This will be the first in what will probably be a large series of posts detailing why tile actually is a “green”, environmentally friendly, and sustainable material.
For some odd reason most of the major tile manufacturers have not put forth a great amount of effort to inform consumers about the sustainable and environmental properties of ceramic tile.
While there is quite a bit of information on the internet concerning this particular subject you really have to search for it. Although both the carpet and wood flooring industries have made it a point to tout the green characteristics of their products, unfortunately the tile industry has not (yet) followed suit.
These products (carpet and wood) do indeed have certain sustainable aspects. The problem with most products described as “green”, however, is that they have one or two properties that are actually green without the entire consumption of materials, manufacturing process, or lifespan of any given product all working together to create an entire rounded sustainable property.
I believe that ceramic tile fits this bill better than either carpet or wood. While each bit of the process would involve fairly in-depth description I will only stick with one or two for each article in order to keep my posts short enough to be readable.
For this post I will discuss the life-span of a ceramic tile or natural stone installation compared to carpet or hardwood. If installed properly (a key factor in any type of installation) a tile or stone installation can last as long as the building in which it is installed. The same can not be said for the other two. I am by no means attempting to talk down the advantages of wood flooring or carpet although I do believe tile to be a better choice for many applications.
As far as bathrooms are concerned tile is considered more or less the norm. As far as the flooring, however, some choose hardwood or, even worse, carpet. Carpet needs to be replaced, on average, about every 10 – 12 years and even more often in a bathroom. The reason is water – water and carpet do not mix.
While you may be able to keep the surface of the carpet clean it soaks in liquids as well as fumes. Cleaning carpet, for the most part, cleans mostly only the surface. For a bath that is used regularly the carpet and underlying pad has no way to ever really dry thoroughly. Any area that continuously remains damp leaves a prime breeding ground for mold and all sorts of unseemly things you don’t want in your home.
While wood floors do not share this trait, the moisture, humidity, and nature of abuse any type of bathroom flooring is exposed to makes for an extremely harsh environment for any type of wood. Wood floors, of course, can be regularly refinished but this process involves chemicals and processes which are not very environmentally friendly. On the plus side there are many green products now available that now make this process less of an impact on the environment.
Tile, on the other hand, has none of these problems. Properly installed tile can easily last 20 years or more. Tile will not absorb odors. Water and other liquids will not compromise the tile itself or, if properly installed, the substrate beneath it. The surface look of the tile (most types of tile, anyway) will never wear out or change. Humidity does not affect it. It is also easily cleaned.
I believe tile to be the natural choice for any bathroom. Of the three types of flooring tile is the one that is least affected by the normal abuse to which bathroom materials are exposed . Because of this it will not need to be replaced until you are no longer fond of the style or look. I often tear out and replace tile from the late 60’s and early 70’s – and it’s difficult – and that’s a good thing. The few times I’ve removed carpet that has been in that long it is also difficult, but for different reasons – none of them good.
I love the look of hardwood floors in a kitchen, love them. As far as kitchen flooring I can only think of one thing that may be a drawback. Wood will dent and scratch. While hardwood floors are very durable, next to tile they do not stack up. In an area such as a kitchen I would rather have a more durable product that does not require refinishing. The amount of traffic and plain physical abuse of a kitchen floor I believe makes tile the better choice.
While moisture is not as prevalent in a kitchen I think the thing you need to be concerned with if considering carpet would be the stains. Kitchens are colorful. By that I mean there is just about every color imaginable that will stain a carpet. This makes any carpet installation in a kitchen unwise in my opinion. Just not a natural choice.
Tile, on the other hand, will withstand the abuse, doesn’t stain, and if it is damaged, does not require a major undertaking to replace one or two individual tiles.
Dining Rooms, Entryways, and other high-traffic areas
Other than the moisture and humidity issues in entryways you need to take into consideration the abuse these areas take. Over time they will begin to show what is known as “wear patterns”. These are especially prevalent in carpet and to a lesser extent on wood floor finishes. It is basically a lighter or worn path along regular traffic areas. Over time you will essentially be able to see where people regularly walk.
Regular maintenance deals with this to an extent but over time carpet will need to be replaced and hardwood refinished. Tile will not. Tile does not show wear patterns in the surface itself. Any pattern you may see is normally due to surface dirt and not to actual wear on the product. Carpet fibers as well as the finish on wood flooring will actually wear down.
The Replacement Factor
There are many more points on which I could elaborate about this issue but I will save them for another time. Suffice it to say that, given the above, tile is by far the natural choice when considering the maintenance or replacement factor. Because of the moisture and humidity resistance as well as the durability of tile it is the ideal product for many applications in your home.
The simple fact that a properly constructed tile installation lasts longer and has lower maintenance requirements than carpet or hardwood makes it a more environmentally friendly and sustainable product. By requiring less maintenance it cuts down on having to strip and refinish your floors like hardwood or tear-out and replacement like carpet. This eliminates landfill and helps cut down on maintenance chemicals in the air.
And the biggest environmental factor of all relating to replacement issues: it eliminates unnecessary future consumption of raw materials.
Next time we’ll delve into the consumption of raw materials and how the different flooring products compare. Until then just keep in mind the long-term advantages of tile over wood or carpet. The less often you have to replace something the less impact you’re making on the environment (as well as your bank account ).