When it comes to planning a flooring project, many homeowners focus solely on aesthetics and cost....
Uncovering the Hidden Climate Costs of Flooring
The summer of 2023 has arrived with dramatically shifting global weather patterns and regional heatwaves, flash floods, and forest fires that increasingly affect our daily lives. But, the question remains: what can I do to help slow down climate change?
Most architects, designers, and homeowners already understand that some flooring decisions are better for the planet than others. However, sometimes it is difficult to measure the impact of any single flooring decision, and so the consequences can be easy to rationalize away.
Luckily, new tools like Environmental Product Declarations ("EPDs") help make the consequences of each product decision more clear. Just recently in hardwood flooring news, the National Wood Flooring Association released an industry-wide EPD for wood-based flooring materials that can be compared with other types of flooring.
As expected, renewable, wood-based products are notably easier on the planet than other classes of flooring.
For example, by switching from LVP ('luxury vinyl plank') to hardwood in a typical 1000 sqft project, a single homeowner can reduce the carbon emissions of their project by 86% based on published estimates -- going from 5.95 kg/sqft to 0.86 kg/sqft.
Those savings are significant, but it can be a little difficult to visualize the climate impact of 5,090 kg of CO2 in the air, or just over 5 metric tons, which hangs out in the atmosphere for 300 to 1,000 years.
So, just imagine keeping 5 small houses worth of carbon dioxide out of the air by choosing hardwoods instead of LVP per 1,000 sqft for your flooring project--that's pretty great!
So, just how big is the climate problem with flooring, anyway?
With flooring in particular, we already know how big the industry is, and how many square feet of flooring are sold in the USA every year. When we combine emissions estimates with the 2022 reports on flooring sales, the scale of the problem becomes clear: in just one year flooring alone is responsible for 131 million tons of CO2 emissions, with carpet and LVP contributing 90% of these emissions.
If we consider that 2022 was just one year, and that most climate projections expect to see much more dramatic effects in climate by 2050 by following the status quo-- we can simply extrapolate 25 years to estimate the cumulative impact of flooring: 3.3 billion metric tons of emissions.
Who cares? How does this affect my bottom line?
If visualizing 16.5 billion two-story homes worth of CO2 in the air won't do it for you, maybe the financial implications will. And unfortunately, the effects of climate change will have real financial repercussions for all Americans, primarily due to weather-related property loss and loss of life.
It is possible that you personally may avoid a fire, flood, or extreme heat event, but damage to state and federal buildings, highways, and frail electrical infrastructure mean that an increasing number of disaster declarations will turn into higher bills for state and federal budgets--and higher taxes.
How can we quantify those financial effects? It turns out, pretty easily. Today, there is already a market available that gives speculative pricing to tons of carbon dioxide emitted or stored, and values are generally based on what is estimated to be the social cost of carbon emissions. In this context, the markets value a ton of CO2e at anywhere from $50 to $3000 per ton.
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While the value of carbon emissions is highly politicized because there are so many interests involved, a good, middle-range value that is in-line with policy decisions for different government entities is around $125/ton. Given some basic sustainability economics, it is really easy to assume that nothing changes, and that the next 25 years are exactly like 2022.
Our team at Steller Floors built a basic model to determine the scale of the hidden, social costs associated with environmentally-unfriendly flooring choices. We discovered that over the 25 years between now and 2050, repeating our flooring decisions from 2022 will result in $411.7 Billion in social costs.
To put this number in perspective, switching flooring choices from primarily non-renewable materials to renewable materials, like wood floors, would reduce the emissions related to flooring by 80% each year. In 2022 alone, the hidden $16.5 Billion in social savings would have been roughly equivalent to the US budget for school lunches (USDA).
As Americans, we could look at these numbers as glass-half-full or glass-half-empty. That is, either we make some smart material choices that help us save money and defend our ability to afford school lunches, or we can keep making poor decisions that allow disasters to affect our pocketbooks, and school lunch budgets will be more vulnerable in the future.
In addition, the years between now and 2050 won't simply repeat 2022 over and over again. Inflation will increase, construction will increase, and the effects of climate change will become more clear. Since both the social cost of carbon and the flooring market are expected to grow, the social cost of flooring gets even larger, unless we start making better decisions.
At Steller Floors, we use our patented flooring design to help make solid hardwood floors even more sustainable. We manufacture our high quality, solid hardwood floors in rural Pennsylvania from secondary-regrowth forests using 100% wind electricity during manufacturing.
By applying our unique technology to make our floors reusable, we are moving the goalposts further down the field in building products sustainability.
Discover the impact of your own scenarios by clicking on "Modify model assumptions" below!