Flooring is complicated. When deciding what to install, weigh the durability and maintenance of a floor against how it will impact acoustics. Another factor worth considering is the hardness of the surface, an issue of concern especially at elementary schools.
Tips and Product Picks
Avoid flooring with a short lifespan, made of non-recyclable materials, or those with installation methods that require lots of glue or other high-VOC (volatile organic compound) adhesives. Most standard carpet flooring fits that description. With a life expectancy of five to eight years, lots of it ends up in landfill each year. Also, the carpet itself and glue used to install it typically contain VOCs known to cause respiratory illness, headaches, fatigue, and other negative health consequences.
Carpet Tile, made by InterfaceFLOR, a leading sustainable carpet manufacturer, is a healthy alternative to traditional carpet. These 20-by-20-inch tiles, made of a recyclable nylon fiber, require no glue for installation. Instead, carpet tiles are held together underneath with a thin Post-it-size square made of engineered plastic with adhesive qualities but no glue. If one tile gets damaged, it can easily be removed and replaced. InterfaceFLOR gets high marks for its reclamation and recycling program, Re-Entry 2.0. This service takes tiles back from customers at the end of its life cycle (estimated to be 15 years) and recycles the material to make new products.
Avoid high-maintenance flooring such as vinyl. Still found in many schools today and often mistakenly referred to as linoleum, vinyl flooring is made of polyvinyl chloride (PVC), often associated with increases in asthma. Vinyl floors also require frequent waxing and stripping, a labor-intensive and costly process typically done with cleaning products containing contaminants known to impact indoor air quality. Consider alternatives such as rubber flooring and true linoleum, which are made of natural ingredients.
Nora Rubber Floors, manufactured by Nora Systems, is Greenguard-certified. This resilient flooring is made of natural and recycled rubber (not tires), contains no toxic elements, and requires a low-maintenance routine of dusting and mopping. Because rubber floorings contain an inherent sheen, no waxing or stripping is required. The dense, smooth surface is not porous and therefore doesn't absorb grime and mold (making it antimicrobial). Nora rubber flooring costs about 30 percent more to purchase than vinyl; however, savings in maintenance make up the cost differential in three to four years. Nora Systems' take-back program allows customers to mail back installation waste and samples.
Marmoleum, manufactured by Forbo Flooring Systems, is made of natural and biodegradable ingredients including linseed oil, wood flour, pine rosin, and limestone. If maintained correctly, this flooring is expected to last up to three decades. (Over time, the oxidation of linseed oil makes it harder and more durable.) The product contains a water-based finish and is easy to maintain, requiring only a dust mop and damp mop with a gentle cleaner. Forbo runs a composting program on the East Coast, which offers a free service to customers that entails picking up scraps and used floors and composting them.
Greenguard Children & Schools Certification, Carpet & Rug Institute's Green Label Plus Program, NSF140 Standard.
Evantheia Schibsted is a freelance writer whose work appears regularly in Edutopia.