Why Hardwood is a Winner for Floors

Hardwood FlooringLike any other aspect of interior design, fashions in flooring come and go. But as architects, designers and contractors deal with the complexities of choosing materials against a background of legislation and guidance designed to reduce environmental impacts, the ongoing trend for wooden floors comes into own in every respect.

This beautiful and natural material has been gracing the floors of our homes, businesses and public buildings for centuries, providing the strength, durability and practicality to last decades. Now all those qualities are brought together in the scientific data contained in Life Cycle Assessments, Whole Life Costings and Service Life, but the principles remain much the same. In this context, the world’s most natural material transcends the vagaries of fashion to become the most sustainable choice, with, of course, more than enough aesthetic appeal to satisfy designers and architects.

American hardwoods include a number of species for flooring, including American red oak, white oak and maple and our industry understands very well the requirement for strong sustainability credentials. The forests extend from Maine in the north to the Gulf of Mexico in the south and west to beyond the Mississippi River. And they have one thing in common. The rural communities which manage them have been managing forests for generations in a way that maintains their biodioversity, productivity and regenerative capacity. Harvesting is low intensity and small scale simply because forests are owned by families and individuals rather than by large timber corporations. After harvesting, these forest owners rely on the natural regeneration brought about by the fertile soils of the United States and not on chemical fertilisers or genetically modified species.

It is this kind of responsible forest management that results in new tree growth and the continued sequestration of carbon. And the conversion of the wood into products and applications such as flooring contributes to the long term removal of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, helping to reduce greenhouses gases and global warming.

Our industry is under the regular scrutiny of the US federal government which carries out regular and thorough forest surveys. These show that American hardwoods are not only renewable, but are actually an expanding resource. The volume of hardwood standing in American forests has, in fact, doubled in the last 50 years as harvesting levels remain well below the level of growth. And the US Forest Service forecasts indicate further increases of 15 to 20% over the next 20 years.

And there have been a number of studies done in the US on the environmental impacts of hardwoods. In 2008, the National Wood Flooring Association Industry Research Foundation with the Consortium for Research on Renewable Materials (CORRIM) conducted a life cycle analysis study of wood flooring which evaluated solid strip hardwood flooring against other flooring alternatives such as vinyl, linoleum and carpet. The CORRIM Study concluded that wood flooring had the least environmental impact of all the other materials studied.

Our americanhardwood.org provides all the information specifers need to make the right species choice. Our online Species Guide (Sustainable American Hardwoods) lists the species with physical, mechanical and working properties. Our major projects include the Antwerp Museum with its stunning American white oak flooring and a new auditorium at Ghent University with a 1230m2 of American white oak.

The inevitable question in all of this is about the CO2 emissions related to the transport of American hardwoods from the US to Europe. With the largest part of this transport chain done by sea, the CO2 emissions are minimal. But like many other industries, we are commissioning detailed LCA research to provide the independent science-based facts and figures which confirm the case for American hardwoods as the natural choice in a world where sustainability has become the watchword for all our customers.

The American Hardwood Export Council (AHEC) is the leading international trade association for the US hardwood industry, representing the committed exporters among US hardwood companies and all the major US hardwood product trade associations. AHEC concentrates its efforts on providing architects, specifiers, designers and end-users with technical information on the range of species, products and sources of supply.

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