This article was crafted with the help of Abe Drissi from Flooring America Herndon

An investment in new flooring can significantly upgrade the look and feel of your home. But what can environmentally conscious homeowners do to make responsible choices when updating their decor? We spoke with Abe Drissi, owner of Flooring America Herndon in Northern Virginia, who lent his industry knowledge to discuss some of the ways in which homeowners can make “green” flooring choices.

Selecting a Flooring Material

When evaluating which flooring material to install from a green perspective, homeowners should consider the sustainability of the product and how long it will last before it requires replacement.

Durability. The more often you need to replace your floor, the more resources you take from the environment. “If the conditions and budget allow it,” says Abe, “a hard surface is a better choice for durability.” Long-lasting floors like ceramic, porcelain, or marble are intended to be a one-time application, according to Abe.

Hardwood is the second most durable product. Today’s hardwood floors are made stronger by technology developed in the Space Shuttle Program, says Abe. “They found out that the aluminum oxide in the space shuttle tiles was very resilient, so now they use it in hardwood floors,” he says, “making the wood very durable, attractive, and warm.” Laminate falls just behind natural hardwood in terms of durability.

Renewable products. According to Abe, nontraditional hardwoods like cork and bamboo don’t require heavy deforestation because of how they are harvested and how quickly they regrow. Cork is harvested by removing the bark, and in a few years, the process can be repeated. To harvest bamboo, you don’t need to cut at the root system, and it can reach maturity again in three to five years. For homeowners who prefer the look of traditional hardwood floors, Abe notes that “there are some responsible companies that plant more trees every time they harvest, so they keep it balanced.” The Forest Stewardship Council also sets standards and certification requirements for responsibly managed and sustainable forest programs.

Though more costly, carpets woven from natural fibers like wool are preferred for their sustainability. Some carpets are also being manufactured from renewable resources, according to Abe. For example, Mohawk’s SmartStrand carpet has fibers partially made from corn—up to 37 percent.

Recycled products. Reclaimed lumber has also become a popular choice with the growing interest in using recycled materials. Not only do reclaimed floors minimize deforestation, but they can also add a vintage and rustic tone to any modern home. Some companies are also giving carpets a second life, says Abe, by cleaning the old carpet fibers and reconditioning them into new carpets.

Maintaining Your Floor

In order to get the most out of your new floors, it is essential to perform routine maintenance and to care for your floors as you would for any other home investment. As Abe notes, “Maintenance and care are critical. You can get a brand-new car and quickly ruin it—the same applies to carpets or floors.”

Installing and refinishing your hardwood floors. The EPA has linked VOCs (volatile organic compounds) to a range of health issues, from headaches to nausea to central nervous system damage. VOCs are at their highest levels during and right after certain household activities, which can include installing and refinishing your hardwood floors. To keep indoor air contaminants out of your home, Abe recommends nail-down installation—a VOC-free technique—for your hardwood floors. When performing glue-down installation, some VOCs can be released into the home.

Abe also mentions that certain floor finishes contain little to no VOCs. Floors used to be finished with wax, he says, but advances in the flooring industry brought about polyurethane finishes, which are waterproof and have a shinier finish. “You can use an oil-based or water-based finish,” he says, “but the water-based option is low-VOC and has a harder finish.”

Essential carpet care. With billions of pounds of carpets ending up in landfills each year, it’s important to extend the life of your carpet with proper care and maintenance. What should homeowners be doing? “When you buy a good carpet,” says Abe, “you have to buy a good pad. Otherwise, it’s like buying a really nice car but having no shocks. The pad is going to give it resiliency and make it last.” Abe also encourages homeowners to vacuum their carpet regularly to keep the carpet free of particle buildup and to keep it aerated. Also, follow manufacturer recommendations for how to spot-clean, which products to use, and how often the carpet should be professionally cleaned.

Disposing of Your Floor

When it finally comes time to replace your floors, consider alternatives to simply ditching your flooring in a landfill. Some flooring products, like natural hardwood for example, will decompose easily on their own if they aren’t reused in a reclaimed lumber program. For carpets, Flooring America Herndon works with recycling companies that will take pads and certain types of carpet for recycling. “If you’re working with a responsible company,” says Abe, “usually they do the recycling. It takes a long, long time—especially for nylon—to decompose, which is horrific.” Homeowners disposing of carpets themselves can also search for Certified Collectors through the Carpet America Recovery Effort database.

Throughout a floor’s life, from selecting a flooring material all the way to disposal and possibly renewal, homeowners can make responsible choices that support the planet and keep their families healthy. Keep Abe’s tips in mind to bring a green perspective to bear on the choices you make for your flooring.

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This spotlight article was crafted with the help of Flooring America Herndon, a Flooring Best Pick in Virginia. While we strive to provide relevant information to all homeowners, some of the material we publish may not pertain to every area. Please contact your local Best Pick companies for any further area-specific advice.