Ask this “Green” Floor Guy

Ask this “Green” Floor Guy

What makes carpet pad “green?”

Q. It seems like every carpet pad on the market has some kind of “green” certification label on it. I am mostly concerned about indoor-air quality, and am worried that even if I buy a carpet with CRI Green Label Plus, I won’t benefit from the low chemical emissions, because there could be higher emissions coming from the carpet pad. How do you sort through all the “green” carpet pad choices and make sure you get what you are looking for?

A. Remember that “green” can mean good for the planet, good for human health, or both. The good news with almost all carpet cushion –excluding rubber and prime urethane — is that it contains essentially 100-percent recycled content from either pre- or post-consumer waste. This means: Good for the planet.

Bonded cushion constitutes about 85 percent  of cushion sold. The question marks concerning bonded cushion involve chemical emissions from the adhesives, binders and fire retardants that are required in the manufacturing process, or are contained in the “recycled” foam scrap that is used. The Carpet Cushion Council has adopted the CRI “Green Label” program for carpet pad, which means that an independent laboratory tests the cushion for emission levels. The limits, however, that this test sets for rebond cushion, are not as stringent as the limits required by the CRI Green Label Plus certification that is used for carpet, see Look Under the Carpet .

Fiber cushion has probably the greenest story, with most material coming out of carpet manufacturing waste, or in some cases, 100-percent recycled fiber from discarded carpet. The fiber cushions oftentimes have no chemicals added and consist mainly of fiber that has been needle-punched into a consistent undercushion. Some manufacturers use a latex binder and heat-setting techniques to control feel, consistency of gauge, tensile strength and other characteristics. The tradeoff with many fiber products is in the walk or feel of the cushion. It is usually firmer than what consumers want in a home environment.

For low chemical emissions, wool cushion is probably the best, all-natural option for carpet cushion. It is made from carded wool fiber that comes out of the wool carpet industry. It has all the green attributes of fiber cushion, contains no chemicals or synthetics and gives a very nice, soft walk under most carpets. Price and availability, however, can be a negative.

While the Carpet Cushion Council and the Carpet and Rug Institute have done a lot to support reliable certification standards, the difference in CRI Green Label and CRI Green Label Plus leaves confusion that the consumer is left to sort through. This will probably continue to be the case as long as carpet cushion emission standards continue to be based on the lowest common denominator.

— Jim Johnson is President of Wanke Cascade – a wholesale flooring distribution company, headquartered in Portland, OR. — and one of the most knowledgeable experts in the country in “green” flooring.

Wanke Cascade stocks and supplies retailers in Washington, Oregon, Montana, Idaho and Alaska with all of the carpet pads discussed here, including wool.  In Portland, shop at Classique Floors, Interstate Flooring and EcoFloors. In Canby, visit McLaren’s Carpet One Foor & Home.

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