Donnachadh McCarthy: The Home Ecologist

Why buy new floors every few years when reclaimed wood is always in style?
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I had floor problems. When I moved to my current house, the kitchen was covered with pretty unpleasant carpet tiles. But let's face it, carpet tiles are an insane way to cover a kitchen floor – ingrained grease is guaranteed in no time. I had tried to ignore this, but increasingly derogatory commentary from friends made action unavoidable.

Then there was the concrete bathroom floor, covered by super-thin lino tiles with colours dark enough to depress even the most cheerful bather. And finally there was the hallway, where a leak had resulted in the carpet actually starting to rot.

Something had to be done. But could I do it in an eco-friendly way? My odd-job man came to the rescue when he found his next-door neighbour dumping a load of laminate flooring in a skip. Following the unpleasant but nonetheless satisfying day spent ripping up the mangy carpet tiles, this laminate is now installed and looking resplendent in my refurbished kitchen.

Seeing how this worked so successfully, I resolved to see if the miracle could be repeated for the other two problem floors. I placed a notice on the local pages of the Freecycle website, and Bob's your uncle, a day later I got a message from a man in Vauxhall saying that he had just removed a house-full of laminate flooring and that I was welcome to it.

There was more than enough for both bathroom and lobby and it now gives off a lovely warm tone. We grabbed the opportunity to install some wood-fibre insulation board certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) beneath all of the new flooring, which means that, in addition to my lovely new flooring, I now have a cosy barrier between my bare feet and the concrete that lies beneath.

As I was putting the laminate on concrete, I did not have to worry about heat-loss through any exposed floorboards. Some time ago I tried a DIY product called Gap-Seal on the exposed floorboards in the dining room, in an attempt to block out the draughts. I have to say, I found it useless – it just kept popping back out. Using a traditional filler to close up the gaps seems to be the best option. It is important to remember that if you are exposing floorboards in ground-floor rooms, you'll get significantly less insulation.

Will Anderson is quite right when he says in his new book, Green Up!: An A-Z of Environmentally Friendly Home Improvements, that durability is crucial when choosing new flooring. Having mounds of cheap flooring ending up in landfill is just not what anyone wants. Ensuring that any new wood flooring is not contributing to the destruction of virgin rainforests and the livelihoods of the millions of people who depend on it is also crucial.

Choosing reclaimed laminate wood flooring meant that I did not have to consider this. In retrospect, it might even have been better if I had gone to a salvage yard like Lassco and chosen reclaimed hardwood flooring. There is some stunning old hardwood flooring floating about in many a salvage yard. You can find one locally to you at www.salvo.co.uk. However, if you have to use new wooden flooring, the basic minimum is to ensure that it is certified as being eco-friendly by the FSC. I have to admit, though, that I felt incredibly smug in having three lovely new floors, knowing that the eco-price was almost zero.



Donnachadh McCarthy works as an eco-auditor and is author of 'Easy Eco-auditing'. www.3acorns.co.uk

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