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So many choices, so few that are fast and reusable Tile – made of baked clay – is an original, natural product that sometimes gets overlooked. Its  simplicity might be one reason. Its subfloor needs, thinset, grout and installation that spans days also might add to your hesitation. But an interlocking porcelain tile floor that can be installed over most existing floors -- in a third of the time it would take for a traditional installation -- has removed the obstacles for those who want real tile fast.  Avaire® Floating Porcelain Tile also reduces waste because you don’t have to tear out your existing floors, and because it can be moved and reused. “The whole idea that it is reusable is a big attraction for our customers,” says Gary Cissell, director of flooring for Nebraska Furniture Mart, where Avaire tile is the third-highest seller out of the store’s eight tile lines. “It is a great environmental story.”

Measuring moisture content in strand bamboo can puzzle even experienced hardwood flooring installers Q: In Part I: Bamboo 2011-Style, you told consumers to consider their climate and the humidity of the environment before installing strand bamboo flooring. What you didn’t talk about is that the typical moisture meter a flooring contractor has on hand might not give him an accurate reading of the moisture content in the floor. This is needed when installing the floor, as well as later if any moisture problems arise. When we needed accurate moisture readings a few years ago on a very large commercial installation, the strand bamboo manufacturer told us that we would have to send a piece of the floor to a laboratory for an oven-dry test.  Sending pieces away and waiting for answers or trying to do a bake test in a home oven isn’t practical. Is this a problem across the industry or an isolated incident?

Reader says shopping for chemical-free carpet spurs confusion Dear Natural Interiors: Your blog and the Natural Housewife got me thinking about indoor-air quality, and wool carpeting, because I am getting ready to replace old carpet in my home. But after going to a local flooring store, I am really confused. The salesman showed me some wool carpets, but they all had been treated with mothproofing chemicals, and some contained synthetic materials, too. I said I did not want chemical emissions, but he said I would be okay with any brand in the store – even synthetics made from petrochemicals -- because they all had CRI Green Label Plus. When I named Nature’s Carpet, the salesman pulled out a box of small carpet pieces from under the counter. But I know from going online that there are a lot more styles than the ones he had. He said that he only kept the box for people who specifically asked for it, and that it really wasn’t needed because of all the advances in limiting chemical emissions. So, what’s the deal?

Environmental Working Group’s fifth annual Sunscreen Guide says U.S. consumers still are being duped about the safety of sunscreen  Three out of five sunscreens made in the U.S.A. are not acceptable in Europe, where manufacturers follow more stringent standards about chemical additives, according to the Environmental Working Group’s (EWG) fifth annual Sunscreen Guide. The good news, EWG says, is that CVS, Neutrogena, Banana Boat, Aveeno and Walgreens now offer sunscreens with titanium and zinc, instead of potentially hormone-disrupting chemicals such as oxybenzone or Vitamin A, which might be carcinogenic on sun-exposed skin. These products also are not powders or sprays, so they do not pose hazards associated with inhaling chemicals.

From narrow planks that look like hardwood to large, defined tiles, cork’s design possibilities keep increasing As this year began, two manufacturers anticipated huge consumer attention on their newest products – cork flooring planks designed to look like wood. With this introduction, Wicanders Cork  and USFloors revolutionized the appearance of cork floors, which until then, was limited to larger panels and  squares. New is good and consumers are taking note. But panels and squares are in no danger of extinction. “The hottest trend we have seen in cork has been the large-format cork tiles,” says Sam Snow, owner of EcoFloors in Portland, OR. “They offer a unique look by having micro-beveled edges that really make the large format stand out. It’s a look of cork with a layout more similar to tile. The skinny cork planks have also gained some interest . They provide more of a hardwood look that works great in smaller, galley kitchens and little spaces where a larger format is not as appropriate.”

Is Owens Corning’s entry into formaldehyde-free products timely or tardy? How do you know when health concerns about chemicals emitted from interior building and decorating products are valid? How about when the company whose Pink Panther is synonymous with “industry leader in insulation” finally comes out with a formaldehyde-free product – years after it had the capability to do so? Owens Corning Eco Touch™ Fiberglas™ insulation is still pink, but its PureFiber™ binder – made from plant materials – means it is formaldehyde-free. If you haven’t routinely looked for or researched green products that are indoor-air friendly, you might think this is a cutting-edge option with no competition when you see it on the rack at the big-box store.

Demand for traditional bamboo fizzles while strand draws attention It’s official: traditional, vertical- and horizontal-grain bamboo flooring is dated. Despite its popularity five years ago, it appears this fad was destined to fade. Strand bamboo, on the other hand, is here for the long-haul, flooring experts say. “There is almost no interest in traditional bamboo in our store,” says John Hill, ecological coordinator at Interstate Flooring in Portland, OR. “It seems to be, been there, done that. When people are looking at bamboo, they want a more evolved look. Strand, stained and hand-scraped bamboo give them that.” This sentiment is not limited to the west coast, which is always on the cutting edge of green-product style. “Traditional bamboo has become a tired look,” says Joe Byrnes of the Allied Flooring Group in Cincinnati, OH. “Consumers are disenchanted with it. It was oversold, treated sort of like it was the second coming of Christ.”

An everyday choice on the West Coast, linoleum is misunderstood in some regions In some areas of the country, people think linoleum is the same thing as vinyl. But on the west coast and east – where green products have been in greater demand for years – consumers not only know that linoleum is a natural, sustainable product, but they also depend on it for high style. And there is one manufacturer – Forbo -- that is dominating the market by meeting the all the needs of these green-savvy consumers, says John Hill, ecological coordinator at Interstate Flooring in Portland, OR. “Forbo’s colors have kept up with design trends, and they are the only ones offering a click product that homeowners can even install themselves,” Hill says. “Until last year, Marmorette (from Forbo competitor Armstrong) had a color pallet that was way too ‘pastelly’ for the west coast, and even though that has improved, they don’t offer a click.”

FSC-certified manufacturing facility does not mean certified flooring or healthy indoor-air quality If DuChateau Floors were the only company offering a Forest Stewardship Council (FSC)-certified hardwood floor with an oil finish that emits no chemicals, we would not be living in the United States of America. In the land where competition abounds, customers who want the “greenest” product – one that is best for human health and also benefits the planet -- are a priority for a number of manufacturers. But so are those who do not have the budget for an FSC-certified product with a finish proven to have low-chemical emissions. The end result is a selection of products that range from the “greenest,” to the not so “green,” and it is often up to you to know how to tell the difference.

FSC-Certified Floors:  Add a zero-VOC finish for hardwood flooring that’s better for health, and the planet The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) label is arguably the best guarantee that a hardwood floor was sustainably harvested. But that isn’t enough for homeowners who want flooring that does not emit chemicals. Manufacturers of polyurethane and aluminum oxide floor finishes have appeased some of these customers by developing finishes with lower-VOC (Volatile Organic Compound) content. But a growing number of people want a floor that’s prefinished without potentially harmful chemicals. “There is a demand for really 'green'  finishes that don’t emit chemicals in your home or business,” says Jim Johnson, president of Wanke Cascade – a wholesale flooring distributor headquartered in Portland, Oregon. “That demand will continue to grow as more people learn that flooring prefinished with natural oil is readily available.”