Sustainable Flooring Options

Reader Contribution by Kari Klaus
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When choosing new flooring, watch your step. You’ll often hear the phrase, “Kitchens and baths sell homes” and that’s mostly true. But in my experience as a northern Virginia Realtor, it’s not the whole picture. Yes an ugly, outdated kitchen will be a turn off for many buyers. But so will flooring. When a buyer first walks up to a home, curb appeal is the first thing they see. But flooring is the second. Imagine you open up the door and you look down to watch your step coming into the home. What’s the first thing you see? Is it a beautiful wood floor or neutral colored carpet? Or is it a linoleum from the 1970s? Yikes! Before that buyer has even made it to the kitchen or bathroom, they’ve already started thinking about how much money, time, and effort it will take to replace the flooring that they cannot stand. The color and the type can be a turn off to potential buyers, so choose wisely. And when you are trying to remodel or build a sustainable home, choose even more wisely.

There are really two things to think about when choosing your floor: your home’s location (region) and your sustainable options.

Thinking regionally matters a whole lot. If your home is in the Northeast, a home with tile throughout is not common and will not appeal to the majority of buyers for instance. Instead, the buyers that see your home will be thinking about all the negatives of replacing all or most of the flooring in a home. If you don’t know what’s common in your region, then here’s a pretty quick homework assignment. Go to any one of the major real estate websites. Type in your city or state to see the homes that are currently on the market. Likely the second or third photo in, you will see the types of flooring used throughout the home and once you’ve seen a common theme of flooring choices; tile, carpet, or wood, you get the idea of what’s considered common in your location. But don’t discount the appeal of alternative choices like concrete, cork, or recycled tile. These choices could be close enough to the more common flooring options out there, but a much more sustainable option.

Thinking regionally also matters to the materials sourced. If material you choose is considered sustainable (recycled, reclaimed, easily renewable resource for example), but it is sourced and delivered from another part of the world, then you have to consider the products overall sustainability qualities. Does it have a large carbon foot because of where it was sourced, manufactured and then delivered? Or if it was sourced from another country, at least be sure that it was part of a sustainably managed forest. Does its packaging adhere to the overall sustainability of a product? Getting this detailed can take a lot of time and effort. So some companies are starting to use terms like “cradle to grave” sustainable.

In my home, I chose 2 sustainable flooring products; one I love and one that I am not so fond of. So here’s my review of those. I also want to mention that I have no brand affiliation and there are many companies with similar products.

One of my favorite companies trying to achieve a “cradle to grave” sustainable flooring product is FLOR, which produces carpet tiles. “At FLOR, environmental consciousness is built into every sourcing, design and production decision we make – like manufacturing over 95 percent of our product line in the USA; offering a Return & Recycle Program to turn old FLOR into new products; and, transitioning our entire collection to 100 percent recycled fiber.”

Photo by FLOR

But not only does FlOR promote a cradle to grave product, in place of regular carpet, carpet tiles can drastically reduce the amount of carpet waste that ends up in landfills. And, not to mention, they’ve been a lifesaver in my home. Shortly after buying my home, DC had one of its all-to-common floods. The basement carpet that was installed prior to my purchasing the home — trashed. To the street and into the landfill the large roll of carpet went. Instead of replacing the flooring with traditional carpet again, I choose carpet tiles. A few years later another storm came through and the few carpet tiles that got wet were quickly removed, set outside to dry, and repositioned, as good as new. These carpet tiles have lasted for over a decade with many storms, some water leaks, and lots of muddy footprints and are still in great shape, especially since it was a breeze to replace just a few carpet tiles for new ones. For me, the up-front cost was actually cheaper than replacing what could have been repeated carpet installation because of water or regular wear and tear.

On the other hand, not all sustainable flooring options are a home run. One of the hardest decisions I had to make in my sustainable remodel was the flooring in the living areas of the house. Because the home is located in the northeast, wood flooring was the most obvious choice, although I considered alternatives like cork too. But nonetheless I insisted on a sustainable option and finally found a perfect match with pre-finished walnut engineered wood floors. Engineered wood floors are a regionally common flooring choice (wood), a sustainable product (uses less wood per square foot than traditional hardwood flooring) and aesthetically pleasing for my colonial style home. So, you might think that I would use this product again for my future home… Nope. Even though engineered wood floors were touted as very durable when I went to the showroom to browse the options, they have been the biggest cause of stress in my entire home.


We live in our home, it’s not a showroom. So what does that mean? That means my small dogs like to run and play with their toys in the home. After gardening or running, I come inside with my shoes to grab a quick drink from the fridge. And if you read my last blog, you’ll know that we enjoy entertaining (my husband makes a very good craft cocktail), which means I have some very nice parties where high-heeled shoes make an appearance. My floors definitely look like they’ve been through it all. Even sliding my bar stool back created scratches in the floor that really stand out. Well how are you supposed to sit in a chair without moving it first? These floors are beautiful, but the stress I’ve had since the first day of owning them and seeing that first scratch across the floor has made me think, “I’ll never use these again.” Engineered floors can be refinished, but only a couple of times since the top wood layer is very thin. And to be fair, I think that engineered floors, depending on the type of wood used, brands and so on, can have varying strengths and durability. So, just do some homework and read reviews before falling in love with this product.

But no matter what flooring you choose, choose wisely and choose sustainably.

The below are additional suggestions to help give you more information and options on sustainable flooring.

Sustainable Wood Flooring:

Reclaimed wood flooring.

Bamboo: This product tends to be sourced in China, which should be considered in its overall sustainability.

EcoTimber can bring positive change to the management of forest ecosystems worldwide by offering wood products from 3rd party independently audited sustainably managed forests and recycled and rapidly renewable bamboo and cork products.


Cork: Comes now in many designs and colors.

Lumber Liquidators: Naturally cushioned, cork floors are produced by peeling away the bark without destroying the tree. Better yet, cork is also a great sound and thermal insulator.

Sustainable Carpet:

Mohawk Flooring: Recycles Bottles into Beautiful Carpet


FLOR carpet tiles: uses recycled and renewable materials in the carpet and has a recycling program for used tiles, and the product itself is uniquely designed to have less waste by allowing homeowners to replace worn or stained tiles individually, instead of replacing a whole room. Carpet tiles are more costly than regular carpet, for sure. But they are inherently longer lasting. Replace one or a few tiles and not the whole room.

Sustainable Tile:

Glass Tile from Fireclay

Bedrock Industries Floor Tiles

Terra Green Ceramics

Sustainable Laminate:

Two Armstrong Commercial Laminate collections – Armstrong Premium and Premium Lustre – contain 14 percent rapidly renewable resources in the form of eucalyptus and contribute to the MR4.0 LEED rating system.

Photo by Armstrong

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