Q: I am looking at "loose lay" vinyl plank flooring for my basement due to the ease of install. Is there such a thing as "green" vinyl? I want a flooring that is easy to install, economical and warmer; softer than ceramic tile. I want to be able to install myself, and the loose lay wood-look planks seems to be a perfect solution, but I do worry about off gassing.
— asked by Terry Edinboro, PA
A: Luxury vinyl flooring has recently become popular today due to its durability, price and unique looking surfaces. However, it is made of vinyl which is Polyvinyl Chloride or PVC. PVC has become known as one of the most environmentally hazardous consumer materials produced. Although vinyl may seem useful to us as flooring for a short time, we have to think long term as to how our decisions will affect our environment and future generations. If your answer is, “that matters to me," then keep reading.
PVC (vinyl) creates large quantities of persistent toxic organochlorines such as dioxins and phthalates and releasing them into the indoor and outdoor environments. Both of these chemicals are highly persistent, bioaccumulative and toxic to humans and all life. The process of production and ultimately their disposal in landfills at the end of its useful life generate some of the most hazardous pollutants known. Even during their useful life as flooring, vinyl contributes to poor indoor air quality by releasing phthalates and facilitating the growth of hazardous molds.
Both of these chemicals are highly persistent, bioaccumulative and toxic to humans and all life. The process of production and ultimately their disposal in landfills at the end of its useful life generate some of the most hazardous pollutants known. Even during their useful life as flooring, vinyl contributes to poor indoor air quality by releasing phthalates and facilitating the growth of hazardous molds.
According to a Healthy Building Network Report, “The manufacture, use, and disposal of PVC pose substantial and unique environmental and human health hazards. Across the world, governments, companies, and scientific organizations have recognized the hazards of PVC. In virtually all European nations, certain uses of PVC have been eliminated for environmental reasons, and several countries have ambitious programs to reduce PVC use overall. Scores of communities have PVC avoidance policies, and dozens of green buildings have been built with little or no PVC. Firms in a variety of industries have announced measures to reduce PVC consumption and are using or producing alternative materials in a variety of product sectors, including building materials.” (Environmental Impacts of Polyvinyl Chloride Building Materials by Joe Thornton, Ph.D A Healthy Building Network Report). In answer to your question, “is there anything such as a green vinyl?” one can only conclude that it is the antithesis of a green building material.
There are several good alternatives to vinyl
There are several good alternatives to vinyl. One of them is natural linoleum which has been around more than a hundred years. One of the most popular brands is Marmoleum. Marmoleum, a world leader in resilient flooring, is one of the first and oldest green flooring products. Marmoleum is made of 100% natural bio-based ingredients; it contains linseed (flax) oil, limestone, tree rosins, mineral pigments, wood flour and jute, all of which are combined into a thin 2.5mm (1/8”) thick sheet. It’s highly durable, very long-lasting and fully bio-degradable. It’s also anti-static, naturally anti-microbial and highly resistant to moisture, mold and mildew including harmful micro-organisms such as MRSA and C-difficile. These features make it ideal for people with asthma and allergies or for those who just want a more healthy flooring.
In addition to sheeting (79” wide x any length), Marmoleum is also available in tiles 13”x13” or 20”x20” for easier installation. Marmoleum sheet and tile come in about 160 beautiful colors that fit into anyone’s color palette. Recently, Marmoleum developed CLIC planks (12”x36”) and squares (12”x12”). Unlike the sheet and tile, they click together easily without glue or nails; this is a true DIY product. No underlayment is required because a thin layer of cork has been adhered to the bottom of each plank or square. The only thing needed is a moisture barrier made of 6ml plastic to protect from excessive moisture from below. So, there you have it, 3 types of Marmoleum: sheet, tile and click. Any of these will work in a basement, provided it is installed properly according to instructions and care is taken to maintain humidity levels.
How do you know which is best for your situation?
It all depends upon the condition of the subfloor and what you would like the final outcome to look and feel like. See 3 types of Marmoleum
Both vinyl and Marmoleum sheet and tile are relatively thin and don’t provide much cush underfoot. The floor will still feel hard, but not quite as much as ceramic tile. The click product offers much more resiliency due to the cork backing.
Regarding cold and moisture
Cold transfers through vinyl or Marmoleum sheet easily. Neither have very good thermal values so warm damp air in the summer may still condense on a cool floor. This, of course, depends upon how well you dehumidify your basement. The click product, with built-in cork backing, however, has an R value of at least 1 to 1.25 which insulates the cold floor better and prevents condensation from occurring. (Additional cork underlayment can be used if your concrete slab is old and not properly insulated.)
If you have water leakage in your basement, this should be attended to prior to installation. No flooring performs well with excessive moisture. Marmoleum is highly moisture resistant and is used extensively in schools, hospitals, bathrooms and recreational rooms with great success.
Repair and maintenance
Most of the new luxury vinyl flooring uses 3D graphics printing on its surface to provide a unique and real look. While this may be appealing for a while, once it wears off, there’s no longer any design or texture underneath. When deeply scratched, the color underneath shows and can not easily be hidden or repaired. Marmoleum, on the other hand, is a through-body color which means the colors and patterns run all the way through it. Therefore, in the event of serious gouging or scratching it can be repaired. Information on how to repair is provided on Forbo’s website as well as Green Building Supply’s at How to Make Repairs
Maintenance is something few people think about when purchasing a floor. However, the beauty of any flooring, no matter what type it is, requires routine maintenance. In the case of vinyl, smoother finishes clean much easier than those with texture. Those with a rough sawn, hand-scraped look can be more difficult to clean than glossy finishes. In either case, cleaners and waxes are required more frequently to maintain a fresh look. This additional time and expense is rarely factored into the initial cost or the long-term cost of a floor.
Marmoleum is only one of many eco-friendly options. To find out more visit: Green flooring options