Eco Priority Guide: Floor Surfaces

Eco-Priorities

For the following products, key associated impacts are:

Priority Order

Broadloom natural

Broadloom synthetic

Carpet Tile

Resilient Floor

Wood Products

Ceramic Tile

Concrete sealants

1

Resources

Resources, Health

Resources, Health

Health, Toxicity

Habitat

GHG

Health

2

Habitat, Health

GHG, Toxicity

GHG, Toxicity

Resources, GHG

Health

Resources

Toxicity

3

GHG, Toxicity

Habitat

Habitat

Habitat

Resources, toxicity

Health

Resources

4

 

 

 

 

GHG

 

 

Red Lights

 

 

 

 

Potential, refer species

 

 

*'Red Light' issues are issues that are high-concern and are an eco-design basis for not using the product.

Overview

Options for floor coverings are diverse, varying hugely in comfort, durability, maintenance requirements, and cost. Furthermore there is significant difference in products for the residential and commercial markets. In this application more than in many others the decision must be made on a project basis, and the particular needs of the client.

The range of health and environmental impacts varies as widely as the floors, however a couple of points stand out:

  • With regard to health impacts perhaps the largest single factor to consider closely is the maintenance programme. Research indicates this will dominate the emission of VOC's and allergens from the floor almost regardless of substrate (Jönsson 1999).
  • Within each sub category (e.g. broadloom carpet, resilient floors) studies have shown that the range in environmental performance can be as great as between sub-categories. Care is required in selecting particular products as well as the product type. This can be due to differences in fuel types at the production location, use of recycled content, or the particular maintenance requirements of one brand as opposed to another.
  • Almost all floor coverings have significant VOC emissions at the time of installation and commissioning. Special precautions and the stage will minimise potential adverse health impacts.

Flooring is an area that generates great debate because of its much-reported importance with regard to indoor air quality. There are strong arguments in both directions for this (refer Technical Guide) which generally relate to the particulars of the project, for example the ventilation system used and the building population. In primary schools for example, building users are more likely to come into close contact with the floorcovering material itself.

Quick Guide

Broadloom Natural

For:

· Can provide a high level of acoustic and thermal comfort

· Some products largely manufactured from natural fibres, some of which are grown in the region

 

Against:

· Relatively high waste (up to 20% not uncommon) in installation

· Composite construction system of different fibre type's makes recycling difficult

· If not properly maintained can be a significant harbour for allergens

· High water and energy requirements of cleaning regimes

· Relatively short life expectancy

· Chemicals used in treatment carpet to protect against moisture and insect attack have an environmental impact. Potential long-term health effects poorly understood

Broadloom synthetic

For:

· Can provide a high level of acoustic and thermal comfort

· Some products starting to incorporate recycled content

Against:

· Relatively high waste (up to 20% not uncommon) in installation

· Composite construction system of different fibre type's makes recycling difficult

· If not properly maintained can be a significant harbour for allergens

· High water and energy requirements of cleaning regimes

· Relatively short life expectancy

· Chemicals used in treatment carpet to assist soil and stain removal have an environmental impact. Potential long-term health effects poorly understood

Carpet Tile

For:

· Much less waste in installation than broadloom carpet

· Worn tiles may be lifted and replaced, allowing significant savings in material and potentially extended life

· Take-back a policy products available

· Recycled content products available

· Some products can be cleaned, re-coloured and reused

Against:

· Available in synthetic fibres only

· Composite construction system can make recycling difficult

· If not properly maintained can be a significant harbour for allergens

· High energy requirements of cleaning regimes

· Relatively short life expectancy

· Chemicals used in treatment carpet to assist soil and stain removal have an environmental impact. Potential long-term health effects poorly understood

Resilient Floor

For:

· Long life (est. 20 years +)

· Can be highly durable

· Can form an impervious layer between the building users and the underlying substrate

· Some products use natural materials as the main constituents with LCA eco- benefits over some synthetic products

· May include composite products such as cork

Against:

· Many resilient floors are made from petroleum-based products which have significant environmental impacts in production

· Resilient floors may not currently be recycled in Australia

· Recycling of many products even in theory extremely difficult

· Most products are imported - one Australian Manufacturer

· Significant if low-level emissions associated with the use phase

· Significant energy and VOC emissions associated with the maintenance phase

Wood Products

For:

· Renewable product potentially from sustainable sources

· Low embodied energy relative to other floor covering options

· Potentially highly recyclable

Against:

· Timber may be sourced from a invulnerable forest or ecosystem

· Maintenance can have significant VOC, energy and water impacts

· Manufactured and composite products can have significant emissions and petroleum product component, limiting or eliminating recyclability

Ceramic Tile

For:

· Extremely durable

· May be locally sourced

· Base product does not have VOC emissions

Against:

· Relatively high embodied energy component

· Maintenance phase can have significant impacts

Concrete, Sealed

For:

· Minimal use of materials

· Potential for greatly reduced VOC's over life compared to some options

Against:

· VOC emissions from the epoxy and sealant products can be significant

Underlay Products

Underlay, natural latex

For:

· Natural product with approximately half the embodied energy are synthetic latex

· Recyclable

· Biodegradable with low/no toxicity

Against:

· Sensitive to some cleaning agents and solvents

Underlay, synthetic latex

For:

·

Against:

· High embodied energy

· Significant VOC emissions associated (refer tech guide)

· Not generally recyclable

Underlay, prime urethane

For:

·

Against:

· High embodied energy

· Significant VOC emissions associated (refer tech guide)

· Not generally recyclable

Underlay, bonded urethane

For:

· Typically an industrial by-product from automotive industry, small strips of urethane are bonded together.

