New Life for Old Floors: Alternative Materials Add Character to Home Designs

By Izakson, Orna | E Magazine, March-April 2004 | Go to article overview

New Life for Old Floors: Alternative Materials Add Character to Home Designs


Izakson, Orna, E Magazine


When updating a home, one of the best things you can do for your health and your property value is to get rid of that dusty, allergen-trapping old carpet. But then what? There's a dizzying array of flooring options. But thinking ecologically can help you narrow the field to something that's right for your home, your values, and what's left of your money.

Matthew Sellens of Perpetua Wood Floors in Portland, Oregon suggests a tiered system for considering sustainable flooring. Start with the green holy trinity of reduce-reuse-recycle, and then consider factors such as health risks to workers and distance traveled from manufacturer to market.

Also consider the kind of wear the floor will have to take. A beautiful, sustainably harvested cherry floor won't last if you live with animals that dig their claws into it, or kids that tread heavily with their toys.

Some options:

Wood: When it comes to wood, reducing means going with what you already have. If your home was built before the middle of the last century, chances are you have a wood floor with a tight, straight grain. Refinishing that floor means no new trees fall, no shipping costs and nothing is added to the recycling or the landfill.

If restoration isn't an option, reuse: Look for old flooring salvaged flora gymnasia or other buildings. The quality is the same as you'd find in old houses, and may even cost less than new wood.

If old flooring isn't available, look into the growing options for recycling old barn beams, sunken logs or other wood sources. Mountain Lumber of Ruckersville, Virginia got its start remilling functionally extinct American chestnut from old barns in southern Appalachia, but also has sold oak floors from old French railroad cars and heart pine from razed New England factories. The company is currently selling a specialty line of English brown oak stained in deep rich reds and browns after years of functioning as house-sized casks for brewing hard apple ciders and Guinness beer. These exotic, recycled woods can be expensive, selling for as much as $30 per square foot.

Reclaimed wood may be difficult or impossible to match, so buy enough for a whole project in advance. It's also more likely to have what insiders call "character," which can translate into a final floor that shows nail holes and dark lines where old finish has collected--giving a rustic or casual look.

Virgin Floors

New wood is the lowest option on the green-flooring hierarchy. The greenest choice may be wood from forests man aged under guidelines of the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), even though environmentalists don't agree on all the criteria. …

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New Life for Old Floors: Alternative Materials Add Character to Home Designs
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