While we all know that we should make the environmentally-responsible choice, sometimes this can be difficult due to practical and financial constraints. There are also some who may wonder if choosing natural, sustainable products really IS a better option in real, practical terms – as opposed to just to joining in a “trendy fad”.
Like all things in life, both synthetic and natural flooring have their own pros and cons. Here is a summary:
- Affordability – synthetic flooring tends to be cheaper than natural materials; for example, laminate is a popular cheaper alternative to real hardwood flooring, as it provides the same look at a fraction of the cost.
- Durability – advanced technology and improved design means that many synthetic floors can easily match their natural counterparts in durability, if not exceeding them.
- Maintenance – the other key drawcard for many synthetic floors is their ease of care and cleaning. Most vinyls and laminates require nothing more than a regular vacuum or sweep and an occasional wet mop.
- Resistance to staining and wear – because they can be treated with various repellents and soil guards, synthetic floors tend to be more stain-resistant. They are also generally water-resistant and can be used in all areas throughout the house.
- Replacement – since synthetic floors cope well with high traffic areas, they often do not require replacing as often. And if they do, they are cheaper to replace.
- Variety of choice – the manufacture of synthetic materials offers limitless variety when it comes to styles, patterns and colours – something that is hard to match using natural materials. Synthetics also have an advantage when it comes to providing consistency of appearance.
- Versatility – synthetic materials offer more choice for interior design, for example, giving you the look of wood flooring in areas which might otherwise have been unsuitable for the real thing. Similarly, with vinyl, you can recreate the look of stone or tile flooring without suffering from the cold feet that normally comes with the real deal!
- Of course, all these advantages come at a huge environmental cost, as well as possibly a cost to your own health and the health of your family.
- Synthetic products are almost inevitably derived from the petroleum industry which not only requires excessive energy consumption but also pours pollutants into the environment and atmosphere.
- Furthermore, many of the materials used in synthetic production come from non-sustainable, non-renewable sources.
- Synthetic flooring can be very damaging to your health as well, with many releasing atmospheric toxins and fumes, which can take years to dissipate – while possibly also incorporating chemicals in their structure which may be carcinogenic or at the very least, contribute towards respiratory diseases and allergies.
- Sustainability – the biggest reason for choosing natural flooring is for their eco-friendly properties. Not only are they made from materials grown and harvested in a sustainable manner, but they are also biodegradable, ensuring that they will not be adding to the waste pollution problem when they reach the end of their useful function and are disposed of.
- Health – natural flooring also provide a healthier environment for us and our families. If left untreated, they do not emit any harmful volatile organic compounds or other toxic chemicals and they are also less likely to contain any substances which may trigger allergies and respiratory conditions.
- Unmatched beauty and quality – no matter how hard we try, we just cannot match Mother Nature and no synthetic flooring truly comes close to the unique beauty and feeling of quality of true natural flooring, be it wood, stone or other natural plant fibres. In many areas, houses on the market with natural wood flooring automatically increase in premium, even if it is only through an intangible ‘appeal’ to the visiting prospective buyers. Likewise, wool carpets have luxurious feel and warmth that synthetic fibres like polyester and nylon just cannot recreate.
- Longevity – if well-maintained, it is hard to match natural products for their longevity. They are one of the few materials that will last a lifetime. Wool carpets, for example, will retain their resilience and vibrancy way after synthetic fibres have become matted or crushed.
- Natural resistance – many natural materials are anti-static, anti-bacterial, fungicidal, insecticidal and stain-resistant.
- Low flammability – unlike synthetics, which can be a serious hazard, natural flooring tedsn to have very low flammability and in many cases, will burn itself out very quickly, even if it is set on fire.
- Less chemical treatment – not only is natural flooring made of sustainable materials, but they also often come with natural resistance to stains, bacteria, static, etc – and this means that there is less need to introduce additional toxins in the form of chemical treatments and finishes.
- Natural colours – natural flooring comes in a range of earthy colours, tones and shades which easily match to many décor schemes, partly because the colours are neutral and do not clash as synthetic primary colours can, but also because they are automatically soothing and pleasing to the eye.
Natural flooring does have some disadvantages, namely:
- Natural vulnerability – natural flooring can be more susceptible to damage, due to the natural properties of the fibres or materials involved. For example, wood flooring is vulnerable to discolouration, warping and even cracking if they are exposed to extremes of light, moisture or temperature for long periods.
- Surface wear and tear – unless they are treated with protective varnishes, natural flooring can often be prone to scratches, dents and gouges.
- Limited use – because of their inherent vulnerabilities, many types of natural flooring cannot be used in certain areas or in certain conditions; the most common one is in areas of high moisture, which is not recommended for wood flooring, cork flooring and all plant fibre floor coverings.
- Appearance – because they are “natural”, it can be very difficult to maintain uniformity of appearance. It can also mean that you have limited choice in your selection of colours and patterns. For many, however, these “ natural imperfections” are part of the inherent beauty and character of natural products.
In essence, choosing synthetic over natural flooring is choosing convenience over ethics. However, your final choice is dependent on you honestly assessing your lifestyle, practical needs, aesthetic preference and any ethical views – and making your decision from there.