Last changed: 25/03/13
Floor coverings comprise the topmost layer of a floor. are an indispensable feature of all new and renovated/remodelled buildings. Floor coverings should be long lasting, robust, easy to clean, and should exhibit non-slip properties – particularly in wet areas. The materials used in floor coverings should be tailored to the requirements associated with the product’s application domain. which can include the following: offices; public buildings; hospitals; nursing homes; laboratories; schools; kindergartens; public baths; staircases; and stairs.
Interior floor coverings are available in various materials and qualities, and with a range of characteristics. The spectrum ranges from wood floor coverings with sealed or unsealed surfaces; laminate floor coverings; plastic, linoleum and cork floor coverings; tile and stone floor coverings; textile floor coverings that are glued down, laid without adhesive, or are tensioned (also see SN-Fachpresse Hamburg a, b).
Inasmuch as floor coverings are used extensively indoors, they can generate considerable amounts of toxic emissions. Thus in addition to the functional and decorative aspects of floor coverings, the environmental and health impact of these products is gaining increasing importance.
Floor coverings made of wood and wood-based materials comprise parquet strips, parquet panels, wood floorboards and wood-block paving. Composite wood products, which are coming into increasing use for cost reasons, are employed for laminate floor coverings, and as a base material for the installation of parquet, cork and linoleum floor tiles. Wood-based materials are composed of small wood particles (which come from sources such as wood industry waste) that are pressed together with natural or synthetic adhesives under extreme heat and pressure to make a solid panel.
Solid parquet floor coverings consist of flat wood strips that are for the most part made from hardwoods such as oak, beech, maple, ash or cherry. After being interconnected using a tongue and groove system, the entire element is glued down or nailed to timber lathing. The laid floor is then sanded, and a wax or varnish sealer is applied.
A lower cost alternative to solid parquet, ready-to-lay parquet consists of relatively large panels that are interconnected via a tongue and groove system. The entire surface of each panel is glued down or the panels are nailed to a timber lathing. The panels consist of a series of bonded layers; the top layer comprises a presealed hardwood wearing surface, and the layers beneath are made of softwood or a wood-based material.
Laminate floor coverings consist of composite wood tongue and groove plates whose upper surface consists of a decorative wood, stone, or imitation marble. Both the upper and lower surfaces of the floor coverings are protected against wear and dampness by a transparent resin coating. A range of durability categories is available for household and commercial/office applications. Laminate is either glued down or is installed as a floating floor. In the interest of reducing noise, impact sound insulation should be installed. Laminate floor coverings with integrated impact sound insulation are classified, and must be disposed of, as hazardous waste.
Floor coverings are made of a range of materials and in an equally large number of sectors, including the wood processing industry, and the plastic, textile and construction materials industry.
The environmental factors that come into play for floor coverings are health and ecological considerations, as well as properties in respect to noise and heat insulation, fire retardation, and static electricity (the latter will only be discussed briefly here).
In the interest of forestalling health problems, floor covering manufacturers have begun obtaining health related certification for their products, in addition to other certifications. The various eco-labels available for this certification define differing requirements in respect to toxic product substances, emissions and in some cases odours. Some of the eco-labels available for carpeting include the carpeting eco-label granted by Europäische Teppichgemeinschaft e.V and the GuT label from the Gemeinschaft umweltfreundliche Teppichböden e.V.; and for laminate and ready-to-lay parquet floor coverings, there is the LGA – Schadstoffgeprüfteco-label from Landesgewerbeanstalt Bayern Qualitest GmbH (LGA). For an overview of the numerous eco-labels available for home furnishing products, see Nachhaltigkeitsbericht der Raumausstattungsbranche 2008/2009 (SN-Fachpresse d).
For an assessment of selected eco-labels, see the report titled Bewertung ausgesuchter Warengruppen nach ökologischen und sozialen Kriterien (Manhart et al. 2008) and the brochure titled Aktionsprogramm Umwelt und Gesundheit Nordrhein-Westfalen. Umweltzeichen für Bauprodukte. Bauprodukte gezielt auswählen – eine Entscheidungshilfe (Ministerium für Umwelt und Naturschutz, Landwirtschaft und Verbraucherschutz des Landes Nordrhein-Westfalen et al., 2004). The sole eco-labels that define requirements for sustainability in addition to heath are the ”Blue Angel” quality seal (for wood, textile and resilient floor coverings); the ”EU Flower” eco-label (for hard floor-coverings); and natureplus (for wood and linoleum floor coverings).
