Archive for the ‘floors’ Tag

Two Years After Installing Flooring   1 comment

Two years ago we installed new flooring before moving into our house. I blogged about our three choices, carpet, Marmoleum, and cork back then. At the time we left one room undone, the nursery. It was convenient, as it gave us an extra place to pile stuff while the flooring was being installed in the rest of the house so that we could overlapping the cleaning/prepping phase and the moving phase. It was also convenient to put off paying for the flooring and installation in a room that wouldn’t be used for a while. Fast forward to today, when we need the nursery carpeted. This got me thinking that this would be a good time to write about our experience with our flooring choices.

I’ll actually start with the one choice that we didn’t make: tile. About a third of the house (kitchen/dining room/entry, and both bathrooms) was already tiled, and we didn’t left it in place. The tile in the bathrooms is just fine; except that the grout wasn’t sealed. It’s easy to care for, and would really be perfect, except that the grout isn’t sealed so it doesn’t get clean. The rest of the tile was really nice, and really poorly installed. It is the kind of tile that is meant to be installed edge to edge without grout spacing between; instead there’s variable spacing between tiles and they aren’t flat.  It makes cleaning difficult since the edges scrape stuff off the mop or broom and into the crevasse between tiles. Plus, the tile wasn’t sealed. Break a bottle of margarita mix on the floor? The spill will be visible forever, or at least until we get around to refinishing and sealing the tile. But for all the problems cleaning it and the weird feeling of the edges underfoot, in summer the cool tile is really nice in a place like Sacramento. Our first winter here I was afraid that our heating bill was going to be crazy since a third of the house is tile, but the tile didn’t seem to act as a heat sink. Maybe when we eventually seal the tile and have the cracks filled in I’ll really like it.

Our favorite of the flooring choices we made is definitely the carpet. It is an undyed wool carpet with cotton/hemp, jute, and rubber backing. Since there are no adhesives or synthetic materials, there’s no offgassing to create “new carpet” smell or cause headaches. Why do we love it? Well for starters it is sooooo soft! There’s a good thick wool carpet pad underneath, so it feels so comforting underfoot. It also feel soft against skin, not scratchy. The color is a beautiful mottled dark brown (wool from a black sheep) that does a good job of hiding any debris between vacuuming. The only drawback is in the care. The beater brush of the vacuum shouldn’t be used on wool carpet. Something about the fibers being shorter than synthetic fibers. We’re not really consistent about using/not using the beater brush, partly because vacuum cleaners just don’t seem to work very well without it. As a result I can tell the difference in the surface where there’s more traffic and vacuuming relative to areas that are rarely vacuumed. But overall, I give wool carpeting two thumbs up. It’s awesome!

We also like the Marmoleum that was installed in the outer part of the master bathroom. Marmoleum is a brand of true linoleum (made from linseed oil instead of the modern vinyl stuff). It’s easy to clean and hides dirt well. The pattern may actually be too good at hiding things, since water drops visually disappear immediately. Unfortunately it’s a little slippery when wet, or when the foot stepping on it is wet. But otherwise, again, I give true linoleum two thumbs up!

