The benefits of hardwood flooring are remarkable when you think about it. What other flooring option never goes out of style, lasts for generations, matches every décor, and is so easy to maintain? But what you may not know is that wood floors have significant health benefits as well.
Wood directly impacts indoor air quality. In fact, wood floors can significantly improve indoor air quality when compared to other flooring options.
The number of people affected by allergies each year is staggering. According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, researchers believe that nasal allergies affect about 50 million people in the United States alone, and that number is increasing every year. Allergies affect as much as 30 percent of the adult population in the U.S. and about 40 percent of children. Allergic disease, including asthma, is the fifth leading chronic disease in the U.S. for people of all ages. In children under the age of 18, it is the third most common.
Allergens can exist everywhere. Some are more common outdoors, like pollen and mold spores, while others are more common indoors, like dust mites and animal dander. All allergen sources, however, can be present anywhere at any time. And because the cost of air-borne allergy-related illnesses can be staggering – up to $17.5 billion in health care costs and more than 6 million work and school days lost each year – it is in everyone’s best interest to prevent and minimize allergy triggers whenever possible.
While outdoor allergens can be hard to control, there are ways to minimize the impact of allergens that occur indoors. All of the triggers for most air-borne allergens can accumulate indoors. They can gather on clothing, in your hair, on furniture, on curtains, on drapes, on bedding, on walls, and on flooring.
Frequent dusting, vacuuming, and washing will minimize many indoor allergies, but these activities also can stir them up. One way to prevent allergens altogether is to eliminate many of the areas where they can gather. Flooring is one area of the indoor environment where a number of indoor allergens can be controlled. Certain types of flooring, such as carpet, are simply better gathering places for allergens. Small microorganisms, pollen, dust, dust mites, mold, animal dander, and other substances tend to accumulate in carpet fibers. Other flooring types, such as wood, tend to minimize the accumulation of allergens because there are no fibers to trap these substances. Taking steps to minimize these kinds of allergens can result in improved indoor air quality.
A study conducted by Harris Interactive reports that most U.S. homeowners believe that their family’s health is directly related to the cleanliness of their floors. And the majority believe that wood floors are most effective in improving indoor air quality.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) agrees. They report that wood floors are hypoallergenic, which is a huge advantage for allergy sufferers. Wood floors do not harbor microorganisms or pesticides tracked in from outdoors as other flooring options can. They also minimize the accumulation of dust, mold, and animal dander, which improves overall indoor air quality.
Wood flooring also improves indoor air quality in another, less tangible, way. This is because wood is a carbon-neutral product.
As most people know, as a tree grows, it takes in carbon dioxide from the environment and produces oxygen. What most people do not know, however, is that products made from wood, including wood flooring, store carbon during their service lives. In other words, even after the tree used to make wood is cut down and manufactured into flooring, it continues to store carbon during its entire service life. That’s quite a green story and is yet another way wood flooring improves indoor air quality.
In recent years, wood floors also have been improved by utilizing low VOC finishes and adhesives.
VOCs are volatile organic compounds. They are gases that are emitted from products that have been determined to be harmful to humans. Short-term health effects from VOCs can include headaches, nausea, and ear, nose, and throat irritation. Long-term health effects from VOCs can include liver damage, kidney damage, and damage to the central nervous system.
The California Air Resources Board, an organization known as CARB, monitors indoor air quality. CARB has established strict regulations for VOC emissions. It regulates VOCs in wood flooring finishes and adhesives, and provides the strictest VOC standards in the nation. Other areas of the country are regulated by the Ozone Transport Commission. CARB now is being used as a model to develop national standards to minimize harmful VOC emissions.
CARB places significant restrictions on VOCs throughout the state of California. Compliance is mandatory and can result in severe financial penalties if not followed. Fines can be as high as tens of thousands of dollars, per violation, per day. These fines can add up quickly and can be devastating to many companies. And it’s not just the contractor who is at risk either. Penalties can be applied to the contractor, the product distributor, and the product manufacturer as well.
With all of these positive research results, it is easy to see how wood floors can reduce indoor allergens and improve overall indoor air quality. Communicating these positive messages to your customers can help you steer them toward products that will not only improve their décor, but also their health.
Anita Howard is Chief Operating Office at the National Wood Flooring Association in St. Louis. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.