Today new vinyl flooring was laid in the porch, spare bedroom and shower room and the conservatory. I can almost hear the sharp intake of breath and cries of ‘But that isn’t ecofriendly!’ from my permaculture friends. Quite right – it isn’t. But it was not chosen on a whim. I have been pondering for nearly a year how to resolve the flooring problem and in the end used the McHarg exclusion process to find the best, or at least the least worst, solution. the thinking went like this:-
The carpets on the ground floor were looking grubby and stained despite frequent vacuuming and shampooing. 2 dogs, 3 cats and me all walk in mud from the garden and since we access the garden through doors in the kitchen, sitting room and conservatory it is not realistic to change shoes, wipe paws or shut animals somewhere until they are dry and clean. Plus Orchid the lurcher pees indoors when anxious and is a very highly strung dog (nuff said!) Those carpets had to go. Underneath is concrete (not polished). It is not clear if a damp proof membrane was laid under it but I doubt if it was a good one if any.
What are the options? I listed them as:- Beaten earth, straw or rushes, concrete, wood, quary tiles, ceramic tiles, slate tiles / slabs, carpet (tiles or broadloom), rush or coir matting, laminate, vinyl (sheet or tiles).
Beaten earth (yes I did consider it briefly if only to check it was a daft idea!) would mean digging up all the existing concrete which would mean moving out whilst it was done and then finding some way to dispose of all the rubble. I had considered doing the same job to lay underfloor heating when the air source heat pump system was being designed. It was a bad idea then too which is why I have still got radiators. It is a very eco-friendly floor if you have the right sort of earth. (I gather from Simon Dale, a local expert on eco- building, that not all earth is suitable.) So that’s a NO.
Straw or rushes. I do not have an obvious source of either and there are very good reasons why that type of flooring was abandoned quickly by everyone who could afford better. One of the reasons is vermin. It may be eco-friendly (though here most straw is imported from SE England) but …NO
Concrete can look lovely and works well with underfloor heating but is cold without. Laid on top of the existing floor it would be thin and likely to crack or thick and make the ceilings lower. Really at least some of the existing floor would have to come up and we have discarded that idea. Embedded energy is high. So NO
Wood. I love wood and wooden floors would be great. When we first came here there was a wooden floor in the kitchen over the concrete subfloor and it had dry rot because there was damp coming up through the concrete and no ventilation under the boards. That is why I question the existence of a DPM. To put a DPM over the concrete and raise the boards over a ventilated void would add too much height. I could source local timber which would be eco-friendly. But NO – no more dry rot.
Quarry tiles, ceramic tiles and slate were all serious contenders. They are easy to clean and thin enough to be laid on the existing subfloor. They have 2 drawbacks. Firstly they are cold underfoot and the older I get the more I like my creature comforts. Secondly between wonky walls and floors and lots of built in cupboards and bookcases they would be a nightmare to lay and so very expensive. I have them in the kitchen which was a more regular shape and they are OK but I need rugs where I stand at the sink and hob. Quarry tiles and ceramic tiles involve high embedded energy but they last a long time so over their lifetime it is not too bad. Most slate is now imported from Brazil or China so involves high transport energy and debatable mining practices. Very little welsh slate is available unless it is recycled roof slate (expensive and hard to find) or old floor slabs (too thick and difficult to cut and lay). So NO
Another type of carpet? Anything synthetic is no more eco-friendly than laminate or vinyl and anything wool is hard to keep clean. Plus carpet, and its underlay, absorb wet or allow it through to the concrete which absorbs it. DOUBTFUL
Rush or coir matting has the disadvantages of carpet but is also not very nice to walk on barefoot or with only socks on. I understand it lets dust through to the subfloor so has to be lifted from time to time for a good clean. I am too old for that! I have no idea where it is made or where the raw materials come from but I doubt if it is local. NO
Laminate was my first choice but no-one was willing to try to lay it given the complicated edges. Also it needs an expansion gap which has to be neatened with beading – a prospect which had the fitters going pale and sweaty. So another NO
Vinyl is thin enough to go over the existing concrete, reasonably warm and nice to walk on, easy to lay (if you know how), easy to clean and waterproof. It is made with oil based chemicals so not eco-friendly. So not entirely happy but POSSIBLE
That meant that only synthetic carpet or vinyl were realistic possibilities. They were similarly unfriendly to the planet but vinyl was more functional so that is what I got. Roo seems happy with it!
Now we all know that what I SHOULD have done was either buy a small field (or part of one) and get planning permission under ‘One Planet Development’ for a hobbit house built to the highest eco standards OR stripped this place back to the original stonework, dug up the floors, rebuilt it with masses of insulation, a seriously efficient underfloor heating system, triple glazed windows and lime render. I will probably explain why we didn’t in another post! Meanwhile I am off to admire my new floors.