Under German and EU law, floor coverings are classified as building products, are subject to construction regulations, and since October 2004 have been subject to approval by the Deutsche Institut für Bautechnik (DIBt) via the ”Ü-Zeichen” (compliance label) pursuant to the EU Directive 89/106/EEC (construction products directive) and the German Bauproduktengesetz (construction products law). The legal requirements that form the basis for floor covering approvals are described in a brochure titled Bauprodukte: Schadstoffe und Gerüche bestimmen und vermeiden. Ergebnisse aus einem Forschungsprojekt (Bundesanstalt für Materialforschung und -prüfung et al. 2007).
It is likely that, following a transitional phase, the approval criteria for floor coverings will thin out and thus simplify the range of eco-labels for these products.
The health related criteria for floor coverings defined in the aforementioned European directive are primarily governed by national regulations. The DIBt bases its floor coverings approval decisions on ”health assessment principles for building products used for interior applications,” of which the framework known as the AgBB Schema is an element. The ”Ü-Zeichen” contains the following advisory: ”Emissions tested in accordance with DIBt criteria.” A list of floor covering products that have been approved with this indication is available (for a fee) at www.dibt.de. The AgBB framework was elaborated by the Committee for Health-related Evaluation of Building Products in 2008 (Ausschuss für die gesundheitliche Bewertung von Bauprodukten, 2008) based on test-chamber measurements of VOC and SVOC (semi-volatile organic compound) emissions from building products on the third and 28th test day. The assessment rating includes concentrations, as well as harmful properties. Building products that meet AgBB Schema requirements are deemed to engender no indoor air pollution when used in residential interiors, according to the current state of knowledge. Some of the ”Blue Angel” quality seal emissions standards are more stringent than those of the AgBB Schema.
Non-controlled imports from countries that lack eco-labels comparable to those used in Germany may cause harmful floor emissions in floor coverings that are marketed in Germany.
The substances used in floor coverings adhesives can also be a source of emissions. A low emission water based filler and dispersion adhesive that is Blue Angel (RAL-UZ 113) approved is now available for wood, resilient and textile floor coverings. The bitumen containing parquet adhesive that was used until the 1970s and that emitted carcinogenic polycyclic aromatic carbons is a thing of the past. Recommendations for rehabilitation of contaminated areas can be found in Argebau (2000).
Many German manufacturers of textile and resilient floor coverings use latest-generation environmental technology that is ISO 9001 (for quality management) and ISO 14001 (for environmental management) certified (SN-Fachpresse d). These manufacturers are notable for the environmental stewardship exhibited by their processes in terms of efficient energy and raw materials use and minimization of environmental hazards.
Wood is a renewable resource that can be completely recycled. Wood should be used preferentially if it is produced via ecological forestry management methods. In the 1990s the multinational organizations known as the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) and Program for the Endorsement of Forest Certification Schemes (PEFC) were founded with a view to ensuring that only wood from sustainable forestry is used. The mission of these organizations is to promote social acceptability of forestry, as well as to minimize the adverse climate and biodiversity effects of forestry. These certifications are awarded for both domestic and tropical forests.
Wood processing is increasingly being processed by manufacturers that have FSC or PEFC certification, whose origin unfortunately cannot always be completely traced for tropical wood. Consequently some manufacturers avoid using this type of material.
Some wood surfaces are treated with materials such as oil or wax that produce emissions. Most of the paint, varnish and plastic coatings that are used for wood products nowadays are water based.
Wood processing waste (chips, shavings and sawdust) can be used for various purposes such as the manufacture of wood-based materials for laminates or as a base material for ready-to-lay parquet with a hardwood, cork or linoleum wearing surface. Sawdust can be used for linoleum manufacturing. Other uses for wood waste include paper manufacturing, as well as the production of wood pellets for wood-stove heating.
