References 4). Bamboo flooring is durable and exhibits a hardness similar to hardwood flooring materials, such as oak. Bamboo flooring planks are stained in a variety of colors, including mahogany reds and golden yellows.
Cork comes from the resilient, spongy bark of the cork tree. Cork is a rapidly renewable resource. Properly harvested, cork trees replenish bark in approximately 10 years (see References 1). Flooring manufacturers either use freshly harvested cork or recycled wine-bottle corks to manufacture flooring materials. The bark of the cork tree naturally resists damage from moisture and pests (see References 3). Although some manufacturers form cork into plank flooring, most cork flooring appears in square tile form.
Despite a resemblance to plastic, linoleum flooring consists of natural ingredients. Linoleum flooring planks and tiles contain large amount of renewable materials, particularly linseed oil, wood flour and cork (see References 1). Available in large sheets or individual tiles, manufacturers add pigments during the production process and impregnate linoleum flooring materials with a wide variety of colors and patterns, particularly textures that imitate natural wood and stone materials.
Although lumber is a renewable resource, traditional harvesting practices often damage or destroy tree populations. The nonprofit Forest Stewardship Council establishes standards for lumber and building materials industries that ensure the responsible harvesting and management of resources. FSC or similar certification, such as from the Sustainable Forest Initiative, requires that traditional hardwood and softwood flooring materials come from operations that promote the health of ecosystems, local cultures and economies. If harvested from properly managed forests, traditional hardwood flooring is a renewable resource. (See References 2, page 15)
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