What you put around you is just as important as what you put in you
“I treat my body like a temple, you treat yours like a tent.” – Jimmy Buffet, Fruitcakes
Is there anything a person gets more passionate about than a diet? Religion and politics come close, but ask yourself if you would rather be told where you’re going to spend eternity, or that you should stop eating that thing you love. It might seem counter-intuitive, but if you’re honest with yourself, you probably get more upset when people tell you what to eat than when any kind of hypothetical eternal situation is broached.
“Excuse me ma’am, I’d like to talk to you about your eternal –”
“Oh thank Goodness! I thought you were going to tell me to eat kale!”*
There’s an obvious reason for this. What we put into our bodies becomes part of us — it fuels us. Good choices make us smarter, stronger, and healthier; while bad choices make us sick or can even kill us. With such a direct effect on our wellbeing, it’s no wonder that food/diets are a passionate subject.
That same passion doesn’t always correlate with the materials you surround yourself with, but it probably should. Your environment, both indoors and outdoors, has a significant effect on your health. Not only does what you put in you matter, but also what you put around you.
According to the World Health Organization, a 2006 report found that a staggering 24% of all disease is caused by environmental exposure.
The study was looking at both outdoor and indoor environments, but since it is admittedly difficult to control your outdoor air environment on a daily bases, that makes your indoor air environment that much more important.
There are many contributing factors to your indoor air environment. The largest being things like mold and mildew, but since this is a flooring blog let’s talk about (spoiler alert) flooring.
Your flooring has a larger impact on your indoor environment than you might think. Carpet, for example, is awesome when it comes to trapping heat. Unfortunately, it also tends to trap particles like dust and mites, making them harder to clean and eventually releasing them into the air. Carpet also holds moisture, which can encourage mold growth more rapidly than a hard surface, and mold is one of the biggest contributors to a poor indoor air environment.
Flooring that is petroleum based (a category that includes things like Vinyl, and the newer WPC) does a much better job than carpet at creating a clean surface environment. But, depending on how it was sourced, it can have serious off-gassing issues.
For the blissfully uninitiated, off-gassing is when something is made with a chemical that is toxic while it is curing, but once it has fully cured, is completely inert. It’s like a new car smell, except poisonous.
“I love this smell!”
“Yeah… about that…”
Before going any further, it’s essential to note that not all things that smell are toxic, and not all toxic gasses smell. So just because something smells, doesn’t mean it’s off-gassing something toxic. This makes spotting things that are bad for you that much harder.
If you are going to go with a vinyl option, make sure you get it from as reputable a source as you know how to find. Even big “I can trust that company because it’s big” companies have a dodgy track record when it comes to selling less than responsible materials.
Home Depot recently announced it was “eliminating substances like formaldehyde and lead in several categories.” It said, “the changes are part of a broader plan to minimize or disclose harmful substances in the paints, carpets, insulation and flooring it sells.”
According to the Bloomberg report, Home Depot joins Target and Walmart in a move to, “both disclose the chemicals in the products they sell and remove them whenever possible.”
I applaud this effort, and I hate to sound cynical, but am I the only one wondering, “WHY IS THIS NEWS? WHY WOULDN’T YOU HAVE JUST BEEN DOING THIS ALL ALONG?” It’s not like a scientist recently discovered that when given the choice, people would prefer to surround themselves with less poison rather than more.
If these new, “greener” products are roughly the same price, it makes it harder to believe there was ever a choice to offer a more dangerous product. Admittedly, I don’t work for a big box store, so I’ll leave it to you to decide if you think they’re looking out for you.
That brings us back to wood. Is wood truly the best option?
Wood flooring has the best chance of being safe, but not even wood escapes all issues. We have worked with a family that had low-cost engineered flooring in their home and it was actually making the wife sick (Full story here). Once they replaced the floor with one of ours, her symptoms went away very rapidly (the replacement floor was also engineered, so don’t oversimplify it and think the problem is with all engineered flooring… you’re better than that).
Wood also has the benefits of other hard surfaces in that it doesn’t trap particles and is very easy to clean.
There are also some well known outdoor environmental benefits!
Ultimately when you source materials for your home, you need to choose products that surround your body with the same care as when you choose what you put in your body.