How Eco-Friendly and Sustainable Is Hardwood Flooring?

sustainable hardwood flooring

Timber uses include making furniture, kitchen utensils, sports equipment like hockey sticks and bats, building homes, and hardwood flooring materials. To begin with, wood is a natural resource and not manufactured, and as such, it is eco-friendly in this regard. This is contrary to flooring materials like linoleum, which comes from fossil fuels, therefore, are hazardous to the environment. But is hardwood harvesting for flooring sustainable?

Hardwood floors are made from trees. Some of the species take decades and some hundreds of years to reach maturity. As such, tree logging of a tree that took about 200 years to mature will require another 200 years for a new tree to grow back and mature. This is despite the high demand for timber.

Environmental Benefits of Eco-friendly Flooring

Forests are very beneficial. They play an essential role in stabilizing the world’s climate and mitigating the effects of climate change. Trees and plants reduce the carbon released into the atmosphere through the combustion of fossil fuels and other natural processes. They absorb carbon dioxide released into the environment through photosynthesis, converting it into oxygen. Too much carbon dioxide in the environment causes global warming and adverse climate change.

Hardwood trees take decades and some hundreds of years to mature, making wood harvesting unsustainable. The solutions to climate change include the elimination of fossil fuels and their derivatives. Secondly, managing forests through forest cover loss and degradation prevention. 

The Role of FSC in Forest Conservation

The U. S. Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) is a body that discourages deforestation and illegal logging. FSC devotes itself to forest preservation practices and ensuring afforestation. The organization manages various forests and wood from forests. Some wood species have an FSC logo and a chain of custody label which can trace back a plank of wood to its origin. In this regard, if you want sustainable hardwood flooring, check its approval by FSC.

Sometimes the hardwood materials are cut down as a result of healthy forest management practices like thinning. Thinning forests removes unhealthy trees from the ecosystem to reduce competition for resources like water, soil, and sunlight.

Hardwood Flooring Lifecycle

Is hardwood flooring eco-friendly and sustainable? Unfortunately, the process of turning wood into flooring materials has a significant contribution to global warming. Innovators are trying to incorporate many eco-friendly flooring ideas to produce environmental-friendly flooring materials. To make it more eco-friendly, the process should cut down on fossil-fuel uses.

Wood Harvesting from Forests to The Saw Mill

Loggers harvest hardwood from state-owned or privately-owned land. There are different tree species in the forest. In the USA, the common species include red oak, white oak, ash, walnut, cherry, hickory, beech, red maple, birch, and pecan. Red oak takes up to more than half of the market.

Loggers can use several harvesting equipments, including cable-skidders, tractors, chainsaws, and cable-yarders. Afterward, diesel or gasoline-powered log trucks transport the logs to the sawmill for grading and sorting to different uses. They are also debarked. They will undergo drying before kiln-drying. Although kiln-drying is an energy-intensive process, it often uses wood wastes like sawdust, wood flour, trimmings, edgings, or planer shavings. After sawmilling, gasoline or diesel-powered trucks ship the wood to the flooring mill. Gasoline and diesel are fossil fuels.

Flooring Mill Processing

  1. At the flooring mill, the first thing is to organize the timber according to its tree species. If it is not kiln-dried, then it goes through a kiln.
  2. After that, machines cut the lumber into uniform planks. The process produces dry planer shavings as a by-product.
  3. Then, the lumber goes through ripping, where it is cut into uniform widths using a rip-saw.
  4. Then, trimming is the next process, where a machine cuts the flooring materials to length.
  5. After that, the planks go through molding and matching of the wood pieces.
  6. The pieces are then given tongue and groove attributes, packed, and shipped from the flooring mill.
  7. Lastly, the planks have to undergo pre-finishing, sealing, and staining.

Eco-Friendly Hardwood Floor finishes, Stains & Sealers

Conventional floor finishes, stains, and sealants have hazardous volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and solvents like toluene, formaldehyde.

When choosing wood finishes, you can either buy oil-based polyurethane or water-based urethanes. Oil-based polyurethane finishes may contain VOCs. Water-based urethanes are eco-friendly, although they may not last as long as the oil-based polyurethane finishes. Water-based urethanes are also more expensive.

Apart from using water-based urethanes as an eco-friendly option, you can also use natural oils like linseed oil. It is equally important to buy sealants without VOC or a low VOC content, which means they should not contain formaldehyde.

Noteworthy, it is important to use an eco-friendly hardwood floor cleaner. If you choose to paint your hardwood floor, opt for eco-friendly floor paints.

Wastes From Processing Flooring Materials

At every process, there are wastes produced, including planer shavings, wood flour, edgings, trimmings, and sawdust. To make the process eco-friendly, the wastes make various materials, including animal bedding, wood pellets, and compost. Alternatively, they are an energy source for combustion in kilns.

Sustainable Hardwood Flooring Options

Hardwood floors are natural, beautiful, and durable. Moreover, houses with hardwood floors attract a higher market value than other houses.

There are a few eco-friendly flooring options you can consider. They include reclaimed wood, bamboo flooring, salvaged wood flooring, cork flooring, palm wood, and hemp.

1. Reclaimed Wood         

Reclaimed hardwood refers to wood from an old house, military structure, warehouse, and boxcars. The material is dismantled and turned into flooring materials. Reclaimed hardwood flooring is sustainable. It helps meet demands in the market and reduces the need to harvest more trees.

2. Salvaged Wood

Unlike reclaimed wood, salvaged wood is still in its natural state. Such wood may have fallen in a forest or requires removal to pave the way for new housing or highway construction.

3. Sustainable Cork Flooring

Cork floors are products from the bark of cork oak trees. The trees are usually left intact, and they regenerate the bark in three years for harvesting again. This makes cork flooring a sustainable flooring option.

4. Eco-Friendly Palm Wood

Old palm wood that cannot produce coconuts make a perfect flooring material. When buying the material, ensure that binders on the palm trees are eco-friendly. If you use glue for installation, ensure that it is water-based.

5. Sustainable Bamboo Floor Tiles

Bamboo has become a popular alternative to hardwood floors. Why is bamboo flooring eco-friendly? Bamboo is grass that grows fast in a period of between 3-5 years.  Therefore, bamboo is a sustainable source of flooring material.

Conclusion

Most consumables like fruits from trees may have little impact on the environment. However, most non-consumables come from natural resources, and the extraction process may release emissions and wastes into the environment. Again, transportation of wood over long distances leads to the emission of gases from the transport vessels. Nevertheless, a green flooring product should not impact the environment negatively during its life cycle from production, transportation, and processing.

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