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Green with Envy
Poor other flooring choices. They try so hard to be as environmentally friendly as ceramic tile, they really do, but in the end they always come up short. The problem with the other guys is that they just aren’t solid enough. When you’re made up of polymers or covered with special finishes, you give off too many volatile organic compounds (VOCs), you require a lot of fancy solvents to get clean, and you wear out way too early.
A lot of what makes tile a good green choice didn’t start off as a plan to save the world or anything, it’s just how tile is. First, you can’t be real far away from your raw materials when you make tile, and you can’t use anything really exotic or scary. You bring in some sand and clay and feldspar from somewhere nearby (adding some recycled ingredients, too), you top it off with some glass and a little bit of pigment, you fire it in a kiln (which drives off all of the organics, volatile or otherwise) and… voila: tile! Once you stick it to the floor, it’s there for a LONG time, so you don’t have to replace it like you do with carpet or vinyl.
There are a lot of green building standards out now. The one with the most name recognition is the LEED program, which gives buildings ratings based on how many points they achieve. Tile can contribute to points in many areas of LEED. In fact, the newest version of LEED specifically says if you’re using tile, you don’t have to test for VOCs because there aren’t any, and this counts toward the low emissions flooring credit. Being close to the factory counts toward points, too, as does the use of recycled content and some more arcane things like using tile outside to reduce the heat island effect.
A few years ago, the Tile Council of North America (TCNA) realized that tile was under-represented in the standards. The tile industry as a whole hadn’t done a very good job of communicating why tile was a good choice for green construction. As a result, the TCNA started its Green Initiative Committee. Yours truly is the chairman, but there are at least 40 other industry participants. We’ve come a long way in getting the word out there, as well as finding ways to not just rest on our laurels, but to lead the way in defining and improving our processes and products. If you get a chance, check out www.tilethenaturalchoice.com for more information about tile, the committee and the environment.
And so, a recap: Tile is environmentally friendly because the raw materials are mined nearby, usually there is a factory within 500 miles of your house (regional availability), there are no VOCs in tile, porcelain tile is low in porosity so there is nowhere for mold or mildew to hide, tile itself has some recycled content and the installation products used to install tile have high percentages of recycled products, once you install tile it’s there for a long time so you don’t have to tear it out and once you do tear it out you can use it as clean fill or recycle it so it doesn’t have to go to a landfill, you don’t have to use harsh cleaning products with tile… Man, I can see why the other guys feel a little green with envy.