5 Things To Know About Sustainable Wood Floors

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Image Credit: Paul Anderson

Being house-proud--no matter what your budget or lifestyle--is what we celebrate every day at Hunker. But we also believe that taking real pride in your home means more than just having on-trend furnishings and chic wall-hangings: Sustainability, environmental impact, and healthy living are increasingly important to those of us passionate about our spaces. When thinking about greening your home, there's no better place to start than with your floors--and hardwood is a great option.

Stacy Brown, the editor and publisher of Hardwood Floors Magazine, put it this way: "As an industry, we are lucky. Wood floors are truly the most environmentally friendly flooring option available." In part, that's because wood, produced responsibly, is an ever-renewable natural resource with real strength, durability, beauty and value.

Not all wood flooring is created equal, however. You just need to know what to look for--and which questions to ask.

Look for the label. A certification from the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), founded 25 years ago by environmental groups, is regarded as the gold standard for sustainable hardwood flooring. This isn't just about preventing deforestation, though that is key. There are 10 principles and 57 different criteria behind each certification, from respecting indigenous cultures to limiting illegal logging and the use of pesticides. More than 35 million acres of forest have been FSC-certified in the U.S.

The FSC is just one of three forest certification programs in the country. (See also the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI), founded by the logging industry, and the American Tree Farm System (ATFS), a network of family tree farmers.) The labels give an eco-minded homeowner an edge of confidence.

Reuse, recycle, reclaim. Reclaimed hardwood is typically anywhere from 100 to 300 or more years old, culled from old buildings--think turn-of-the-century libraries, barns, factories, even gyms--or massive wood structures like railroad trestles, that are being torn down. Reusing the wood not only keeps it out of the landfill, but gives a rich second life to wood that has already served one valuable purpose.

For those who are both eco- and design-minded, reclaimed and salvaged wood offers not just peace of mind but a one-of-a-kind look and feel--some with rustic nail marks or branded imprints that hint at the wood's former life. And then there's the origin story--oak floors that were once French wine barrels from such-and-such winery, or remilled old-growth heart pine from a now-defunct cotton mill--that money can't buy. It's wood with a real history.

Think outside the (hardwood) box. Bamboo and cork aren't hardwoods--and that's kind of the point. Bamboo is one of the planet's fastest growing plants. (Technically, it's a woody grass). And cork comes from the bark of the cork oak tree, which lives for hundreds of years and can be continually reharvested every few years. Both make for affordable, wood-like flooring, with a strong, eco-friendly aura.

There are things to keep in mind, however. Cork flooring doesn't last as long as hardwood--think 10-30 years compared to 100+. And while the natural resources themselves are fast-growing or renewable, there are additional considerations--including the environmental impact of shipping or the manufacturing process.

Make it last. One of the most environmental things we can do is to make our goods last as long as possible--whether it's your pick-up truck or your hardwood floor. True sustainability is about investing in something that will stand the test of time, as opposed to falling prey to the cheap, easily available disposable goods, which all too often end up in the landfill after just a few years.

Part of lengthening the lifetime of a hardwood floor is the daily TLC. Remove dust and dirt daily, before it has a chance to sink in and do damage. Clean the floor gently with a safe and effective cleaner, such as Bona® Hardwood Floor Cleaner, that will help maintain the lifetime of the finish. A well-cared-floor hardwood floor can last 100 years--and even longer.

Ask all the questions. Sustainability is a mindset. And often the questions you ask are more important than a simple label that reads "green" or "eco-friendly."

For Brett Miller, the vice president of certification and education at the National Wood Flooring Association, it's about thinking of the entire lifecycle of the wood floors, from the first sapling to emerge in a forest to the moment the floor board goes back into the landfill. It's a holistic POV that includes not just forest management but manufacturing, installation, reusing and reclaiming, and myriad thoughtful, green-minded considerations along the way. There's even the related environmental health concerns to consider, such as air quality. As part of its GREENGUARD Gold-Certified finishing and care system, Bona, for instance, offers dust-free sanding, which eliminates up to 99.8 of airborne dust, and low-VOC waterborne finishes. This means the flooring not only lasts longer but is safer over that lifespan.

"The biggest thing for consumers, for anyone who is buying with that green note, that conscientious note in mind, research is key," says Miller. Who are you buying from? Ask about the forest, the manufacturing process, all the way down to the adhesives and the finish. The more you know about the life-cycle of your wood, the better--and greener--choice you can make.

Laura Lambert is a Los Angeles-based writer and editor who covers lifestyle, design, and women's health.

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