Sustainable Living in NYC: Eco-Friendly Flooring Options
I’ve mentioned on my blog recently that my wife and I purchased a beautiful 1930’s Victorian home in Ditmas Park, Brooklyn, with the intention to retrofit it to passive house standards for more sustainable living. If you have a similar desire to make your home more sustainable, the U.S. Green Building Council proposes that you look at the following factors when building or remodeling:
- Energy savings
- Water efficiency
- CO2 emissions reduction
- Improved indoor environmental quality
- Stewardship of resources and sensitivity to their impacts.
When it comes to flooring, there are a number of ways to make sustainable choices and save energy. Choosing natural or renewable flooring, sustainably harvested and certified by the Forest Stewardship Council; buying locally to save on transportation energy; and opting out of flooring with VOC (Volatile Organic Compounds) emissions, which can contribute to health problems, are all great ways to start.
Thankfully, all of these considerations can be made without sacrificing beauty or aesthetics. You need not have the same flooring throughout your entire home with every room blanketed in bamboo. You can have a beautiful, personalized, and interesting flooring scheme, with each room featuring different eco-friendly flooring, suited to the needs and feel of that room. And all of these options can be found in or near New York City.
Our top choice for our Victorian is a mimic of the stunning Danish Dinesen floors – considered by many to be the world’s most beautiful wood flooring. Dinesen floorboards are produced in unusually long and wide dimensions – up to 50 feet long and 18 inches wide – with wood sourced from ancient Douglas fir and oak forests. In keeping with sustainable practices, our wood would be FSC certified eastern white pine, salvaged from buildings such as 443 Greenwich Street in TriBeCa, and sold by places such as Sawkill Lumber in Brooklyn. Quintessential of Scandinavian floor design, the wood is then treated with lye and white floor soap for a natural, pale finish and a clean, consistent appearance. (http://thatnordicfeeling.com/2013/08/28/how-to-give-your-floors-that-nordic-look/) There is something very beautiful and calming about floors where you can still smell the scent of the wood in your home decades later, and it still has that soft natural touch.
Wood -whether pine, spruce, fir, maple, oak, etc.- comes in any number of colors, finishes, and textures, and can be refinished for when styles change. It’s classic and durable. When going green in your wood purchasing, just make sure that it’s FSC certified, contains no added formaldehyde, and look for sealers and cleaners with low or no VOC. Another great alternative to the above whitewashing is to use linseed oil or a natural wax. These waxes and oils will also harden the wood over time, making it more durable.
In today’s world of living in glass boxes, we often forget the damage UV rays can do to our floors. Before construction, make sure you use low-E glass windows. Window film technology has also come a long way and might be a great option that will also help you save on AC costs. If the UV damage is already done, sand your floors down, and use one of the methods described above to bring back your floors to their former glory.
You have about as many options for eco-friendly flooring as you do choices for building materials in general. Here is a short list of top picks for New York City living:
Cork: According to Tim Tompkins, a Portuguese Cork Association committee member,“Cork is both healthy for the consumer and sustainable for the environment.” It’s all-natural, hypoallergenic, non-toxic, and naturally mold and pest resistant. It’s easy to clean, cushiony, and provides good sound absorption, so it might be great for a child’s room or a kitchen where you are standing for long periods time. Globus Cork in the Bronx is a great place to get started with cork.
Tile or Stone: Local companies Nemo and Complete Tile have vast selections of elegant, natural tile and stone for kitchens and bathrooms. One nice thing about tile made from recycled bottles, other than its environmental friendliness, is that it reflects light, making small spaces – like bathrooms – look bigger. Stone, while not as eco-friendly as recycled tile due to the extraction and transport process, does add value to the home, and has a classic look. If you love stone, but wish to remain eco-purist, keep in mind that cork, linoleum, and non-petroleum based laminated floors can all give the look of stone, without extracting the resource.
Bamboo: Bamboo is strong and durable, inexpensive, and it matures in three to four years, naturally regenerates, and requires minimal fertilization. For New York, the biggest issue is transport. Bamboo is not native, nor does is grow to its full potential, in New York. Most bamboo comes from China, which is an obvious energy-expense. However, for bamboo enthusiasts, check out local company Bestwoodfloor in New Jersey.
Linoleum: This may come as a surprise, but linoleum is not vinyl, it is long-lasting and durable, and it can actually be stylish and beautiful. Whereas vinyl is synthetic, linoleum is made of natural, renewable ingredients, including linseed oil, tree resins, and natural pigments. It releases no VOC’s and has an estimated life span of 30-40 years. The array of colors for linoleum span the spectrum, including solid and multicolor options; possibilities include marbled, stone-look, flecked, and wood-grain patterns; and linoleum lends itself to a number of different finishes. Bay Ridge Carpet and Linoleum and Aronson’s Floor Covering are two great local places to start looking at the linoleum possibilities.
Whatever your preferences, there are many options around New York City to make your home a more sustainable and healthy environment, which not only increases your home’s value, but also reduces the environmental impact that typically accompanies renovations.