Against:

· High embodied energy

· Significant VOC emissions associated (refer tech guide)

· Not generally recyclable

Adhesive, low tack

For:

· Significantly reduce the VOC levels available in this product

· Low tack allows removal of product late in life and ready recycling

Against:

·

Adhesive, SBR

For:

·

Against:

· Associated with significant emissions of styrene and butadiene during installation and (at a very low level) over life. Styrene is listed as a possible carcinogen while butadiene is carcinogenic.

Making a Decision

Commentary

The various requirements of different applications vary enormously. Healthcare applications have entirely different maintenance and hygiene requirements to a domestic kitchen, while they commercial lift lobby carpet will have a very different task to the bedroom carpet. A one-size fits all recommendation is not possible.

As a general rule less is more. If a covering is not requires on a substrate for functional reasons, give careful consideration to whether or not it must be used for other concerns e.g. acoustics.

Carpets can act as harbours for allergens - but they can also be low allergen, clean and comfortable, although the energy and water load associated with steam cleaning, the generally recommended method to manage allergens and mites, are significant. It is critical to remember though that the performance of a carpet is largely contingent upon the way traffic is managed - if there are efficient measures in place to reduce trafficking of soil into carpeted areas the potential cleaning requirements and impact loads will be greatly reduced, as will the expected life of the carpet.

Many floor coverings will not stay in-situ for their potential working life. Fitout churn and changing tastes often means the premature disposal of the a covering. A difficult that is critical consideration for the specified is the probable life expectancy. If the life expectancy is not long, the specifications of product which may be recycled war has a lower initial environmental impact is all the more critical.

Decision-Making Checklist

  1. Appropriate use: does a thing have to be made? If so, does it create a net benefit?
  2. Fate: start with the end in mind. Design for reusability or recyclability or at worst low/zero toxicity disposal/ energy recovery. Does waste = food?
  3. Energy: consider the product's likely net energy balance be over its life. Will it save more energy than it uses?
  4. Biodiversity: is it likely that the product has had a negative impact on biodiversity? Are there any known Red Light issues?
  5. Toxicity: is the product toxic and/or persistent and/or bioaccumulative in the environment at any stage in its life cycle? Are there known Red Light issues?
  6. Resources: does the product use scarce resources?
  7. Is the product socially sustainable?
  8. Systems approach: does use of the product create or allow whole of design synergies?

Further Information

Refer to the Technical Guide section for information on:

· Overview and statistics on sector
· Embodied energy figures
· Relevant standards and eco-assurances
· Less-toxic products & alternatives
· Case studies
· Recommendations
· Further links and references

Selected Links and Resources

Carpet

Healthy Flooring Network (HFN)

UK organisation interested in flooring, health and IAQ issues.
http://www.healthyflooring.org/ Accessed 7/12/11

Specification SCS-EPP11-03a, Standard Specification for the Evaluation and Certification of Environmentally Preferable Carpet Pilot May 20, 2003 http://www.scscertified.com/carpet

A Quick Guide to Manufactured Fibres

A table which provides information on generic fibres, their major domestic and industrial uses and characteristics. Also lists the manufacturers that use each fibre type listed. http://www.fibersource.com/f-tutor/q-guide.htm

Resilient Floors

Vinyl Council of Australia

For a Plastics Industry perspective on PVC and a range of other plastics and polymers, refer to:
http://www.vinyl.org.au/ Accessed 7/12/11

Greenpeace International

The global NGO with a well-known anti-PVC campaign: http://www.greenpeace.org/international_en/campaigns/intro?campaign_id=3988

Environmental Building News: Buildinggreen.com

Articleson vinyl products and vinyl alternatives are available through the link below. Type vinyl into the search box. http://www.buildinggreen.com.

Oikis: ' Vinyl Industry Withdraws Legal Challenge to Green Tax Credit'

"Vinyl Industry Withdraws Legal Challenge to Green Tax Credit" http://oikos.com/news/2003/06.html#Anchor-Vinyl-35882

Architecture Week: 'Breathing Easy' by Katharine Logan

"Indoor levels of air pollutants may be two to five times higher than outdoor levels, occasionally reaching levels 100 times higher. With most US residents spending 90 percent of their time indoors, indoor air pollution has a significant impact on public health."(Logan 2001).
Source: http://www.architectureweek.com/2001/0822/environment_2-1.html

References

Jönsson. (1999). "Including the Use Phase in LCA of Floor Coverings." Int Jnl Life Cycle Assessment 4(6): 321-328.
Logan, K. (2001). Breathing Easy, Architecture Week.

 

All external links last accessed on 27/03/13.