Low impact kitchen flooring

Written by pete


After a short hiatus, TerraPass Answers returns to The Footprint. This week’s question from Deborah Hyde:

> What’s your take on concrete floors for a kitchen? I’m doing a remodel, and am trying to think of some low-impact materials to use.

> I don’t have a ton of money to make a completely green space, but if I can use recycled materials or other non-toxic, non-polluting, low VOC, etc., materials, I think I’ll be happy.

Can you help? If you have an answer for Deborah, post it in the comments section below.

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  1. Susan Peterson

    i think concrete flooring might look great but if you like to cook and mess around in the kitchen, it’s going to be hard on your feet and fatal to anything you drop!

  2. Benjamin Thompson

    It depends. Do you currently have concrete floors? Or are you thinking of somehow adding concrete to an existing structure?
    If you house is on a concrete slab, polishing and dyeing the existing concrete is probably the greenest thing you can do. You’d consume very few materials. But, do you like the concrete esthetic?
    If you don’t currently have a concrete slab, then you probably have a wood-framed floor. Pouring concrete on that wouldn’t be very green and would have huge associated costs including a potential re-framing of the floor to support the load. In short–not a good idea.
    True linoleum (not sheet vinyl) is a very green choice, as is cork. Bamboo is ostensibly greener than tradition wood, but in my experience it’s very, very soft and mars too easily to last long in a kitchen (my bamboo floor is less than three years old and is wearing very poorly).

  3. Marthajoy Aft

    PLEASE don’t use bamboo! We installed (with the help of a contractor) a bamboo floor in our living room in August, carefully following directions, and it is already buckling! Looks awful. Don’t really know what to do now. (maybe rugs?)

  4. Roger

    That’s a good question… I guess for

  5. Mary Underwood

    I just installed Marmoleum in the kitchen area for my studio. It received high raves in the greeen building catalogue I’ve been referring to. The product has a myriad of choices of colors and patterned flooring. I’m very, very happy with the installation. I’m not on concrete and for a good reason: I need to stand for long periods of time, and standing on concrete is extremely hard on joints. The Marmoleum provides some cushioning, and may help lesson the effects of a concrete surface alone.

  6. Monty

    I know this is not very appropriate to say, but my answer is to not sweat the small stuff. Environmentally, I would focus on making your home energy efficient and your lifestyle use as little carbon as possible. What you use for your floor is a one-time event, and certainly it will add carbon to the atmosphere, but the key is that it last as long as possible. If that new floor can easily last you a hundred years, then the carbon it uses needs to be considered over that period of time. So, buy what you want, as long as it lasts, and focus your energy on making your home energy efficient and using as little energy in your life outside the house.

  7. steve menzie

    what does that have to do with the question of low-impact flooring choices?
    go with recycled tiles or better yet, salvaged wood floors: re-milled or re-finished

  8. saM

    I believe small steps matter very much; what you do on your kitchen floor has an amazing power to influence your visitor’s environmental decisions as well. If you live on the East Coast; Marmoleum and Cork are your best environmental bets regarding transportation (both come from Europe-from ships to the east coast) Where as West-coasters are closer to china and thus closer to bamboo. I agree with the comment regarding existing concrete; if it is there great, pouring concrete over wood framing could prove costly and is not recommended. I have Marmoleum in my bathroom…it is soft, bright, and easy to clean. I have bamboo in my living room, the dogs have scratched it up a LOT….

  9. Joy

    I agree with thoses on concrete,,if you have a wood frame home forget it you will have a nightmare on your hands later.. You could find old sheets of plywood 1/8 to 1/4 ” screw them down to your flooring you have now OR if you have plywood down just poly them,put at least 2 coats on it ,they will look bueatiful..or go to a wood flooring place get all the scrapes they have don’t matter what colors mix them that is aslo beautiful..I have the new wood flooring that snaps together with the mix colors you will like it..

  10. Patrick

    I also highly recommend Marmoleum. You have a wide selection of designs and colors and is kid-friendly (cleans easily, is non-toxic, and doesn’t show scratches because the color is consistent throughout the entire thickness, not just the surface.) It’s also not that expensive from what I recall. We went with Marmoleum when we had to redo our kitchen floor less than a year ago and have received plenty of compliments already! It also doesn’t soak up water and warp like Pergo (our last floor covering) tends to.

