Why Tile Is The Most Eco-Friendly Option

Tile Words to Know

  1. Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs)- A transparent, objective report that communicates what a product is made of and how it impacts the environment.
  2. Product Category Rules (PCRs)- A common set of rules that allows for a standard metric of comparison.
  3. Life-Cycle Assessment (LCA)- The environmental impact including each step in product usage: creation, usage, and disposal.
  4. Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs)- Dangerous chemicals that can become airborne under specific circumstances causing eye, nose and throat irritation, shortness of breath, headaches, fatigue, nausea, dizziness and skin problems. Higher concentrations may cause irritation of the lungs, as well as damage to the liver, kidney, or central nervous system.

In this article, Hunter, the lead installer and person in the know at Texas Tile, will detail many reasons why going green can sometimes be the best option for your pocketbook and health. Hunter has over a decade of experience in the tile industry and recently joined the NTCA.

Despite where you stand on the debate, there are many economic reasons to go “green” and consider the environmental footprint on your building and remodeling materials. In this article, I will briefly cover what Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs) and Product Category Rules (PCRs) are for North America. I will also give some cost and health benefits of going green.

As more emphasis on sustainability is considered, the building products being made follow this trend. Businesses who want to publish EPDs must use PCRs to define their products. This ensures that different products are rated equally. To be compliant with North American green building codes, businesses have to do so with a 60-year Life-Cycle Analysis (LCA). 60-years was chosen because this time frame is the average service life of a building. This period was also chosen to include the environmental impacts from:

  • Product sourcing/manufacturing
  • Transportation
  • Installation
  • Maintenance
  • Disposal

This analysis also provides information on the theoretical times a product would wear out and have to be replaced. The calculation being 60-years, divided by the products service life, in years.

Six categories must be considered to produce an EPD. Those are:

  • Global Warming Potential
  • Photochemical Oxidant Creation Potential
  • Ozone Depletion Potential
  • Acidification Potential
  • Eutrophication Potential
  • Abiotic Resource Depletion Potential

To be compliant, manufacturers submit vast amounts of detailed information to Thinkstep, a third party, who analyzes the data. After these reports have been produced, the verification entity, UL Environment, validates that the information is correct and awards certificates to companies who meet the minimum standards in each of the six categories.

With this perspective, let us consider the dollar cost. We will look at these three main categories.

  • Carpet
  • Vinyl
  • Tile

Being aware that there will be a certain lack of detail with many averages and groupings, let us look at the overall cost of each type of flooring.

On average, the lifespan of carpet in a residential setting is typically 3–5 years. Let us assume that the carpet is taken care of and would last 5 years. Let us also use the number of $5/sqft (the average here in Arlington, Texas) to install the carpet. If we use the 60-year life cycle assessment, the carpet will have to be replaced 12 times. 12 multiplied by the cost per square foot equals $60/square foot to keep the carpet in a residential setting for 60 years.

For vinyl, we will use the same equation. With a lifespan of 10–20 years, and a cost per square foot of $6.81/sqft, over 60 years, under good conditions, it will be replaced 3 times. 3 multiplied by $6.81 equals a cost of $20.43/sqft (a room of 100/sqft would be around $2,000) to keep the carpet in a residential area.

The average cost to install tile is around $16.74/sqft. Though this seems high at first glance, the average lifespan of tile is 75 to 100 years. Well exceeding vinyls cost per square foot by almost $5/sqft.

Cost aside, there are also many interior impacts to consider. From Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) in installation materials to nanoparticles such as formaldehyde and Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC) released during use, knowing what materials you are installing, and their installation methods can have a huge impact on the healthiness of your household. While mortars and grouts typically exhibit small amounts of VOCs during the curing process, once dry they exhibit no chemical release.

As for the tiles themselves, because they are fired at such high temperatures, any organic compounds that may be present are burned away during the manufacturing process. The same cannot be said for other flooring materials, namely carpet and vinyl, which can release the adhesives and bonding agents used in the manufacturing process during the course of their use.

Is there really much argument in what materials are not only the most eco-friendly options but also the cheapest and the safest for your home? The TCNA Handbook, which is the standard for the tile industry including in-depth information on not only installation methods but also materials, says “One thing is clear: Ceramic tile has the lowest 60-year environmental impact per square foot (and per square meter) across all major impact categories.”- 2019 TCNA Handbook And from the information provided, it’s clear to see why.

WRITTEN BY: T. HUNTER BULLOCK-Hunter has been a tile contractor for over ten years and has recently joined the NTCA. He is always looking for ways to improve his skills and help give back to the Tile industry.

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