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New cork products from Wicanders look like ceramic, stone and wood Why make cork flooring that looks like ceramic tile or wood? Obviously to expand the uses for cork, which unlike tile, is warm and comfortable to walk on. The new Artcomfort and Woodcomfort lines from Wicanders manage to do this without using plastics or synthetics to create the pattern. First publicized in April, see Cork 2012-Style, product displays are now available and have just arriving at retail locations.

When are pigments dangerous? Q. I just read your article titled “Part Three: The Problem with Paint” published on January 19th, 2011. I have two questions: You had interviewed the owner of Earth Paint, Inc. and he said that "pigments used to color paint should be chosen carefully as the dust from raw earth pigments is often more toxic than synthetic pigments." Is there any way to find out what kind of pigments they use in AFM Safecoat paints? Please advise. I am pregnant and we are planning to paint our house next week and any information you can provide will help us make our decision about which paint to buy. Also, AFM Safecoat has two kinds of paint: Their regular Safecoat and their new AFM Naturals. Which is better? A.  AFM and its dealers use special zero-VOC liquid machine colorants, eliminating the risk of any dust exposure. Unless you are actually mixing dry powder pigments yourself, pigment dust ingestion or inhalation could only occur if you are sanding previously painted surfaces in preparation for a new paint job. Wet sanding and a painter's mask are recommended to avoid this still unlikely exposure.

Research indicates LED day-time health benefit, but possible nighttime risk It’s not yet cost-effective for residential use. But Light Emitting Diode (LED) technology is improving every day and ultimately slated to replace most other artificial light forms. Will it yield, I ask hopefully, a more natural and healthful light than the compact fluorescent light bulbs I am using? “You seek the Holy Grail,” answers Phil Richards, a senior instructor with The Juno Lighting Group. “And what you are asking about is an amazingly complex topic, currently being addressed by the American Medical Association (AMA) and medical societies in the European Union as well.” The AMA issued an alert in June because of research that shows certain types of nighttime lighting suppress our natural circadian rhythm, and shift-workers have been shown to have an increased incidence of breast cancer and other medical conditions.  Additional research published in April suggests a possible reason: The blue light -- in LED and all non-incandescent light forms in use today -- affects non-visual, blue-sensitive photoreceptors in the retina, which in turn suppresses melatonin production.

Flooring retailers and distributors see roadblock in FSC certification requirement Flooring retailers and distributors -- who have learned they must have Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification in order to sell FSC-certified products that count as certified wood under the U.S. Green Building Council’s rules -- are questioning whether FSC rules have gone too far. FSC certification is the hallmark of sustainably harvested wood. While it is the only certification accepted for certified wood by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) in awarding credit under its Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) rating system, the USGBC acknowledges that it has not strictly enforced certification requirements on retailers. Flooring manufacturers who produce certified products have FSC certification and must package and clearly label FSC-certified products. Some retailers who then sell those products argue that they are not repackaging or altering the materials, and should not have to pay to get certified. Depending on sales volume, a wholesale flooring distributor or retailer can expect to pay $2,000 and up annually for achieving and maintaining certification. “Does it pencil out to become certified?,” asks Mark Thompson, sales manager for Major Brands Floor Supply /Abbey Carpet & Floor of Seattle. “Is it something that will drive business toward me? If the certification is so watered-down that every other store down the street is certified, then what goal was achieved? Some Eco-capitalist got more chumps to buy into his ‘label.’”

DuChateau strives for vinyl flooring that is better for people and planet More mainstream flooring manufacturers are paying attention to the growing controversy over phthalates – a plasticizer – in vinyl flooring, even though studies suggesting a link between phthalates and lowered IQ, endocrine problems and respiratory ailments have been dismissed as independent and fringe. DuChateau Floors is now making vinyl without phthalates, though the product’s backing, made using recycled content, still may contain trace amounts because old product is recycled by the company. This switch by DuChateau follows the introduction by competitor Tarkett of its “phthalate-free except for recycled content” vinyl flooring earlier this year. “Only a very small portion of phthalate-containing plasticizer can be detected from the recycled bottom layer,” says Don Bufalini, western regional sales manager for DuChateau Floors.  “The tile should not really be affected by the phthalates if they are in the bottom layer.”

Why didn’t you mention reclaimed trees in your reclaimed wood article? Q. Your article, The Truth about Reclaimed Wood, did a good job demonstrating that a number of mainstream companies make reclaimed flooring from deconstructed barns and other buildings. But you didn’t mention flooring made from trees that are removed to make way for development. Companies that make lumber from trees that have to be cut down also help produce wood products without cutting down trees that can keep growing and helping the planet. Please let your visitors and people who want to build LEED-certified homes know that this option exists. A. Making flooring, mantels and other items from trees that have to be removed for a variety of reasons is a very cool idea. This type of salvaging, however, does not qualify for reclaimed wood credit under the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) rating system. Only wood salvaged from old structures counts toward LEED’s Resource Reuse Credit.

Demand is growing, and it’s readily available at a flooring store near you It’s a fact: Reclaimed hardwood is now mainstream. You don’t have to search it out through a specialty retailer. Just ask Ben Cochran, whose northwest Virginia company has been making floors from deconstructed buildings since 1978. “Everything we use in our reclaimed products is structurally salvaged from barns, factories and other buildings that are being removed to make way for new developments,” says Cochran, outside sales manager for the company his father started. “It’s been that way for more than 25 years.” Cochran Lumber’s flooring is one of four reclaimed flooring brands that are readily available through many hardwood flooring companies.

Flooring industry takes steps that recognize that consumers want products that are Better for People “I don’t really think most flooring customers really care about green,” a rep for a large hardwood manufacturer tells me. “The planet just isn’t a priority to them, particularly if an FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) -certified  label  on the product is going to cost more.” I have to ask: “Do you think they care about the other part of green – the indoor-air friendly, low-VOC (Volatile Organic Compound), better for human health part?” “Absolutely,” he says without hesitation. “That is coming up all the time now.”