Families worrying about the chemical content in their manufactured flooring and carpets are seeking out more natural alternatives-and finding plenty of options. Top concerns include:
* They want to protect the health of sensitive family members and are looking to install floors and carpets made from natural materials that won't off-gas chemicals.
* They want their new or remodeled homes to meet the criteria for LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification-when a third party verifies that a home is environmentally responsible through a combination of factors that includes installing recycled and responsible materials.
* They want the products they install to leave a minimal impact on the planet--whether by purchasing salvaged lumber or new bamboo flooring.
* They want a more natural look. Overly slick, synthetic-looking rooms are out. The texture and character offered by reclaimed materials and natural fibers is lending homes a softer look that brings the freshness and spontaneity of the outdoors to indoor environments.
While wall-to-wall carpet may no longer hold allure for many homebuyers, having a buffer underfoot still adds warmth to a home. The trend away from synthetic carpet follows good logic. The average carpet contains some 120 chemicals known as volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in its stain-resistors, dyes and other treatments. Some of these are neurotoxins, with the potential to cause headaches, nausea and even more severe reactions when they "off-gas" (a process that lasts three to five years after installation).
Natural carpet varieties have seen a huge upswing in popularity as a result. These range from durable, comfortable wool carpets, to stiffer, woven plant-based carpets made of sisal, sea grass, coir and jute. Sisal comes from a gave plants grown in East Africa and China; beige-to green sea grass, which can't be dyed, grows in China and India; coir is made from coconut husks; jute (the plant used to make burlap) produces one of the softest natural carpets.
Many of these coarse, woven rugs are rougher underfoot than plush polyester, but newer basket and herringbone weaves are starting to improve the feel. And to liven the natural colorations of many of these carpets, many are offered with a huge range of borders, from dragonflies and lilies to palm trees and elephants, to cottons, tapestries and leathers. "The biggest thing is the constant maintenance," says...