Archive for Floors

Recycled Bathroom Reno

Sometimes a room needs a little TLC right away, just to hold everything over until the real renovation can begin. Such was the case for the past two years with the second floor bathroom, which was doing just fine with a few minor upgrades until a leak proved to be the tipping point.

This has been a total – and unexpected – gut job, removing over 100 years of plumbing, tile and flooring. Thankfully the amazing crews that have been here for the rest of the house stepped up to the plate and worked around hectic holiday schedules, from Thanksgiving well past New Year’s. Bringing everything from plumbing to structural framing to electrical up to code has taken time. Now that it’s almost spring, we’re a few weeks from completion.

This is always the sweet spot in a project, when the environmental testing is long over with, the layers of debris are peeled away, the permits have been applied for, and municipal inspections have been passed. Here’s a few highlights of the processes and products used:

– As with any reno, I started with environmental testing. Lead testing was done before moving in, so that was already crossed off the list. I tested old floor tiles and wallboard for asbestos, which can be found in hundreds of building products. The EPA has a full guide here to asbestos information and resources.

– Having found asbestos in the old PVC floor tiles, I hired a certified firm for removal. Air sampling came back the same day showing all was well, and the firm provided documentation. Note…before any asbestos removal job, the state may need to be notified (as is the case in NJ) with a 10-day wait period. The delays and cost definitely ate into the budget and timeline, but the upside was knowing it was getting done right.

– I chose recycled denim insulation from Bonded Logic, which my carpenter loved. The town inspectors liked it, too and it became a talking point of the project. It runs pricier than conventional fiberglass insulation, but it’s a healthier product with out the toxic flame retardants or respiratory risks as with other insulations.

– With the recycled-content Florim USA tile in the downstairs bathroom holding up beautifully, I bought it again for this bathroom. At under $5 per square foot (uninstalled), it’s domestically made and purchased through a family-owned local store.

The other finishing touches such as paint, window framing, and built-in cabinetry are still in the works, so more on that to come.

Bathroom Makeover: From Vinyl to Recycled Tile

One of the most fun aspects of renovating a home is shopping for materials that will take a room from conventional to beautiful. The vinyl tile in one bathroom is from the 60’s and completely worn. Vinyl flooring (or polyvinyl chloride – PVC) can contain harmful lead, phthalates and other toxins, as found in a study from the nonprofit So replacing it with something healthier is great for kids, who tend to spend a lot of time crawling and playing on the ground.

Because older vinyl or composite tiles can also contain asbestos, I had these tested. The lab evaluated both the tile itself and the mastic (adhesive). Thankfully, both tests came out clear, and it was time to demo the floor. The tiles came up easily, a welcome surprise.

Big box home improvement stores have a wide selection of ceramic and porcelain tiles, but many are manufactured overseas without recycled content. After plenty of searching, I found Florim USA tile at a local, family-owned store. It’s made in the USA, has 40% pre-consumer recycled content, and is certified by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC). At about $4 a square foot (uninstalled), it’s an affordable “green” option. Other great choices are Oceanside Glasstile, which I’ve used (and loved) in a previous home and stunning Fireclay Tile, made in California.

For the tub surround, I found a treasure trove of neutral wall tiles at Green Demolitions, similar in concept to Habitat for Humanity resale stores. The tiles are inherently recycled since they came to this nonprofit store as leftovers from someone else’s big project. They were a fraction of the retail cost and are in-the-box new. All proceeds go towards charity, so it’s a win-win way to renovate. With the vinyl out and the recycled tile in, this bathroom space just got a little healthier.


Like to learn more? See info on vinyl floors and kids’ health at the Center for Health, Environment and Justice.

Natural Floors

For the floor refinishing, everything was sanded and prepped to get down to the bare wood.  Most flooring jobs would then include a layer of oil-based or water-based polyurethane, with or without using a stain first. 

For The Healthy Home Project, the floors will be left their natural color.  Instead of conventional poly, I opted for Vermont Natural Coatings Interior Floor Finish from Green Depot.  It’s a water-based finish that uses whey protein as the primary binding agent.

According to the website, “Whey protein is a natural by-product of cheese making, and a renewable resource. It makes for a very low-VOC wood finish, which means better indoor air quality for you. When cured, PolyWhey natural wood finish is twice as hard as the conventional water-based polyurethane products…It dries fast, won’t yellow over time, and there’s no noxious odor. It resists scratches, chemicals and water, and it’s long-wearing, even in areas with heavy foot traffic.”

Because the product is thin like skim milk, three coats were applied in the first floor rooms. In areas where the floors are a lower-grade wood (as is common in the upstairs rooms of older homes), the floor refinisher advised using a conventional, reduced-VOC oil-based poly because the product’s thickness would help this old wood resist splintering that could potentially occur with floors over a century old.

The floors have been coated for just about three weeks now. Downstairs, where the fir wood floors were done with PolyWhey, emitted virtually no odor from the start, and even that disappated after a day or two.  The oil-based poly on the second floor (a softer, more splinter-prone oak) is still offgassing enough to notice, so I keep the windows in those rooms open during the day and cracked at night to let in plenty of fresh air.

The floor refinisher did explain that he gets sinus irritation when using water-based products.  For him, oil-based products don’t have that effect.  For indoor air quality, PolyWhey is superior as long as irritation isn’t an issue for the installer.  It’s a beautiful satin finish, cleans well and is made with sustainable, safer ingredients.

Solving the Paint Mystery

With the old wall-to-wall carpeting gone, the wood floors are finally revealed. Two of the bedroom floors plus the hall were painted. Since we don’t know when that was, it could be lead paint, which was in use before being banned in 1978. The only way to find out about these floors is to have them tested, so for this I’m turning to a state-certified environmental services company, who came out with an XRF meter to test the area. With a quick point of the meter gun, the technician can get an immediate reading on the paint in that spot, reading through 3/8″ of paint, which would include many, if not all layers.

Home contractors can’t treat large areas containing lead paint if they’re not certified as “EPA Lead Safe“.  Flooring companies typically aren’t certified, as it’s not routinely in their line of work.

Thankfully, these floors came out in the clear, and the sanding and refinishing are good to go!

New Life for Old Carpet

Wall-to-wall carpet can trap allergens and other environmental contaminants, such as stain repellents and pesticides tracked in from outdoors. When young kids play close to the ground, where contaminants often settle, they can more easily absorb them. The Healthy Home Project house was filled with old carpet, running from the first floor to the third. The rainbow of colors from the 60’s and 70’s included lime green shag, dark brown, blue, and a green/cream combo.

When the flooring team removed it all, they uncovered horse-hair padding in some rooms, which means some of the carpeting was easily 50 years old.  That would have been an allergy nightmare in our household! Instead of heading for the landfill, I called an innovative carpet recycling company, so that it can be made into new products. The CarpetCyle website states:

“With more than 2.5 million tons of carpet discarded each year and landfill capacity declining, there is a social necessity and responsibility to recycle and reuse carpet. In addition to reducing the burden on landfills, carpet recycling and reuse provides other benefits… Carpet is a petroleum-based product. It is estimated that carpet recycling programs can save more than 700,000 barrels of oil per year, conserving 4.4 trillion BTUs of energy. Energy savings translate into reduced pollutants as well, minimizing air and greenhouse gas emissions.”

The photo here shows the trailer filled with our house-full of carpet, ready to be sent to the recycling facility.  With it gone, we can all breathe a bit easier, and start on the next phase of renovation.