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Environmental comparison of different flooring materials

Environmental comparison of different flooring materials

how sustainable is…

This study compares the following flooring materials:

  • hardwood
  • nylon carpet
  • ceramic tile
  • vinyl
  • cork and
  • linoleum flooring.

The study considers the environmental impact of these flooring materials across their entire life cycle, from manufacturing to use and disposal. It finds that the most significant environmental impact is associated with the manufacturing of the flooring materials. However, the way the floor is cleaned (e.g. sweeping vs vacuum cleaning), how well it is maintained (reducing replacement frequency) and how the material is disposed off also have an impact on the environment.

The study considers the following environmental issues:

An overall ranking on the environmental impact of the different flooring materials is difficult to provide, as different flooring materials perform differently in terms of the environmental issues considered (refer bullet points above).

The following graph illustrates this. Note: This graph shows the performance of various flooring types relative to each other across different environmental issues. The heights of the bars do not indicate the absolute value and do not indicate relative importance or impact of each measure.

flooring LCA comparisonSource: A Comparative Life Cycle Assessment of Canadian Hardwood Flooring with Alternative Flooring Types, FPInnovations.

Based on this graph (and not considering that some environmental issues are more significant than others), Vinyl Composite Tiles (VCTs) have the lowest impact on average. They are only outperformed in terms of Global Warming and Ozone depletion (by hardwood and cork).

Vinyl carpet on the other hand has the highest impact on the environment across all environmental issues (if renewable energy use is not considered an issue), noting that the study only considers nylon broadloom carpet (i.e. it does not include a comparison of wool carpet) and that it does not consider the use of recycled materials for carpet manufacturing. The study does take the use of carpet underlayment into account (assuming “flat rubber”).

Link to full report

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what can I do to reduce my environmental footprint?

While this study was based on North American data, it is likely to be applicable in many other countries. Based on this study, it is clear that if you want to minimise the impact on the environment you don’t want to choose nylon carpet, at least not if it does not include recycled materials. While not subject of the above study, if you prefer a soft flooring material, wool carpet is likely to have a lower impact on the environment than vinyl carpet. Otherwise, look for carpet with a high recycled material content.

If you are after a hard, easy to clean floor, then it would appear that it is not straight forward to make a recommendation. While Vinyl Composite Tiles have the lowest environmental impact on average, they are not the best choice in terms of Global Warming and Ozone depletion, which are significant environmental issues. If your subfloor material is suitable (e.g. if it is particle board), then perhaps you want to consider to use just that. I.e. don’t put any other flooring material on top, just varnish or paint it. This would also be the lowest cost option.

Once you have purchased your preferred flooring material, you can also reduce the impact on the environment by looking after it so that it does not require early replacement. And if you have chosen a hard and smooth flooring material, than sweeping it rather than vacuum cleaning it will also reduce the impact on the environment.

Report Rating: 2 out of 3

Report Published: April 2011

Report Type: Comparative Life Cycle Analysis

Country: Canada

Author(s):  Lal Mahalle, Patrick Lavoie, Philippe Meek, Jean McDonald, Francis Fournier, Pierre Blanchet, Dany Normand, Jennifer O’Connor

Publisher: Hardwood Research Initiative

Funder: Natural Resources Canada’s Transformative Technologies Program and Québec’s Ministère des Ressources naturelles et de la Faune

Keywords: life cycle analysis, LCA, cradle to grave analysis, environmental footprint, ceramic tiles, flooring, hardwood, vinyl composite tiles (VCT), carpet, cork, linoleum

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