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What Are Your Most Ecological Hard Flooring Options?

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If you're considering transitioning from carpet to solid-surface floors, you may be wondering whether there's any way to make both your wallet and the environment happy. Although beautiful and durable, hardwood flooring can be pricey, and certain types of exotic hardwoods may not always be harvested in a sustainable fashion. On the other hand, if you go for the most inexpensive wood you can find, you may discover that your new floor gives off an unpleasant odor due to chemicals used in the fabrication process. Fortunately, there are now some alternatives that provide the same appearance and durability of hardwood without any harsh chemical treatments or ecologically unsustainable harvesting methods. Read on to learn more about your two most eco-friendly alternatives to traditional hardwood floors--cork and bamboo. 

Cork flooring

Created from the compressed, rubbery bark of the cork tree, cork flooring panels provide a number of advantages over other types of hard-surfaced flooring. Because the bark of a cork tree continues to regenerate during the tree's lifetime, cork flooring has little to no environmental impact--the tree is unharmed and can continue to provide oxygen and additional flooring bark for years to come.

Cork flooring is also softer and more sound-deadening than most other types of hardwood, making it a good choice for an upstairs room that gets quite a bit of traffic. Because of cork's rubbery texture, it is less susceptible to furniture dents and other marks that may appear in carpet and hardwoods over years of use. And finally, cork's natural anti-microbial properties can make it a great choice for homes where one or more family members suffers from allergies or a compromised immune system. 

However, if you're looking to install hard flooring in a bathroom, kitchen, or other room where there's a chance of prolonged water exposure, bamboo may provide a better option. Because of cork's porous nature, it absorbs water easily, and long-term exposure can cause cork flooring to warp or mold. 

Bamboo flooring

Another popular option for the ecologically-minded consumer is bamboo flooring. Although it is similar in appearance and structure to hardwood, bamboo is a quickly-growing plant that can be harvested regularly, helping create durable, attractive flooring boards at a lower cost than most other types of hardwood.

During the processing of bamboo for flooring, the bamboo is cut or shredded into fine fibers, which are then compressed into planks that (like composite lumber) can be much harder and more durable than solid hardwood. Depending upon the final appearance you'd like to achieve, you may opt for bamboo planks that are vertically-grained or horizontally-grained. 

Bamboo is a good option for the DIY floor installer, as many bamboo planks are "click-in," requiring no nails or glue to hold them together.