Part 3 – How is the timber flooring finished? – Good quality timber needs to be finished appropriately to ensure it is protected and long lasting, however there are different materials that can be used and some are more sustainable than others. From an ecological point of view it is difficult for a consumer to quantify whether or not a material has an impact on their health or the environment, especially when the effects are not directly apparent.
Two problems with the typical finishes used on timber are the effect they have on air quality in the home, and then on the environment following disposal of the product (at the end of it’s life). Firstly, everything in your home ‘off-gases’, not only varnishes and paints but fabrics, foams and plastics etc. They emit toxic chemicals over a number of years following installation, and collectively they can contribute to having a detrimental effect on your health. Many paints, lacquers and varnishes have a high VOC content (volatile organic compounds**), however the good news is that many companies produce low VOC products and some produce finishes with zero VOC content.
**A general term for the toxic chemical content.
Secondly, at the end of the product life cycle almost all timber material ends up being made into particleboard (MDF, chipboard) or it goes into landfill. If it is finished in certain lacquers or varnishes then these chemicals will leach into the soil over time and contribute to soil and water contamination.
The main reason for finishing a timber floor is to enhance the natural characteristics of the material (colour and texture) as well as increasing its durability. However there are a number of products on the market which achieve this in a cleaner and healthier way.
An example of an oiled floor.
Auro produce a great natural (linseed) oil product derived from flax.
Unearthed Paints produce stains for timber that are coloured using natural pigments.
White painted floor boards.
Painted floor boards.
The Little Green Paint Company – Their paints are made from vegetable oil, low VOC, and available in a wide range of colours.
In part 4 we will be looking into the pros and cons of working with bamboo.