Floor coverings must be long lasting, robust, maintenance friendly and slip-proof in wet areas, besides being amenable to end-of-life recycling. Toward this end, wood, textile, and resilient floor coverings should contain the least possible amount of hazardous substances that could preclude or interfere with recycling. Hard floor-coverings can be recycled for construction materials.
The Blue Angel label – Germany’s oldest official eco-label – is owned by the Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety (Bundesministerium für Umwelt, Naturschutz und Reaktorsicherheit) and aims to promote the development of safer and more environmentally compatible products.
The criteria are drawn up by the Federal Environment Agency in cooperation with manufacturers, testing organizations, other experts and consumer representatives. An independent eco-label jury examines and adopts the award criteria. The label is awarded by RAL Deutsches Institut für Gütesicherung und Kennzeichnung e.V. on behalf of the Federal Environment Agency.
The criteria for award of the Blue Angel label are elaborated by the Federal Environment Agency in cooperation with manufacturers, testing organizations, other experts and consumer representatives An independent eco-label jury then reviews and adopts the criteria. The ”Blue Angel” quality seal is awarded under contract to the Federal Environment Agency by the organization RAL gGmbH.
The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) is a multinational non-governmental advocacy group for environmentally safe, socially responsible and economically sustainable use of the earth’s forests. The FSC receives worldwide support from environmental organizations, trade unions, indigenous peoples’ advocacy groups, and the forestry and wood industry. In order for a wood or wood-based material to be awarded the Blue Angel label, it must have FSC certification or the equivalent such as PEFC certification.
The FSC has defined ten mandatory principles and 56 criteria for sustainable forestry that take account of social, ecological and economic factors. National working groups adapt these principles and criteria to regional conditions in the form of FSC standards. The FSC label certifies that the wood used in a wood product meets the FSC criteria described above, and guarantees seamless traceability for the processing chain.
FSC certification is awarded by FSC certification organizations that apply uniform assessment criteria worldwide. The FSC label is valid in all countries.
The natureplus eco-label is owned by the Internationale Verein für zukunftsfähiges Bauen und Wohnen e.V. (natureplus e.V.), an association whose members include manufacturers, retailers, consumer and environmental organizations, planners, consultants, users, and testing laboratories.
Wood and parquet floorings are awarded the natureplus label in accordance with certification criteria developed A product must meet the following usability criteria in order to be granted the ecoplus label: (a) it must comprise at least 85 percent renewable and/or mineral resources; (b) it must comply with mandated health and environmental safety criteria; and (c) it must remain suitable for its intended use throughout its lifecycle.
The natureplus label is awarded by natureplus e.V.
The Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification Schemes (PEFC) is an international forest certification system. In addition to 24 European countries, its members include countries from other continents as well.
The Technical Document and the Bylaws of PEFC define minimum requirement for economic, ecological and social standards that have to be complied with at national and regional level.
Independent certification units issue the PEFC certificate that entitles forest owners to use the PEFC label. Timber and timber products that satisfy the requirements of the PEFC can also be certified if credible evidence of the product chain is ensured.
Wherever possible, floor coverings should be purchased that meet the specific requirements of the relevant application domain and that exhibit low emissions and contain minimum amounts of hazardous substances.
The tender recommendations in the table in the aforementioned document are based on (a) the Blue Angel eco-label requirements for the following: low emission products made of wood and wood substances (RAL-UZ 38); resilient floor coverings (RAL-UZ 120); and low emissions textile floor coverings (RAL-UZ 128); and (b) the environmental criteria for the ”EU Flower” eco-label [Commission Decision of 25 March 2002 establishing the ecological criteria for the award of the Community eco-label to hard floor-coverings (notified under document number C(2002) 1174)].
The manufacturer is to attest to the fact that the product complies with the mandated requirements and is to submit the relevant certificates and test report as proof of compliance. If the manufacturer has already concluded a label usage contract for the Blue Angel or ”EU Flower” eco-label, it can be assumed without further assessment that the manufacturer meets all of the mandated requirements.