And products are finding plenty of reuse elsewhere. Invista recycles nylon 6,6 into EcoSoft carpet cushion; synthetic fibers also are being used to make injection-molded plastic parts, such as in car engines. Wool fibers can be recycled into cushion, as well.
Indoor air quality and recycled content also come into play for carpet padding.
First, cushion products have their own Green Label Plus seal, so look for a certification separate from your carpet selection.
And, like fibers, pads come in synthetic and natural materials; many contain high amounts of recycled content, including old carpet or furniture foam. HBN and others caution about the potential presence of PBDEs (flame retardants that have come under EPA scrutiny) in recycled foam padding, so be sure to ask.
Quality and Installation
A sustainable carpet is also one that does not have to be replaced as often. “I think it’s critical that the builder recognize that that’s part of the problem,” says Cross. “If you can increase that spec to something that’s a heavier weight … it’s a little more expensive, but it’s going to stay on the floor longer.”
In addition to resources from manufacturers describing durability levels, CRI offers a Texture Appearance Retention Rating, which helps customers choose the right traffic rating for each area.
On the front end, accurate measuring and ordering are essential for waste reduction. CRI will soon introduce an installation standard to help specifiers better estimate how much carpet is needed for each project.
Carpet or No Carpet?
Some sustainability advocates argue that any type of carpet is not desirable in homes because it traps dirt, debris, and dust mites. “Carpets accumulate dust and dirt in the amount of approximately 5 to 25 grams per square meter of surface area ... which is a far greater extent than hard flooring,” says the National Center for Healthy Housing (NCHH).
CRI counters that the opposite is true—that properly maintained carpet is better than hard surfacing because it traps dust and debris until it is vacuumed up. The group cites a 15-year Swedish study, among others, that found no link between carpet usage and the incidence of allergies and asthma.
Debates aside, optimal air quality relies on proper maintenance, and builders should provide instructions as part of the homeowner’s manual. The NCHH and CRI recommend vacuuming carpet once or twice a week with a HEPA vacuum using slow, repetitive motions. CRI includes vacuum-buying resources on its website and offers a seal-of-approval program for spot removers, vacuums, and deep cleaners.
Choosing carpet for green-built homes often comes down to weighing which attributes are most important to both client and pro—and which options fit the project’s budget.
For now, most homeowners are concerned with appearance and quality above all else. “The most important thing to the residential consumer is performance,” Cross says, speculating that less than 10% of carpet buyers walk in and ask about sustainability. “It’s not the green specifications, it’s the performance. The green aspect is the cherry on top.”
And this means a messaging opportunity for savvy pros. “Make sure the developer understands what sort of marketability improvements making these green improvements can have,” says Chris Dragan, president of Nature’s Carpet. “For a fairly minimal cost one can come away with a marketing proposition that can be valid to the end buyer.”
Katy Tomasulo is deputy editor of EcoHome.