Now we come to our problem child: the cork. We installed a floating cork floor in the living room, hallway, and office. It is has a layer of cork under a paperboard core, with a layer of cork on top and then a decorative cork veneer on top. There are what I see as “design flaws” that are compounded by less-than-ideal conditions. The veneer is really really really thin, and the edges crumble, so a portion of every box cannot be used. The veneer is also easily damaged, say, by the feet of a sofa, leaving black scars in the floor. The edges of the tiles are unfinished, and have to be perfectly snug against the adjacent tile. Since I helped install it I know that we made sure that there were absolutely no gaps between tiles, but a year down the line and there are very small but visible gaps between the edges. Unfortunately if water gets between the tiles the paperboard can expand and cause the boards to deform. That’s probably also why the instructions say to put down a moisture barrier when installing on slab-on-grade concrete. Neither of the contractors that we got quotes from included moisture barrier in the quotes, and when I asked our contractor I was told that he’d never done it before and never had a problem. Well, we have had major problems with buckling and cupping of the individual tiles. Unfortunately, I mopped the floor for the first month or so, so I can’t pin the blame solely on the installer. Before choosing this flooring we didn’t do our full due diligence and read the care instructions, which say no wet mopping or damp mopping. After almost two years of dry mopping only, I so desperately want to damp mop to get rid of the buildup and smudges. We’re working with the contractor finally, after way too long procrastinating, to figure out what can be done. This brand of cork was expensive, so replacing it is not an option. Final verdict: pretty and feels good underfoot, but be careful about how it is installed and how to maintain. I’d recommend something with beveled edges, not straight edges. Glued-down might be a better choice than floating planks, and be careful about veneers. If you don’t keep your house at a constant temperature, don’t even bother with cork. This is definitely the one flooring choice that has been a disappointment (and a learning experience).

Posted July 25, 2012 by mayakey in home

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Flooring Choice #3: Marmoleum   1 comment

Finally finishing the new-flooring series on the evening of the completed installation: Our third and final new flooring decision (the master bathroom) had us stumped right up to when we were in Green Sacramento picking out the carpet and cork samples. The master bathroom is one of those bathrooms with a small room for the toilet and shower, and then a separate room with the sink and vanity. The previous owners of the house all had carpet in the sink area, but installed tile in the shower room. Neither of us wanted carpet in the sink area. It just doesn’t seem like a good idea to me to have carpet and padding under a water source. But the tile in the shower room was installed on a diagonal and looked like a tile that would be very hard to match.

When we walked into Green Sacramento to select flooring, we weren’t sure if we wanted to try to find a tile that would match the existing tile, or more cork, or Marmoleum, or something else. We brought my laptop to the store with us so that we had photos of the rooms to look at while we selected the samples, and when the lady helping us saw the pictures she suggested looking at Marmoleum to match the accent tiles instead of the primary tiles. Lo and behold, Marmoleum has a pattern that is a perfect match for the accent tiles in the shower room! Sold.

Marmoleum is probably the most popular current brand of true linoleum. True linoleum is made from linseed oil (what most people currently refer to as linoleum today is actually vinyl). Marmoleum also contains sawdust and pine resin and uses a jute fiber backing. According to Forbo’s website, Marmoleum uses “environmental responsible pigments” (I don’t really know what that means) and does not contain solvents in the adhesives. As a result Marmeolum will not off-gas any harmful chemicals and is biodegradable. Also according to Forbo’s website, they have done a life cycle analysis on the products, which impresses and satisfies me as an environmental engineer even though I was not able to download the document.

Since the installation is done, I can add pictures to this post:

Linoleum in place

The new linoleum floor in the master bathroom

Closeup of linoleum samples next to accent tile

Closeup of the Marmoleum next to the accent tile (top pattern)

Posted August 7, 2010 by mayakey in environment, home, shopping

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Flooring Choice #2: Cork   3 comments

Our second decision in the replacing-the-flooring journey was a little bit more of a challenge. What would be the best option for the living room and hallway? Because of the proximity to the front entrance and the traffic patterns in the house, carpet is not an option for the living room or the hallway. But to accommodate the various activities in the living room, we want something soft and padded, and something that would be an acoustic dampener. Also, the existing tile in the adjacent entry and dining room is fairly elegant looking, and we want to have something complementary and similarly elegant in the living room in hopes that it will boost our resale value when we sell the house down the road.

More tile? Not soft or sound dampening; plus we would never be able to match the existing tile. Wood or bamboo? Again, not soft or sound dampening. Conventional laminate? Not soft or sound dampening, plus there’s an issue with offgassing of formaldehyde and VOCs. Vinyl? Not on your (my) life. Natural linoleum? Not the elegant look we are going for.

