How to Choose Green Flooring

Earth and Cork Flooring Options

A finished earthen floor
A finished earthen floor
Photo courtesy House Alive!

"Floating on air" is a phrase usually meant to describe euphoric happiness. Cork flooring might be the closest way to literally achieve the state. Cork flooring feels extremely soft because it's made up of tiny pockets of sealed air. The air pockets hold up over time, so that if you get a dent in the floor, it will eventually spring back up. Cork also absorbs noise and provides good thermal insulation. It's fairly water resistant, making it a good choice for kitchens and bathrooms. With proper care, cork can last four to five times as long as vinyl flooring [source: Build it Green]. Comparable in cost to hardwoods, cork is one of the easier floorings to self-install, particularly with cork tiles that click into place. The spongy stuff also may have your floating on air because of its environmental friendliness. It's harvested from the bark of the cork oak tree without harming the tree, and the bark regenerates itself.

Most little kids are told at one point or another not to track dirt from outside on the clean floor. But what if the floor were already made of dirt? A few thousand earthen floors have been installed in the United States, primarily in the West where earthen building methods such as adobe, earthbag and rammed earth are already popular [source: Gelles].

Earthen flooring is made of a mix of clay, sand and lime that's pressed into the floor. It takes a few weeks to dry, and the floor is sealed with linseed oil and beeswax. The seal makes it water-repellent, so that mopping doesn't result in a big pile of mud, but earthen floors are still not recommended for rooms that see a lot of moisture, like bathrooms or kitchens.

These floors can cut heating costs because of the good thermal mass provided by the earthen material. Thermal mass measures a material's ability to hold in heat and radiate it out when the house begins to cool. The method is inexpensive, with earthen floors costing $5 a square foot in comparison to $15 or more per square foot for hardwoods [source: Gelles]. Installation is labor-intensive, and with few contractors experienced in earthen flooring, it will likely be a do-it-yourself project. Whether you like the look of earthen floors will be a matter of personal preference. Some really like how the floor weathers, and one builder compared it to an "old cracked leather couch" [source: Gelles]. However, appreciating the look of old leather means accepting that an earthen floor does crack, dent and scratch easily.

For more information on floors that come from trees and plants, go on to the next page.