Warning: Is Your Hardwood Floor Slowly Killing You?

May 10, 2016

Whether you’re a fan of traditional Oak, a rich Mahogany, or a sustainable Bamboo, we can all appreciate the look of a beautiful hardwood floor.  And with advances in fabrication methods recently, laminate flooring and hardwood flooring differences are virtually undetectable.  And it can be very practical as well:

• Hardwood flooring can be easily cleaned (compared with some carpets)

• It is more hygienic than carpets (which harbor parasites, mites, dust, etc.)

• It does not trap odors, as carpets can do

• It can be sanded down and re-sealed when wear and tear has taken its toll

But there are hidden dangers that many consumers are not aware of.  Reports have surfaced about health concerns of flooring imported from China by Lumber Liquidators.  Most hardwood flooring has a polyurethane finish on it which includes Isocyantes.  These chemicals not only cause irritation of the skin, eyes, respiratory and gastrointestinal tracts, but they also have been linked to cancer, organ damage, and fetal abnormalities.  The levels of formaldehyde gas coming from some of Lumber Liquidators flooring was between 3x and 16x that of earlier government projections, depending on the test.  The federal Centers for Disease Control said that tests show formaldehyde levels could cause between 6 and 30 cases of cancer for every 100,000 people.  Have  we not learned that regulations of manufacturers in China are virtually nonexistent?  Not too long ago real estate developers and homeowners went through a similar problem with drywall manufactured in China.  The drywall included volatile chemicals that caused terrible odors, property damage to HVAC, plumbing, and electrical systems, and respiratory problems.  I believe it is the responsibility of a supplier to know all details about the company who is manufacturing the products which they are offering to the public.

So what does this mean for contract professionals?

• More than 100 million square feet of the company’s cheaper laminate flooring is installed in American homes every year.  Flooring contractors and general contractors should review their past work to determine if they have any exposure.

• Contractors should become familiarized with all options of flooring on the market today.  Two options is a water based polyurethane finishes and natural plant based floor finishes

For those contractors and professionals in the construction industry who recommend products such as hardwood and laminate flooring, it’s your responsibility to recommend the best (healthiest) options for your clients, while also providing cheaper options if necessary, highlighting the negative aspects of such. You’re exposed to liability claims if you do not recommend accordingly. In talking with professionals at continuing education seminars, I’m happy to say that I do see progress here.

There are a growing number of options on the market that you can ask your contractor about.  A few links are 1) www.greenbuildingsupply.com, which offers eco-friendly products including flooring, carpet, paint, and more; 2) Earthpaint, a North Carolina based company whose line of paints, stains, and finishes are pleasing to the eye without harmful formaldehyde, Isoaliphatics, Alkyl phenol ethoxylates, or other chemicals that none of us can pronounce or handle exposure to safely; 3) Vermont Natural Coatings, whose PolyWhey technology incorporates whey protein, a byproduct of cheese making, in place of toxic chemicals found in traditional flooring finishes.

To sum up, even though contractors do not need to become experts in every option of flooring on the market, it makes sense to spend some time learning the basics.   Litigation due to negligence in selection of flooring can be very costly.  And if a contractor’s plan is to remediate all of their past flooring projects with this exposure, time spent on such would keep them from their next project.  And time is money.  Ripping out hardwood flooring is a large, costly ordeal.  As John Wooden said, “If you don’t have time to do it right, when will you have time to do it over?"

Follow Dan at @DanGmelin