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How to Choose Green Flooring

Sustainable Wood Flooring
Bamboo floors come in several shades, like this hardwood look-alike color.
Bamboo floors come in several shades, like this hardwood look-alike color.
Jim Ballard/Photographer's Choice/Getty Images

Does a hardwood floor bring to mind images of a clear-cut forest? There's an easy way to soothe your environmental conscience. Wood certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) meets strict criteria related to forest management and ecological concerns. FSC-approved wood is stamped and even has a special number so you can trace it back to the forest it came from. This kind of wood is becoming more available as the number of approved forests increases; about 15.5 million acres of forest were certified in the United States in 2005, up from 1.4 million in 1995 [source: Hughes]. Available woods include most of the kinds that are commonly used for wooden flooring, including oak, cherry and maple, and FSC-approved wood is comparable in cost to other wood.

Most people love the beauty of hardwood­ floors, which are durable and easy to maintain. However, hardwoods can be noisy if not properly insulated, and they're easily scratched. Hardwood floors do present cost savings because you can install them yourself. To read more about how to install hardwood floors, take a look at How Hardwood Floors Work.

Bamboo is a giant grass that's very strong. It's one of the fastest-growing plants in the world, and it can be harvested every few years, as opposed to the longer life cycles of hardwoods. In addition, the harvest doesn't affect the roots of the bamboo plant. To create flooring, the hollow rods are sliced into flat strips and treated with preservatives so that they hold together. Installation of bamboo flooring is similar to that of hardwood flooring. Bamboo floors can carry heavy loads and are more durable and resilient than hardwood floors. However, they might be a few dollars more expensive per square foot.

It's important to check what kinds of preservatives are used to treat bamboo, as they might contain chemicals that result in VOCs. Others have expressed concern that bamboo isn't harvested in an environmentally responsible manner in some countries. For example, there's evidence that natural forests have been clear-cut to make way for more bamboo, and bamboo lacks a certification process similar to that of the Forest Stewardship Council. If you're seriously considering bamboo, read How Bamboo Flooring Works.

For more information on how to select a natural floor, see the links on the next page.