How to Find Eco Friendly Carpets and Tiles
Well, some are – but most of them aren’t.
Here’s what to look out for.
What are tiles made from?
Floor tiles come in two main types – ceramic and glass. Ceramic (and porcelain) tiles are made from clay, together with talc and some minerals. Glass tiles are made from silica from sand or ground sandstone.
While these materials are natural, they are not renewable. Often, factories are set up close to the source materials which decreases transport. However, transporting both the raw materials and the finished tiles is an issue as they are very heavy, especially when compared to bamboo flooring for example.
The manufacturing process is very energy-intensive.
Some tiles are manufactured from recycled waste, and some use closed loop processes so the toxic chemicals do not leave the factory, but it’s not yet the norm.
Advantages of tiles
Tiles are strong, easy to clean, don’t fade and don’t harbour mould, mildew or allergens. They don’t scratch, don’t off-gas and are fire and flood resistant.
Because they are durable, they’ll last for up to 50 years and so may avoid new resources in future. However, in the home people often wish to change the look, and so tiles are often discarded before their end of life.
They can be installed over existing floor surfaces, reducing renovation cost and time and hassle, and reducing the mess involved in chopping out old material.
Eco Friendly Tiles
For an eco friendly flooring option, get tiles:
- from local sources
- which use 100% recycled material
- with lead-free glaze
- choose eco friendly VOC free grout, adhesives and mortar (don’t leave it up to the installer!).
Carpets are great for warmth. They stop your feet from feeling cold, and they also soften sound so your home doesn’t echo. Unfortunately they also retain dirt and small particles, so they are not good for allergy sufferers. But on a winter’s morning, a carpet offers much more comfort next to the bed, than other flooring!
Carpets – wall-to-wall, rugs, or carpet tiles – are made from many different things. Some are more eco friendly than others.
Many carpets are produced from petroleum, using chemical processes and additives, so avoid them if you want eco friendly flooring.
On the other hand, sisal, seagrass, coir, jute, organic cotton, organic wool and bamboo are all renewable source materials for carpets, are biodegradable and don’t need a lot of chemicals to grow.
(Just check that the carpet hasn’t been treated with chemical flame retardants and insect repellents).
Some carpets are made from recycled materials – for example old plastic beverage bottles – which can be down-cycled into insulation or furniture stuffing when they wear out.
Carpets made from wool are more eco friendly than those made from artificial materials such as nylon and plastics from petroleum. However, be aware that much commercial wool comes from sheep which are dipped in chemical baths to prevent parasites.
Look for Oeko-tex 100 certification, an international, very thorough testing for harmful chemicals. If it’s certified, it’s good!
The company Interface, which produces FLOR carpet tiles, has a very good reputation for being eco friendly.
Don’t Forget the Backing
- Carpets often have a bitumen backing (made from petroleum).
- Some companies now use rubber (and will probably tell you rubber is eco friendly), but it may be an artificial rubber made from petroleum.
- Felt backing may be the best option – it’s made from wool or animal hair, but check the glue it contains.
- It’s better to have a backing that is sewn on, but many are glued – check for the use of low-VOC glues.
Look for manufacturers which will take back your old carpet.
My favourite carpets are the rugs I have bought in my home. They were expensive, so they certainly weren’t an ‘impulse’ buy. They’re hand woven Oriental rugs – but be warned, many so-called Oriental rugs aren’t made the traditional way any more. (Here’s a good overview of how to tell the difference between hand woven and machine-made rugs).
One final suggestion for eco friendly flooring is an option not commonly considered – have an existing carpet dyed to a new colour. If your carpet is not worn thin, then even if it’s stained or faded it can be re-dyed – even patterned and multi-coloured carpets can be re-dyed to match your home décor. Be aware that the dyes are mostly artificial, but this option certainly saves a lot of carpet form landfill. One well-known company which provides this service is Color Your Carpet (worldwide).
Carpets and tiles can be eco friendly flooring materials, but you do need to be aware of what’s really going on, and I hope these articles help avoid ‘green-washing’ by flooring manufacturers telling you their products are the perfect eco friendly flooring!
Bamboo Flooring - is it REALLY eco friendly?
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Light Bulb types
Dana Delany’s green renovations
Photo Credits: floorguide.com, famircarpets.com, internetrugs.com