Are you looking for a sustainable flooring option? Want a flooring that doesn’t hurt the environment?
For many homeowners, sustainability is becoming one of their top shopping preferences. Not only is it better for the environment to think green before you buy, but it’s also important to bring materials into your home that won’t impact your family’s health too.
When you think green, a lot of materials come to mind. Wood. Bamboo. Wool. Yet most people rarely think about vinyl as being a green product. They are surprised to learn that vinyl floors can be environmentally friendly.
John Elkington defined the Triple Bottom Line (TBL) approach to sustainability back in 1994. According to Elkington, the Triple Bottom Line approach gives you a way to assess any product you choose to bring into your home based on three criteria. Look at:
- The cradle to grave impact of the product
- How the manufacturer contributes to sustainability throughout the company and the community
- How economic stable the manufacturer is
How does vinyl flooring compare?
How vinyl floor is made
Vinyl flooring is made of polyvinyl chloride, or PVC. Depending on the manufacturer, it has a variety of materials added to create its individualistic looks.
The primary element in vinyl flooring is a vinyl sheet. Manufacturers suspend vinyl in a liquid mixture that is then spread into a thin sheet and rolled to the desired length and width. Plastic coating is fused and dried to create a tough, durable material.
Vinyl sheets can be produced in many sizes and shapes. It can be sold in sheet format, cut into 6, 9, or 12 inch square tiles, or be cut into plank shapes.
All vinyl tile has several layers. It begins with a core layer of vinyl over a felt backing. Some vinyl floors have a very thin decorative layer that creates patterns and colors. A thin plastic layer can add to the durability and provide a relatively maintenance-free, scuff-resistant surface.
Think of the backing as the strength, the top layer as the wear layer. The two must work together to give you a high-quality product. The backing can be made in a similar fashion to papermaking, using things like limestone and clay.
Of course, what the final product is made from is up to the manufacturer. Resilient flooring now makes up about 14 percent of the flooring marketplace, meaning there’s a lot of room for both top of the line and less than reputable companies to do business with. That’s why it’s important to stick with a flooring company you can trust. If you do business with a reliable flooring company, they will only suggest manufacturers that make a high-quality product.
If you do a search for the reasons why people don’t like vinyl floor, it almost always has to do with the chemicals used both in production of the flooring, and in the product itself. And for good reason. If you go back decades ago, before harmful chemical usage was researched, you’ll find a wide variety of materials were used to create vinyl.
Asbestos was high on the list of harmful chemicals. Asbestos was once thought to be a great insulator, as well as adding fire-retardant features to all it was added to. Once it was determined how toxic the material really was, all usage was halted. Even though you can still find asbestos in older insulation and vinyl flooring, care must be used when remodeling and taking the old products out.
Formaldehyde was another highly toxic chemical used in vinyl flooring. Formaldehyde is often mixed into the glues and adhesives used in vinyl production. Urea-formaldehyde has the greatest risk factors, causing respiratory and nervous system problems such as chest pain, shortness of breath, increased risk of asthma and allergies in kids and adults.
Depending on the manufacturer used, you can find a host of other harmful chemicals used in production. Lead, cadmium, mercury, hexavalent chromium, dioxins, chloride, and phthalates are all toxic and irritants to the human body in some format.
The best way to get a vinyl flooring product that doesn’t use harmful chemicals is to ask. It’s the only way you can be sure you’re getting a top of the line product that has low or no risk factors you don’t want to bring into your home, or have impact the environment.
Environmental impact after installation
When most homeowners consider flooring options, they focus on the product before they choose and install. But if you are making the best choice for the environment, it’s important to consider all levels of the life cycle, including after installation.
What about durability? If you have a flooring option that handles well, is durable, and can withstand lots of activity and traffic, it means less chance of having to replace it quickly. If properly cared for and installed, vinyl floor can last as much as 20 years or even longer. If you don’t have to replace it as often, it saves on waste and the environmental impact of having it removed and sending it to the landfill.
Vinyl floors cannot be refinished. That means when they wear out, they will have to be replaced. Yet one of the best reasons to use today’s vinyl flooring tiles and planks is because it’s a relatively easy process to remove and replace them. Simply pull up the damaged tile or plank and tap the new one into place. You’ll add longevity to your flooring by only having to replace impacted areas.
Which also brings us to end of life. As a whole, vinyl flooring cannot be recycled, and it is not biodegradable. If you send it to the landfill, it just sits there taking up space indefinitely. Vinyl flooring is hard to recycle because of the different material makeup of the vinyl throughout. It’s tough removing the vinyl from the backing from the adhesive, meaning it’s next to impossible to recycle the parts that are truly recyclable.
This is changing too. As a whole, the industry knows it will have to change in the future. That’s why you’ll find the best manufacturers in the flooring industry doing their part now. Armstrong, for instance, has its own recycling program to keep product out of the landfills. It’s also finding other creative ways to recycle and use different products in different ways.
Is a vinyl floor in your future?
There are different flooring products for all kinds of homes, all kinds of people, all kinds of tastes. If you are leaning towards the durability and strength of vinyl flooring, don’t hold back. Today’s vinyl flooring can be a sustainable purchase that won’t harm the environment. Go with a reputable company that is working hard to make our future better. Ask us how.
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