With new formulations and technologies being patented throughout the building industry – many of them inspired by a growing interest in materials that are cost-effective, durable and environmentally sustainable – innovation has hit the flooring industry in a way not seen for years. And some of these new designs are not only beautiful and environmentally sustainable; in many cases they’re surprisingly affordable and designed to last for many years.
1 “Healthy” hardwood
A Quebec manufacturer, Lauzon, has patented a hardwood flooring material that is activated by light (both natural and artificial) that actually absorbs and breaks down airborne toxins, purifying the air in your house continuously. The wood is permeated with a special titanium dioxide formulation that processes not only obvious indoor pollutants, such as cigarette smoke, cooking odours and pet smells, but more insidious chemicals like formaldehyde and VOCs, as well as bacteria, viruses and moulds. The company claims that studies have shown air quality in a home with this flooring has been improved by as much as 85%. Oh, and it’s roughly equivalent in cost to regular hardwood, comes in a wide variety of colours and species, and carries a 35-year warranty.
Made primarily from reconstituted leather waste, leather flooring is durable, contains no VOCs, and is sold in click-style planks or tiles, making it an easy do-it-yourself project similar to installing a floating wood floor. (In fact, one popular brand, Torly’s, also makes click wood floors.) It can be made to resemble other materials, such as stone, hardwood (or in the case of one European manufacturer, even suede or birch bark), or natural or embossed leather for a more eye-catching look. While durable, it is softer than hardwood, but nicks and scratches just add to the character.
Similar to, but more durable flooring than vinyl resilient flooring, fibreglass floors are hypoallergenic, phthalate-free and highly resistant to mould. Also like vinyl, the style options are virtually limitless. You can get tiles or sheets that resemble stone, hardwood, parquet, or linoleum, as well as a rainbow of more exotic looks. But the similarity to vinyl ends when it comes to durability. While soft and cushiony underfoot, fibreglass is tough enough to resist scratches, scuffs, chips and dents, and is warranted on average for 10 to 15 years. And, in some cases, even for life. This makes it ideal for high-traffic areas or places where moisture might be an issue, such as kitchens, bathrooms or basements.
4 Engineered/reclaimed hardwood
Engineered wood products may not be the real thing, but that’s about the only disadvantage they have compared with solid hardwood. A number of types are available, including wood veneer, which sandwiches a thin layer of wood over an inner core of wood chips, or another kind that consists of several thin layers glued together (think of plywood and you get the idea), giving it greater resistance to changes in moisture and temperature. Choosing the right floor material is important and this makes it ideal for high-moisture climates or rooms. Engineered wood is sustainable in the sense that it reduces pressure on hardwood forests, especially if reclaimed wood is used in its construction (either in the inner layers or chips, or all through including the top layer). Another advantage: engineered wood is usually less expensive than solid hardwood.
5 Engineered bamboo
Made by weaving or laminating bamboo fibres together, this material is harder, denser and more stable than solid bamboo, and less costly. And unless you look closely, it’s very hard to tell the difference between solid and engineered bamboo. Another plus: not all bamboo flooring is alike, and some of it comes from non-sustainable sources or groves that have displaced rainforests, making engineered an eco-friendly flooring alternative.
6 Engineered stone
Engineered stone is sort of a cross between terrazzo flooring and composite countertops, except it’s designed especially for floors. The product combines grit made from quartz, granite, porcelain or other materials in combination with a special resin, then moulded into slabs and polished to a high-gloss finish. Available in a variety of shapes and sizes, including quite large slabs, the tiles are thinner and lighter than most natural stone tiles, but highly durable and chemically inert. One type is made with recycled bottle glass, for an environmentally-friendly aspect that is also beautiful.