As a homeowner, you likely want to live in a
house that is as healthy as possible. This means choosing natural products,
such as hardwood flooring, where practical. You probably also want the products
that make up your house to be sustainably harvested and manufactured to help
protect the environment.
To keep both you and your family safe, along
with the world we all live in, here are a few things to look out for when
shopping for low-risk and eco-friendly hardwood flooring products.
1. Low-VOC/No-VOC Hardwood
Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) are a health
concern with many types of hardwood flooring. Adhesives and finishes used on
the flooring can often contain toxic compounds that may take some time to be
fully released, or off-gassed. The hardwood used may also have been treated
with chemicals for various reasons, and may potentially have some natural
compounds that could cause health issues.
Two of the more concerning toxic compounds
that cause health issues around the home are formaldehyde and benzene. Both of
these have carcinogenic properties, which means that they have the potential to
cause cancer. There are many other problem compounds found in household
products however, possibly including some that have yet to be identified as a
Flooring materials such as hardwoods that are
marked as Low-VOC or No-VOC are manufactured and installed so that they have as
few volatile organic compounds as possible. This means that they do not pose a
health risk from off-gassing of toxic material. It also means that there is no
need to wait for the flooring to off-gas before using a house or room that has
had low-VOC or no-VOC flooring installed.
It’s important when using low-VOC/no-VOC flooring that you also select
low-VOC/no-VOC adhesives and finishes for the flooring. Otherwise, your house
may still be subject to toxic fumes. Any carpeting or other flooring material
that you may choose to install over a hardwood base should also be
2. Formaldehyde-Free Flooring
Formaldehyde is a natural compound that is
produced by many different processes. The biological functions of the human
body often generate small amounts of formaldehyde, as do the metabolic
processes of various other organisms. In large quantities formaldehyde acts as
a carcinogen, however, which makes it a dangerous gas to have in your home.
Formaldehyde is used in many products,
including some flooring adhesives and finishes. Hardwood flooring itself is
generally free from formaldehyde, but you should check that it is declared as
formaldehyde-free anyway just to be safe. Any product that is specifically
designed to be formaldehyde-free should be specifically stated as such, so look
for that declaration in its labeling.
Fortunately, formaldehyde tends to break down
quickly in the air, so if you are installing new flooring you should ensure
that the installation area has good ventilation to help get rid of any toxic
3. Healthy Engineered Hardwood
Another option for healthy and eco-friendly
hardwood flooring is to use engineered hardwood manufactured with
Engineered hardwood is made up of laminated
layers of wood. The top layer is usually made of a thin sheet of hardwood with
layers of cheaper wood below that. The layers are glued together with adhesives
and are often also glued to the floor beneath.
Many brands of engineered hardwood use
adhesives and other materials that contain chemicals such as polyvinyl acetate
and diethylene glycol monobutyl ether acetate. Engineered hardwood with an
acid-cured topcoat may also contain formaldehyde. As a result, these types of
engineered hardwood tend to off-gas some degree of toxic gasses. This is only the
case due to the choice of those materials, however.
Various options exist for healthy
engineered hardwood flooring that is designed to be a safer
alternative to the more toxic products. This type of engineered hardwood is
made using low VOC or no VOC adhesives that don’t cause health concerns, and
wood that is free of harsh chemicals. One example of this is the brand LIFECORE Flooring, which you may want to
research if you are looking for non-toxic engineered hardwood.
An additional option to limit the use of toxic
adhesives is to elect to have the engineered hardwood planks stapled to the
subfloor, rather than being glued. If this is not possible then you should
choose a low or no VOC adhesive to secure the planks.
4. FSC-Certified Solid Hardwood
If you are trying to ensure that you only use
responsibly and sustainably sourced hardwood in your flooring then the simplest
way to do that is to use wood that is certified by the Forest Stewardship Council
(FSC). The FSC is a non-profit organization that is focussed on ensuring that
wood used in construction and product materials is sourced from either
sustainably managed forests or recycled material.
The FSC has three main certifications they use
for eco-friendly hardwood. These are “FSC 100 percent”, “FSC
recycled”, and “FSC mixed”. FSC 100 percent means that all of
the labeled wood comes from a sustainable source in the form of
FSC-certified forests. FSC recycled means that the labeled material comes from
a reclaimed source. FSC mixed means that at least seventy percent of the
labeled wood comes from FSC-certified forests and recycled wood, and the rest
is made up of controlled wood.
5. NSF-Certified Products
NSF International started out as the National
Sanitation Foundation in 1944. Over time they expanded beyond sanitation into
other industries, including those relating to building and manufacturing
products such as hardwood flooring and related materials. The role of NSF
International is to provide health standards and certifications relating to
products, product materials, and other resources including food and water.
Using NSF-Certified products and materials for
your flooring ensures that you have a clear idea of the public health and eco-sustainability status of those resources.
This means that you can be reasonably sure that the flooring products you use
will not threaten the health of your family or the environment. Look for this
certification on the flooring products that you buy.
The health of your home and the health of your
family are heavily intertwined, so it’s well worth selecting materials for your
flooring that won’t jeopardize those health concerns. Likewise, the air we all
breathe and the food and clean water we consume are dependent on the health of
the natural environment. So by choosing healthy eco-friendly hardwood flooring,
you can help ensure that your family stays safe, and also that the environment
is not threatened by unsustainable harvesting of natural resources.