  11. Rob

    If it’s buckling, then your sub-floor wasn’t very level. Bamboo’s harder than just about any hard wood, and doesn’t expand very much with changes in temperature and humidity, so it’s not simply going to buckle and bend unless there is some physical pressure exerted on it. I’ve got bamboo floors on old construction. My floors are tilted, and not super level, but we did some subfloor (3/8″ plywood or something similar) work on the bad parts and the floor’s sitting nicely.

  12. Rob

    One really neat option I came across recently is recycled slate from old roofs. If you search around on the net there are a bunch of local places around that provide cleaned up slate from roofs for flooring. It looks awesome.

  13. SaM

    Roofing slate is rather thin though…wouldn’t it be more prone to cracking under foot traffic?

  14. Rob

    I’m not sure that thickness has much to do with it, unless there are significant gaps (more than a couple eighths of an inch) in the subfloor. Laminate floors are really thin. Hardwoods are only 3/8″ think or so. Without doing much research, I would think that the slate flooring would have to be something like 1/4″ thick to work with at all, given that slate is brittle, and that kind of thickness isn’t going to just crack due to feet, heals aside (which destroy most non-rug floors anyway).

  15. david burton

    We installed cork tiles in our kitchen when we remodelled a few years ago and we LOVE it.
    It’s easy on your feet and back (concrete definitely won’t be), it’s forgiving when you drop stuff, it looks great, and it’s a renewable resource. Go cork!

  16. Susan

    How long do you think cork floors look good? We stayed in a vacation rental with cork floors (don’t know how old…) that were warn and dirty and terrible looking…

  17. Banaltra

    I put Marmoleum in and am very happy with it. It does have high green rating and I find it low-impact. It is easy to clean and comes in a variety of colors and patterns. It is also easy to replace a strip if you have any obvious damage to it. I love it!
    My sister put in bamboo floors and loves them. She did say though they are suppose to be hard, when first installed they are softer and harden up over time. She would put them in again in a heartbeat. When I redo mine, that is what I am going to use.

  18. Lanna Seuret

    Deborah, concrete floors are very, very tiring, and very, very cold in the winter. I live in an old house with hardwood floors previously hidden under yuccky carpet, refinished them with low VOC, water based
    varnish, and have had very good experience with
    cleaning and maintaining beauty. Recently, in
    another building, we had cork tiles put in the
    kitchen, and bamboo in the living room and bed
    room. Bamboo is VERY hard, and easy to keep
    clean; cork is non-allergenic, easy to clean,
    but I have some concern about chipping. As it
    is new, there is no experience yet with pots of
    spaghetti sauce dropped, however, the cork comes in a group of three tiles, so if it had to be replaced, one or two groups would suffice.
    You don’t need to sacrifice ease, beauty, or
    comfort for sustainability!!

  19. G. Atcheson

    Slate sounds interesting, but it is brittle and would crack if the subfloor deflects. Over concrete it would be fine but wood framing would worry me. The other flooring described here can flex with a plywood subfloor without cracking. The thickness is not really an issue.

  20. Rob

    I buy that logic. I’ve never worked with it or used it myself, but it sounds interesting enough!
    My friend builds furniture and has used reclaimed slate for coffee tables, dinner tables, end tables, and such, and with heavy usage there hasn’t been any chipping, so I’m actually a lot less worried about the material than I was previously, but a floor does take a lot more abuse than a table does.

  21. David B

    Concrete is very energy intensive to manufacture and quite a bit would be used for a floor much more than any other flooring. So as stated before unless it is in place it not the best choice. That said, I have marmoleum in my kitchen and stained concrete floors in the rest of my home,the concrete was there from initial construction, and I like both very much. I do not notice the concrete’s hardness under everyday use.

  22. david burton

    The dirty factor is merely a matter of how good a housekeeper you are. I’ve seen installations that have been in place for more than a decade and they look great, but I also know ones in place for less that are dirty. It all boils down to who’s cleaning.
    As for how they wear, our floor has been in place for 5 years and it doesn’t look too worn. We have a dog, a kid, we cook pretty intensely, and there is a door to the outside so the floor gets alot of use and abuse. I think the cork wears great.

