These floors are made of a hardy grass that grows quickly and can be harvested every three to six years, making it one of the most renewable resources available. The only downfalls in environmental terms are that bamboo must be transported long distances, and there is potential for excessive deforestation to make way for bamboo plantations.
Look for formaldehyde-free bamboo flooring products, as some do contain the harmful chemical. It's also a good idea to buy from a company that uses sustainable harvesting practices. The floors are harder than hardwood and last for 30 to 50 years once installed. They're also great for humid climates, due to low moisture absorption.
A flooring option that's not as renewable as bamboo, but close behind, is cork. It's made from the bark of cork trees, which can be removed every 7 to 10 years without causing harm.
Cork resists mold, moisture and rot, as well as keeping its shape well. The non-toxic, biodegradable material can be as durable as hardwood, while scraps can even be ground up for compost. Look for all-natural cork flooring as opposed to cork-vinyl composites and choose products with natural protein binding agents if possible. Low VOC (volatile organic compound) adhesives or nails are preferable methods of installation, while natural wax or low VOC polyurethane are the best sealers.
This sheet or tile flooring material can come from recycling tires or other products (a less expensive and more durable option), straight from the sap of rubber trees, or it can be synthetically produced. It's great for rooms where non-slip flooring is needed, like the kitchen or play areas.
Some off-gassing will be present (creating a noticeable smell), but levels are generally low.
Unlike other flooring options, this material can be installed without adhesives because it is naturally form-fitting and sticky. Other pluses are easy cleaning and durability. However, some people may not want to choose rubber due to allergies.
While it's an obvious choice for retail stores, warehouses and restaurants, less well-known are the benefits concrete can have for homes. Polished concrete is ground down to a shiny, smooth surface with no waxes or chemicals required. Stained concrete can be made to look like natural stone, marble leather or wood.
Concrete has the longest lifespan of any flooring option. If you've already got concrete in your basement, it's a cost-effective choice that can provide comfort and requires only basic cleaning.