Wood Floor Restoration Good for the Environment

By Kirk Roberts

With the increased desire to live more sustainably, flooring is key to the discussion. Given that floors are one of the larger surfaces in a building or home, considering the right materials and renewal processes to maintain the floor can make a big impact on the environment.

Wood is well-regarded as a sustainable building material. With proper forest management, trees are planted before others are harvested, allowing wood floors to be an environmentally-friendly option for generations of floor owners. Renewing existing hardwood flooring is also eco-friendly and certainly a better solution than filling landfills with old flooring from replacement.

Floor Refinishing and Sustainability
IVL Swedish Environmental Research Institute conducted a study to better understand the environmental impact of refinishing compared to replacing hardwood or resilient flooring materials like linoleum and vinyl. Commercial buildings and surfaces in Sweden serve as a good sample representation since the Nordic country is a sustainable construction leader and North America is following that lead.

The Swedish study was a cradle-to-grave assessment, meaning the whole life cycle for refinished and new flooring was considered. This evaluation included extraction, production and transportation of raw materials and products, installation of flooring and refinishing, as well as end-of-life management of products and waste streams.

The study began with a life cycle analysis of the floor installation and refinishing process. It was followed up with a roadmap, including a strategic plan to define desired outcomes and outline actions to overcome barriers.

The IVL study found renewing hardwood flooring surfaces instead of replacing them offers up to a 79 per cent reduction in carbon footprint and a 95 per cent savings in energy resources, which are measured by transportation, electricity use, consumables and materials. Additionally, renewal of resilient flooring surfaces can offer up to a 92 per cent reduction in carbon footprint versus replacement, as well as 92 per cent savings in energy resources. The overall carbon footprint reduction is equal to the carbon dioxide emissions of 9,600 flights around the world. The energy savings is approximately the entire energy use of 9,000 households or nearly one-third the population of Fort Erie, Ont.

The demand for sustainable building and renovation is increasing in market value and owner interest, especially with millennial and Gen Z populations. Wood is a primary material for many sustainable building projects and the IVL data lends another perspective of wood’s longevity and environmental value.

Environmental and Monetary Benefits
There is a perception that refinishing hard surface flooring is more difficult than buying new. The IVL report, coupled with the modern eco-friendly products available in today’s market, proves the contrary.

Compared to a new flooring installation, refinishing is a sustainable solution that reduces carbon emissions and limits energy use and labour resources. The IVL study noted the highest impact from refinishing floors comes from product manufacturing, and the renovation process alone has a limited environmental impact, assuming eco-friendly products are utilized in the renewal and maintenance processes.

Further, tearing out and replacing flooring material reduces resource efficiency, which is a key issue during a time of scarce labour and limited supply in the construction market.

The North American floor coating market size is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate of nearly seven per cent, surpassing $4.26 billion US globally by 2028, according to Insight Partners, indicating more designers, architects and building owners are choosing to renovate rather than replace.

Yet, there is still a need to educate buyers and end-users on the opportunity to renew existing flooring instead of replacing it. The flooring community has the power and responsibility to influence and educate stakeholders on the benefits of sustainably refinishing.

There are a number of actions that can be taken now to increase this dialogue. These include holding conversations on the sustainable and practical benefits of renewal, validating the role of hardwood flooring in a circular economy and the idea of designing to reduce waste by elongating the life of existing materials.

Another is educating developers and end-users on waterborne market solutions — now an industry standard — that accommodate acoustical requirements with coatings, and also offer environmental certifications for reuse of existing products. Finally, there’s demonstrating renewal is often a more affordable solution than replacing, considering the cost of materials, labour and long-term maintenance.

The flooring industry has a duty to step into the role of leading sustainable design to protect natural resources like wood. The more education and conversations about floor renewal, the closer to achieving more sustainable buildings and, ultimately, a more environmentally friendly future.

Kirk Roberts is senior vice-president, strategic development, for Bona AB, a sustainably-driven company that supplies products for installing, renovating, maintaining and renewing premium floors. Kirk is also a member of the National Wood Flooring Association’s board of directors. He can be reached at [email protected].

You Might Also Like