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Green product watch: eco-friendly floors 8/10
(This article is adapted from the August 2010 Consumer Reports magazine.)

Traditional oak flooring may still be the most desirable, but Consumer Reports found some eco-friendly alternatives that did well in a battery of tests for scuffs, scrapes, spills, and other abuse.

The tests included a variety of "natural" flooring products. Manufacturers heavily promote bamboo as a renewable resource because they can harvest this fast-growing grass in as little as four years.

While the best bamboo products topped our tests, some products are still prone to denting and sun-induced color change.

Cork is considered a renewable resource as well because it's cut from the bark without killing the tree. But the best product we tested was more expensive than the high-rated bamboo products tested.

Merbau, a Pacific hardwood, is known for its hardness, durability, and attractiveness. But environmentalists worry that illegal logging of this fancy wood may render the species extinct.

Better bamboo brands
In the 2010 tests, the bamboo brands lasted longer than earlier versions that we tested in 2009. Shredding bamboo into fibers and compressing them for strength—a practice called stranding—helped EcoTimber Woven Honey ($5.75 per square foot) and Teragren Synergy ($6) earn our top Ratings (available to subscribers) for solid and engineered flooring. These “stranded” products also use adhesives with lower emissions—another plus.

Linoleum winner
We also found a winner among linoleum floors, which blend linseed oil and tree bark without killing the tree. Armstrong Marmorette, $4.50 per square foot, is the highest-scoring linoleum in our tests.

Reclaimed wood products to avoid
As for flooring made from reclaimed wood, you might want to think twice: Two products, Woods Co.'s Antique Oak ($8) and Duluth Timber's Douglas Fir ($11), ranked lowest in our tests.

Be sure it's really green
Certification by the Forest Stewardship Council and Sustainable Forestry Initiative offers some assurance that wood flooring comes from responsibly managed forests. Be sure to check that both the product and the manufacturer have been certified.

Vinyl flooring certified by the industry's FloorScore program meets California's tough emission standards for volatile organic compounds, which have been linked to health problems and pollution. It also qualifies for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design credit from the independent U.S. Green Building Council. But with vinyl floors there are other concerns, such as phthalate exposure, and manufacturing and disposal problems.

Related links
U.S. Green Building Council
Forest Stewardship Council
Sustainable Forestry Initiative
Flooring Buying Guide

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