  23. katharine Perkins

    A great floor surface that is very inexpensive, resilient, warm, beautiful and renewable is cork tiles. The ones I used fifteen years ago are from Dodge-Regupol http://www.dodgecork.com/html/cork_flooring.html
    The product is dense, even patterned cork tiles you stain to taste that can be sanded during the life of the product (unlike cork-look laminate tiles sometimes sold as cork). It must be laid like tile with a tight butt, go grout line, cemented to the sub floor. If you choose untreated tiles you apply five coats of polyurethane and you can top that up every three years as needed according to the traffic it receives. If you choose the finished tiles one coat to create a continuous coat to prevent leaks between tiles is recommended. I love the look, the resilience, warmth and low cost.

  24. Tom Harrison

    I wanted to echo two suggestions made already.
    First, it’s great to be thinking about sustainable building materials, but it’s especially important when the product has a short lifespan (e.g. carpet). We have porcelain tiles on our floor and they will last for decades, and can even be reused since they are so durable. Compared to the bucket of metal and glass we take out to be recycled every week, (or the gas we use to heat) our flooring is a minor element of the overall embedded energy contained and used in your household.
    I do not recommend porcelain tiles, however, as they are very cold, and slippery when wet. I also would be a little worried about bamboo — we have oak in our bathroom, and repeated exposure to water has not worked out as well as we hoped — maybe bamboo is better. I do know that it is a very structurally stable wood, so the problem reported with bamboo buckling seems very likely due to improper installation, rather than the material itself.
    The cork option sounds appealing from an aesthetic standpoint, and reports suggest it is both environmentally sound and surprisingly durable for this application.

  25. Pat

    There is an easy to install “green”, recycled material, non-toxic floor covering for over concrete or wood that acts as cushioning that is made from recycled bags that locks together at the edges and can be cut for the product to fit at walls, room transitions or other places and comes in a dark grey and other colors.It is about 1/2″ thick.
    I saw it about 1-2 years ago for sale at Wal Mart and it sold out fast. Looks like a rubber mat that comes in about 3′ square and I do not know the name.
    Never saw it again after they sold that shipment. Keep looking.

  26. rocklingal

    I am also in the process of planning a major redo in my kitchen. I love the look of painted concrete but determined it would be too hard to stand on. So my preference will be to go with sealed cork tiles or marmoleum – whatever is available in local stores. (It’s already here, right?) My problem is that I have two layers of old sheet vinyl on the existing floor, probably with asbestos. So environmentally, do we disturb it and rip it up and put it in a landfill? Or chance that a new product will adhere to the existing.

  27. SaM

    UgH! 2 Layers of old sheet vinyl?? One would be bad enough….but 2?
    I believe leaving that old vinyl will be more trouble than its worth! You will not be able to properly prepare the floor (for marmoleum they recommend AC plywood substrate…No luan!) For cork I am uncertain the subfloor preparation process…but I am sure the vinyl floor should be ripped up and the subfloor be properly prepared.
    Imagine the environmental impact of ripped up and disposal of vinyl flooring versus leaving it, putting new material (and associated manufacturing energy, transportaion energy, etc) then after a short period of time that material FAILING due to the improperly prepared subfloor…meaning now you have to rip up everything anyways…and get new materials!
    I feel the best environmental choice is to invest in a product that is timeless and will last forever without requiring replacement….vinyl was never that product. Cork lasts indefinitely with care as does natural linoleum. Get rid of that junk vinyl!

  28. bethann lederer

    I work with a green company (workingwondersUS) that sells all the materials mentioned. You didn’t mention what kind of cabinetry and countertops you are choosing but you will want them to work well visually with your flooring. Personally, I love cork and we have sold it for kitchens for all the reasons mentioned, especially the decreased wear and tear on human backs! If you choose cork though, keep in mind that it is not a material that stands up well to water spills unless it has a good (environmentally friendly!) finish applied!

  29. lily

    I love the look of slate floors and its mineral components. One should be especially careful to slate floor cleaner

  30. Musaevels

    Intresting read
    Before anything i’d like to say i reside in New Jersey
    Should i get my stamped concrete or [url=http://www.surehandsusa.com]Decorative concrete[/url].