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A guide to green flooring

It feels good to be environmentally friendly and sustainable, and there are many great reasons to install green flooring in your home. Some varieties of green flooring, like cork and bamboo, are ultra durable and can last the life of your home, meaning they are a smart investment. And many options are a fit for people with allergies, because the flooring won’t collect dust or pet hair.

Melissa Clements, who owns Eco Friendly Flooring in Madison, Wisconsin, says shopping for green flooring requires research—not only on the product in general, but also on the manufacturer. For example, it might be important to you that the flooring comes from and is made in the U.S., or that fair labor practices are in place.

If you're not sure, just ask. And, if you don't get a straight answer, move along. The idea behind green flooring is that it lasts the lifetime of your home, so it's important to be comfortable with every detail.

To get you started, here is Clements' primer on four green flooring options that are as functional and durable as they are stylish:

BambooA guide to green flooring

What it is: This durable, allergy-free flooring, made from strips of bamboo plant, is a great alternative to hardwood. Bamboo is environmentally sustainable and it matures in about five years, compared to decades for other hard woods.

Did you know: Although bamboo typically has a sleek, contemporary look, owners of older homes can treat unfinished bamboo with wax or oil to give it more of an aged look. If you're looking for floors with character, don't rule out this material. Also, it won't collect dust and pet hair like carpet, so it's great for people with allergies.

Cost: $2 to $6 per square foot

Care: Use a mop and diluted vinegar solution to clean

CorkA guide to green flooring

What it is: This naturally insulating flooring is harvested from the thick bark of the cork oak tree. The actual tree is not cut down or harmed, and the bark begins to grow again within a few years.

Did you know: Cork is naturally antimicrobial and insect resistant, and it doesn't spread flames. It also gives a bit—while it's not squishy or bouncy—you'll notice that it's comfortable to stand or walk on for long periods of time. For this reason, think about using cork in the kitchen. Like bamboo, cork won't collect dust and pet hair, so it's a good option for people with allergies.

Cost: $3 to $8 per square foot

Care: Use a mop and diluted vinegar solution to clean

Carpet tilesA guide to green flooring

What it is: Carpet squares fit together to make custom rugs or flooring. Clements recommends carpet tiles made by Flor®. The company uses recycled and renewable materials. When you're done with your tiles, Flor® takes them back and recycles them into new products.

Did you know: While you might think of carpet squares as basic solutions for the garage, basement, or playroom, today's stylish textures, patterns, and colors make them a smart fit for the rest of the house (Martha Stewart even has her own Flor® line). Visit for more information.

Cost: About $7 to $30 per tile

Care: Regular vacuuming and occasional professional carpet cleaning

Reclaimed materialsA guide to green flooring

What it is: Salvaged materials, from wood to roofing slate, are being reused to create floors with character. "People are clinging to the old right now," Clements says. Where to get the materials? Everywhere from neighbors who are tearing up and discarding their hardwood floors to demolition brokers who are trying to get rid of structural beams and more from old factories and warehouses.

Did you know: You'll likely pay a bit more for hardwood floors if you use reclaimed wood. "We have very little old stuff" in the U.S., Clements says. "It's supply and demand." Usable material comes from a relatively small window of time, from the late 1800s to the 1960s.

Cost: Varies by material

Care: Varies by material

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