5 Synthetic Carpet Alternatives For A Healthy, Sustainable Home

Aside from keeping the size of a home or structure down to what is really needed, one of the more impactful home building or remodeling decisions is what flooring to put down. There are hundreds of different components that can go into subfloor and flooring materials, all of which have the potential to off-gas into your surroundings and end up in a landfill at a later date.

The carpet fad in our culture is an intriguing one. Not only are most synthetic fiber carpets full of questionable chemicals that off-gas into the surrounding air, they can never truly be cleaned. I especially cringe when I see carpet in bathrooms and kitchen areas. Thankfully, as more people become conscientious about what surrounds them in their living and work spaces, more and more environmentally friendly and healthy products are becoming available.

Below, you'll find widely available alternatives to carpet that are as affordable as they are beautiful and inviting.

1. Cork

Cork is fairly new to the flooring scene. When most of us think of cork, the first images that likely surface are of bottles of wine or wall-lined corkboard, but it's a great and durable material for floors. While I've seen many samples of cork flooring over the past few years, I was only recently introduced to a fully installed cork floor and was surprised by how durable it both looked and felt.

Cork is harvested from the bark of the cork oak tree. The bark of the cork oak tree quickly regenerates (growing back every three years) so the trees aren't cut down for the harvest, making cork a very sustainable, renewable material.

Like wood, cork can be finished with a variety of both penetrating and surface-sitting stains and sealants. Its resistance to microbes and its durability make it suitable for use in any part of the house. Depending on both the quality of the cork, as well as the quality of the finish, cork flooring usually lasts between 10-30 years.

2. Linoleum

Based on past conversations, most people probably think of vinyl when they hear about linoleum flooring. The two, however, are entirely different things. Vinyl is a synthetic material composed of chlorinated petrochemicals. Linoleum, which once was popular and fell out of favor once cheaper vinyl materials began to saturate the market, is created from a completely nontoxic blend of linseed oil, tree resin, wood flour, pigments, ground limestone and jute for the backing. It's fire retardant and water resistant.

One of the most beneficial and sought-after reasons that people choose linoleum is for its antimicrobial properties. As the linseed oil in linoleum breaks down, it kills microbes in contact with it — which makes this an excellent choice for people with allergies, respiratory disorders or weak immune systems.

3. Tile

Both ceramic and glass are nontoxic, water-resistant options for flooring, and are especially beneficial in high moisture areas such as the bathroom and the kitchen. Both are long lasting, highly resistant to staining and mold, and come in a variety of colors and patterns.

4. Wool carpet

If softness and warmth are must-haves in your space, there are eco-friendly options. Wool carpet is a natural material spun into a thread that can be dyed a variety of colors, then woven to create a durable carpet. Though usually more expensive than man-made fiber carpets, it's increasingly being offered in carpet stores and, for those wanting a healthier option, may be worth its cost. While wool is the most common material being used for nontoxic carpets, there are carpets (and rugs) made of cotton, hemp, jute and sisal.

5. Hardwood

For those of us who are loyal hardwood fans, nothing else will really do. For myself, there's just something incomparably natural and inviting about having wood beneath my feet. With environmental concerns in mind, there are two types of hard wood to consider.

Reclaimed wood is both beautiful, due to its long-story character, and very eco-friendly, as it reuses existing wood from trees that were taken down a long while ago and salvaged from old, rundown structures such as older home and barns. The salvaged planks are cleaned up and reshaped for reuse.

The other option is to purchase hardwood labeled "FSC certified." FSC certified wood has been designation by the Forest Stewardship Council as having been responsibly cut and taken from a forested area. Instead of clear cutting, certain trees are selected in a way that allows the wooded area to continue supporting its ecosystem.

With increasing demand for cleaner, healthier, more responsible options, eco-friendly flooring doesn't have to come at an outrageous cost or at the expense of style. Conscientious consumers can enjoy both.

Cheers to a cleaner, healthier home and a happier planet one mindful building or remodeling decision at a time.

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