Environmental tips for choosing floors and walls

June 30, 2015

Don't forget that the floors and walls in your home need attention, and you can make some great environmental choices when it comes time to picking out new materials for your home. 

Environmental tips for choosing floors and walls

1. Pros and cons of carpets

  • Conventional carpets create a feeling of warmth and luxury, especially in cold climates. They provide thermal and acoustic insulation and are hard-wearing and attractive.
  • But environmental problems arise at almost every stage of their production and use. Their manufacture involves dozens of polluting chemicals.
  • Once in place, carpets off-gas chemicals, including harmful VOCs, for long periods – even some natural-fibre carpets are treated with toxic stain repellents and fire retardants that can continue to evaporate for years.
  • Carpets also harbour dust mites that cause allergies and trigger asthma attacks, and the dust tends to absorb other toxins from the atmosphere.

2. Earth-wise flooring

There is a wide range of natural, renewable flooring materials available. Make sure the materials have not been treated with chemicals and avoid synthetic adhesives.

  • Bamboo: Floorboards made from this prolific plant are moisture-resistant and durable, don't warp and are free of knots and other flaws found in wood. Check no formaldehyde glues or synthetic sealants have been applied.
  • Coir: Derived from the outer husk of the coconut, coir is woven into a coarse material that is particularly hard wearing. It's ideal for areas of heavy traffic such as halls and living areas.
  • Cork: The bark of the cork tree, cork is harvested just once every nine years, then regenerates. Cultivation requires no irrigation, fertilizers or pesticides. Cork is soft and warm, an excellent insulator and does not collect dust.
  • Jute: Made from fibres of the stalks of the Cochorus or jute plant, jute provides a soft, absorbent material that is ideal for bedrooms but less appropriate for kitchens, bathrooms or living areas.
  • Lino: Made from flax fibre and oil, ground cork, wood, flour and natural resins, then fixed to a natural backing such as jute, lino emits no toxic gases and is antistatic, easy to clean and biodegradable.
  • Sea grass: Woven from the fibres of various species of sea grasses, this material is tough, hard-wearing and naturally antistatic and stain-resistant. Not suited to damp rooms.
  • Sisal: Made from the fibres of the agave plant, sisal is durable, naturally antibacterial and antistatic.

3. To remove wallpaper

  • To remove old wallpaper, use a mixture of vinegar and water (about 300 mL (1 1/4 cup) vinegar to a standard bucket of water.
  • It will loosen the old glue, making it easier to peel off the paper with a scraper.
  • Alternatively, use a steam stripper.

4. Alternative wall coverings

  • Keep things simple. Do without wall linings and coverings unless they improve efficiency – by, for example, acting as an insulator. Choose easy-to-apply finishes and paints.
  • Ask yourself whether you need wallpaper. It might be pretty and help disguise an uneven wall, but some wallpapers contain harmful inks and dyes, fungicides and VOCs.
  • If you have your heart set on wallpaper, investigate earth-wise options such as recycled papers, and use water-based wallpaper paste instead of chemical-based glues. To prevent fungal growth, add borax to the paste.
  • Consider cork tiles for areas where you require good sound and heat insulation. Cork is renewable and recyclable. Seal it with beeswax or natural oil.
  • For wet areas such as bathrooms and kitchens, ceramic tiles are a good choice as they are easy to clean and discourage mould and bacteria. Reinforced glass is an alternative for kitchens.
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