Wood flooring can add visual appeal and warmth to the rooms in your home — but choosing one style or material can be challenging given the variety available. Narrow down your options by focusing on those with environmental benefits, such as laminate or hardwood flooring produced with materials from sustainably managed forests. Using recycled or reclaimed wood flooring is another good way to reduce the total environmental impact of your home renovation.

Below are some factors to keep in mind as you explore your flooring options. You may be surprised at how much style and depth these eco-friendly choices offer, and often at a very competitive price!

Hardwood

If you prefer the classic elegance of hardwood floors, salvaged Canadian wood is the greenest choice. It saves energy and water, as well as reducing pollution, when compared to growing, harvesting and processing new wood. Using salvaged materials can also help you achieve a “distressed” look and hide wear and tear on your floors.

If you’re shopping for new flooring, look for Canadian boards made from trees with long growth cycles, such as maple or red and white oak. Avoid wood from faraway, rare or endangered sources — you may want to look for an appealing imitation made from domestic, sustainably harvested wood instead.

Next, consider what attributes are most important to you: hardwood is stronger and more durable, but softwoods such as pine can add rustic character over time.

To ensure you’re not supporting harmful forestry practices like clear-cutting or over-harvesting, buy flooring that’s certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC-certified) or otherwise sustainably harvested.

Engineered Hardwood

Engineered hardwood is another green option that’s widely available in a variety of colours and styles. It’s made from layers of real wood bonded together with adhesive and pressure, and uses half as much timber as traditional hardwood flooring, although it has a similar appearance.

It can be more costly than solid wood, but it is better suited to a variable climate, because the engineered boards do not expand or contract as much as typical hardwood floors in response to changes in humidity.

Because the boards can often be installed directly over concrete, it is a good choice in condos and potentially even basements (depending on the humidity). It is typically not recommended for kitchens, bathrooms and other areas where spills may damage the wood or cause mould to grow. Before you buy, talk to the supplier about installation requirements, because this can vary considerably. 

If you are choosing hardwood floors — either solid or engineered — make sure they are produced and installed with low-VOC adhesives, stains and sealants to limit the amount of toxins in your home.

Laminate

Laminate floors are typically made of wood fibre, pulp and other scrap materials. Engineering and manufacturing processes have significantly expanded the options available in terms of the look and feel of laminate flooring, as well as the percentage and type of recycled content in the mix.

 

To choose a low-impact laminate floor, buy boards made with a high percentage of recycled wood fibre or chips, or other recycled materials. Check to ensure that the wood by-products used in manufacturing the final product are FSC-certified or from sustainably managed forests. Some suppliers specialize in recycled or “green laminate” flooring, so shop around to get a sense of what’s available in your area.

High-pressure laminate is generally more durable and lasts longer than direct-pressure laminate. Look for laminate made without formaldehyde, which is a known toxin. As with hardwood, it is important to choose products made with low-VOC finishes, which won’t release harmful fumes.

Other Considerations

Other flooring materials, such as bamboo or cork, can be eco-friendly alternatives to wood, depending on how they are produced and how sustainability is managed at the source. While these options are worth considering, they tend to have a higher carbon footprint from transportation than wood from sustainable Canadian sources.

Finally, if you’re not building from scratch, how you dispose of your existing flooring can have an environmental impact, so be sure to consider options to green your demolition.