As eco-friendly design becomes more important for the health of building occupants and the planet, it’s up to all of us to carefully evaluate materials. The benefits of a particular building material may suddenly pale when its environmental impact is known.
Luxury vinyl tile, or LVT, a now popular flooring option, is one material in which you should carefully weigh its effects on the environment and your health before you purchase it. There are some serious issues with LVT that everyone should consider.
Luxury Vinyl Tile Flooring: Problems
Sheet vinyl flooring was introduced after WWII. It was superior to then-popular linoleum flooring for its moisture and chemical resistance advantages. In the 70’s, plank vinyl flooring was introduced so it would more closely resemble wood flooring. With technology advancements, vinyl flooring is now 100% waterproof and looks extremely realistic. Today, the vinyl tiles are known as luxury vinyl tile and from afar one might even think it is real wood or stone. LVT has a fairly good cost point, is easy to install and can withstand hardy cleaning agents. But while LVT looks good on paper, the material leaves much to be desired when considering how it is manufactured. And, those hardy cleaning agents may need to be rethought as well.
LVT is composed of four layers: a urethane or aluminum oxide top layer, a photographic film layer, a protective color vinyl layer and a sturdy vinyl backing. Proponents of LVT will note its durability and affordability, but rarely are its effects on the environment sited. That’s because LVT is more damaging to the environment than you might think.
In her TedMed talk, Why hospitals are making us sick, Robin Guenther, principal at Perkins+Will and a Senior Advisor to “Health Care Without Harm,” tells about hospitals covered in vinyl flooring. She discusses hospital workers – they account for 40% of all adult occupational asthma, an issue linked to the cleaning chemicals used to clean the vinyl flooring.
But there is more.
Vinyl manufacturing is done in chemical manufacturing plants located on the Mississippi River in Louisiana in a place that is known as ‘petrochemical corridor’ or Cancer Alley. This area of Louisiana is home to many chemical manufacturing plants including those that produce vinyl. Ninety one percent (91%) of residents report health problems linked to chemical exposure.
Luxury Vinyl Tile provides durability but at what health cost?
Luxury Vinyl Tile flooring is durable and allows for intensive cleaning, but its toxic impact on the people who live in the communities where the vinyl plants are located is alarming. There is much to weigh when selecting a building material but its production should not cause harm to a community’s or individuals’ health. Even if a sustainable or green building material is not on the must-have list, some consideration should be given to this issue.
LVT is made from polyvinyl chloride, or PVC. PVC is hazardous to both the environment and human health. There are many reasons for this. First, the production of PVC causes the release of toxins into the environment. Notably, it releases dioxins, which are highly-toxic compounds that pollute the environment and can cause serious human health problems.
Dioxin is considered one of the most highly carcinogenic pollutants. It has the potential to be released during the vinyl manufacturing process, and then again if the flooring product is incinerated. Due to a lack of viable PVC recycling options, most vinyl floors will end up in a landfill where there is a high probability of incineration.
While it can be recycled, this process is difficult due to the high levels of hazardous additives present in the material. Today, less than 1% of PVC is recycled. According to Greenpeace, the main methods of PVC disposal are incineration and landfilling, neither of which are sustainable options. Currently, there is no safe way to manufacture or dispose of PVC.
Another issue is the phthalates that are added to PVC to make it softer and more pliable. There are many types of phthalates, some of which cause cancer and others are endocrine disruptors. Some manufacturers are working to reduce the amount of phthalates and toxic emissions but there is a real gap in what is considered safe and research data is mixed depending on who is publishing the report.
The EPA and U.S. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) have both issued studies and reports showing alarming levels of dioxins in the blood of residents that live in the ‘petrochemical corridor’. A university study found residents were 2 to 3 times more likely to suffer from a whole host of health problems.
Non-Toxic, Environmentally-Friendly LVT Alternatives
When it comes to sustainable flooring options, Luxury Vinyl Tile (LVT) raises numerous red flags. Its toxic composition and environmental consequences make it a choice that should give anyone pause. Fortunately, there are plenty of alternatives to consider, such as reclaimed wood.
Reclaimed wood offers a multitude of benefits beyond its inherent beauty. It aligns with sustainability goals, adds biophilic elements and meets indoor air quality low-VOC requirements. With proper care, reclaimed wood flooring can last for years and can be repaired if scratched.
Why settle for LVT engineered to mimic the look of wood when you can have the real thing? Reclaimed wood ensures no living trees are destroyed, actively contributing to the local environment in multiple ways. And you won’t find reclaimed wood is not found on the Living Building Challenge Red List like luxury vinyl tile’s PVC.
Reclaimed wood can achieve a wide variety of different aesthetics, and it looks great in all kinds of spaces from formal offices to laid-back restaurants. In addition to being an excellent green building material, it also enhances human health. Featuring low-VOC finishes, reclaimed wood adds a healthy biophilic touch to any space.
Avoid Toxic Luxury Vinyl Tile (LVT): Choose Reclaimed Wood
While luxury vinyl tile flooring may seem a durable choice, it comes with too many environmental consequences and health hazards to be a conscientious choice. Making an ethical choice means opting for nontoxic, sustainable materials that may require a bit more attention in terms of care and maintenance but cause no harm. If you’re considering LVT, please first take a look at
Before choosing luxury vinyl tile, take a moment to explore the beauty and sustainability of reclaimed wood flooring. Make a conscious choice that is less toxic for you and promotes a healthier environment and a greener future.
Reclaimed wood—where sustainability meets timeless elegance.