We all should use the best flooring products there are in our renovations - and by that I mean products that are sustainable, natural and eco-friendly. You'd be surprised by the amount of debate around "natural" flooring - you'd think it was pretty clear. But what is often marketed as "natural" and "good for environment" might not always be.
We're familiar with hardwood flooring and natural stone tile. Both come from the earth, so they're definitely natural. But the processing required to get marble or slate out of the ground isn't so earth-friendly, and the methods of harvesting some hardwood forests, say in Brazil, are questionable.
Even the North American lumber industry isn't perfect - a lot of harvest practices are harmful.
Then you need to consider the processing and shipping of the products, and how they are applied in your home, and how you need to maintain them so they keep on looking good. How "good for the environment" is all of that? You need to look at the whole picture.
Is it renewable?
Traditional hardwoods take many years, maybe a lifetime, to grow to maturity, so they aren't generally considered a renewable resource. And obviously, stone for tile, even though it lasts a long time, won't renew at all.
But some products, such as cork or bamboo, regenerate quickly, and can be harvested in less than 10 years. That makes them a good sustainable flooring choice.
Bamboo is a grass, which grows very quickly, and so it's extremely renewable. But there's some debate that forests are being cut down to allow for bamboo plantations, and that the bamboo is grown using large amounts of fertilizer, which of course damages the local environment. Some growers will only use natural fertilizers, but you still have to ask the question.
However, in many countries that supply bamboo, it's grown as a crop in areas that were already deforested. It cleans toxins in air and water, and it can be grown and harvested repeatedly without degrading the soil further.
Cork is harvested from the bark of cork trees. Much of the cork used for flooring is a byproduct of the wine cork industries, so it's a bonus to use the waste material. But cork production is outstripping renewability in some areas.
Both cork and bamboo are often bound and laminated with adhesives that emit high levels of volatile organic compounds, which offsets some of the environmental benefits of using them as flooring material. But many bamboo- and cork-flooring manufacturers often use low or no-VOC adhesives.
The bottom line is that the consumer needs to be very careful and do the homework. Research the products and make sure you really are getting a green product.
One way is to look for Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification on wood products. FSC is the independent environmental standard for responsible management of the world's forests. There aren't that many suppliers of FSC bamboo and cork in North America, which means you have less product available, and the cost will be higher to go green.
Another ecologically-friendly flooring to consider is Marmoleum. You probably know it - it's been in use in schools and hospitals for a long time, and it's not expensive. It's made from linseed oil, wood flour and pine rosin, so it's a natural product.
The problem with this flooring has been how it has been applied in some cases, using adhesives high in VOC emissions, and how it has been cared for using cleaners and polishers that affect indoor air quality.
When it comes to flooring, choosing the right product alone isn't enough; you've got to make sure it's installed right, and that you maintain it right.
If you choose flooring material that's made from rapidly renewable materials, make sure it's installed with low-VOC adhesives and use natural cleaners, that way you'll really be going green.
Mike Holmes is the host of Holmes on Homes on HGTV. For more information, go to http://www.holmesonhomes.com