What’s left? Cork! I discovered cork as a viable flooring option years ago when I realized that the floor of Stanford’s Memorial Church was cork. Until then I couldn’t figure out how cork could be used as a floor because I imagined a bulletin board lying on the ground and could not figure out how to keep it clean or how it would not fall apart quickly. My husband had the same thought before we actually looked at cork flooring samples. Cork flooring is actually ground up cork bark mixed with adhesives and compressed into sheets (so it is technically a laminate flooring). Patterns and stains can be added on the top layer, which means there are some gorgeous cork floors out there. The cork tiles still have the springy-nature of the cork bark, so it is a good compromise between hard and soft flooring options. It is also a good compromise for acoustic dampening (maybe that’s why they use cork tiles in Memorial Church). As a plus, cork is a thermal insulator like carpet. I bounced around online for a while reading reviews of cork floors and it seemed like I mostly found rave reviews with a handful of lukewarm ones. I found very few negative reviews.

As far as environmental benefits, cork can be used for LEED credits for sustainable materials and recycled materials. It is considered a sustainable material because cork is the bark of the tree and the tree doesn’t need to be cut down for the harvest. Cork flooring is made from the waste material left after making bottle corks, which sort-of makes it a recycled product. (It can also be made from recycled cork stoppers, but I don’t know how common that is.) Since it is a laminate material there is some risk of off-gassing due to the adhesives, but the floor that we are buying is GreenGuard Indoor Air Quality Certified, so it is low-emitting for volatile organic compounds, formaldehyde, and phthalates. Not perfect, but pretty good.

So a floating cork floor it is! Think conventional laminate floor with the tongue-in-groove joints, only it’s a fiberboard sandwiched between two layers of cork. Theoretically I can DIY this, but I don’t think I could manage doorways and the bay window in the living room. Instead, I talked to the contractor that is going to install all the flooring about letting me help.

Posted July 23, 2010 by mayakey in environment, home, shopping

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Flooring Choice #1: Carpet   2 comments

The first decision in the replacing-the-flooring journey was the easy one: wall-to-wall carpeting in the bedrooms. Both my husband and I much prefer the feel of carpet rather than hard flooring under our feet when we get out of bed. We want that area of the house to be soft and padded, with good acoustic dampening, and cozy looking/feeling. An area rug is just not satisfactory in the bedroom. We originally also planned on putting wall-to-wall carpeting in the living room but the floor plan and traffic patterns in this house made us re-think that decision and decide to stick with carpet in the bedrooms only.

We are going to be installing a wool carpet on a natural hemp/cotton backing with rubber adhesive and jute secondary backing made by Earth Weave. I’ve seen plenty of mentions lately about carpet made from recycled plastic as a green choice but had no desire to go that route. The recycled plastic carpet is a wonderful idea from the standpoint of reducing waste to the landfill/incinerator and putting that “waste” material to good use, but those carpets are otherwise pretty much the same as conventional carpet. By that I mean offgassing of the volatile organic compounds (VOCs) used in the backing and the chemical waste from making the carpet. Also, at the end of it’s life the recycled carpet has to go to a landfill or incinerator, whereas our wool carpet is biodegradable.

Wool carpet has some additional benefits that other forms of carpeting don’t have. I have the first on good authorities, but we’ll have to see about the other to over the next few years.

  • Wool is naturally flame retardant. (super bonus for bedrooms!)
  • Apparently wool is easier to keep clean than synthetic carpets because the inherent crimp of the fibers keeps dirt and spills at the surface longer than relatively straight synthetic fibers.
  • Apparently the texture lasts longer in wool than synthetic carpets because the crimp is inherent to the fibers.

Carpet does have cons, but they can be moderated a bit. I mentioned some of the cons in my post about removing the old flooring from the house.

Con #1: Carpet traps particulate matter and contributes to poor indoor air quality.

For this reason carpet is not a good choice for high traffic areas. The more traffic, the more particulate matter gets tracked in, ground into the carpeting, and kicked back up into the air. In this case, the bedrooms are not near any of the entrances to the house and can be considered low traffic. (the living room and hallway are at the front entrance though, that’s why we decided against carpet there) Additionally, we sort-of have a “shoes off at the door” policy in our house that at least reduces how much dirt gets tracked around. In my Human Exposure class in grad school we learned just how dramatically different the air quality is (based on particulate matter) in a house with a shoes-off policy compared to one where shoes are allowed throughout the house. Thirdly, we (meaning my husband) have a standard practice of vacuuming the carpeting every week already, so we should be able to keep our new carpet from getting too dusty/dirty and worsening our indoor air quality.

Con #2: “Conventional” carpet offgasses VOCs, which contribute to poor indoor air quality.

So we are buying a “chemical-free” wool carpet. Conventional carpet uses VOCs in dyes, glues, and stain protection, but we are buying an undyed wool carpet with hemp/cotton and jute backings and rubber adhesive. No VOCs, no problem. We will be using a pure wool carpet pad. Again, no VOCs, no problem. It’s a bit more expensive but we can afford it (barely) so we get to go for the ideal.

Posted July 16, 2010 by mayakey in environment, home, shopping

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Bare Floors, For Now   5 comments

At the end of the week last week we finally closed on our house. And what was the first order of business? Ripping out the old carpet.

When we started our house hunting we knew that we would be replacing any flooring other than tile or hardwood, so it was one of the things that we considered when deciding how much we would offer on a given house. We didn’t look at houses that were flipped so that we were less likely to be in a situation of ripping out new flooring (that would have been such a waste). The age of the flooring would have little to do with my desire to replace it.

Here are my reasons for removing the existing flooring:

  1. Carpet traps particulate matter and as a result may harbor residual concentrations of heavy metals, pesticides, or other chemicals of concern. Without knowledge of what the previous owners may have tracked into the house, I have no way of knowing what my future baby may be exposed to when crawling around the house.
  2. “Conventional” carpeting offgasses volatile organic compounds (VOCs), many of which are toxic and/or carcinogenic (guess what that new carpet smell is). I don’t really know how long carpet continues to offgass. When I did some internet research a while back for a friend I found somewhere that it takes approximately 10 years for the carpet and carpet pad to finish offgassing; and I found somewhere else that carpet and carpet pad never stop offgassing because by the time the materials of construction have stopped offgassing they have started to break down, which releases more VOCs into the air. I don’t know what the truth is and I don’t care; I prefer to just avoid “conventional” carpet altogether.
  3. Vinyl linoleum is PVC and laminate flooring may contain formaldehyde. (See my Making Scones post about PVC; I should just do a post about PVC so that linking is easier) Both of those compounds have potential indoor air issues due to offgassing. Absolutely got to go. I would like make our house as PVC-free as possible (The windows may well have vinyl frames, and that is the one source of vinyl that I don’t anticipate removing right now since the windows are otherwise good windows.)
  4. Carpet can also provide shelter for unwelcome bugs, like chiggers. I had a friend who had a chigger problem that even repeated bug bombing couldn’t eliminate. I don’t want to bug bomb the house since we will soon start a family, so the carpet has got to go.
  5. Old carpet is just gross.

Our new house, thankfully has tile on approximately 1/3 of the floor area, including the two bathrooms, so that makes our job a little easier. Number 3 above is moot since there is no linoleum or laminate flooring. And number 4 above becomes more important because the house has been vacant (of humans anyway) for two years.

When I first started pulling up the carpet, I was second guessing myself vigorously. The carpet was still in good shape, and so I worried that I was making the wrong decision. But after finding a few stains and dirty spots I regained my conviction. There is now a pile of rolled up carpet and carpet pad segments waiting for transport to the carpet recycler (more on that later). Some of the formerly carpeted rooms are now just showing the concrete slab, and some have this horrible plastic-looking fake parquet flooring that is well glued to the concrete. As much as I would like to remove it, I think that may be pushing the limits of the practically doable.

Posted July 6, 2010 by mayakey in home

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