Eco-Friendly Flooring Home Decor

Making Good Choices about Sustainable Hardwoods

Wooden flooring, cabinetry, architectural elements and furniture offer a beautiful look for your home, but not all types of wood are sustainably harvested or easily replenished. By learning more about high-quality choices, selecting wood that is sustainable allows you to create the decor you desire without contributing to an adverse effect on the environment.

Sustainable Hardwoods

Concerns about wood harvesting include deforestation, illegal logging and loss of slow-growing hardwood species that are difficult to replace. Sustainable forest management includes an approach that addresses the big-picture needs of the forests and surrounding ecosystem. As a resource that affects air quality, water purity and the presence of wildlife, forests are much more than trees.

Damage to Ecosystems

Exotic woods such as teak and mahogany are typically not harvested from sustainable sources. In addition to contributing to deforestation of tropical rainforests, the impact can extend to endangered wildlife, human populations and many other components in large ecosystems across the world. Money often is the motivation for the continued harvesting of wood utilizing unsustainable methods.

Informed Choices

Choosing sustainable wood is as simple as understanding the type of wood and geographical locations that practice sustainable harvesting methods. Hardwoods tend to grow more slowly than softwoods, so sustainable wood is especially important when selecting hardwoods. Softwoods such as pine and fir grow very quickly; these types of wood are often used for lumber products due to their abundance and renewal rate.

Sustainable Certification

The European Union has implemented sustainable harvesting regulations, but in all parts of the world, you should focus on selecting wood that is certified as sustainable. Organizations such as the Forest Stewardship Council provide certification systems, so you can easily identify sustainable wood and feel good about your purchase.

The types of hardwood that are generally available as certified sustainable options include:

  • Oak: This popular hardwood with decorative grain is a durable choice for cabinetry, furniture and flooring. When selecting oak, look for FSC certification and sources that are reclaimed or recycled. Oak forests thrive and are grown sustainably throughout the United States and Canada.
  • Teak: FSC certification from Burma and Africa is possible with teak, and other types of exotic hardwoods such as favinha, guariuba and tatajuba woods are additional options. Slow-growing teak is difficult to grow sustainably, but because the wood is in high demand for outdoor furniture, it is often available on the black market.
  • Mahogany: The rich colors and unique grain of this unique wood make it a desirable choice for furniture. FSC-certified wood comes from South and Central America, Asia and Africa. Other types of wood, such as andiroba and jatoba, are additional options when a mahogany look is desired.
  • White Ash: This hardwood is desirable for baseball bats, hockey sticks and pool cues. Resistance to shock and the light, creamy color make it a popular choice for furniture, especially for curved forms. Ash is grown in FSC-certified forests across the eastern United States and Canada.
  • Black Cherry: With a red wood that has a similar look to mahogany, cherry is a popular choice for furniture, cabinets and doors in addition to guitars. Fine grain and wavy rings provide it with a unique texture and look. Cherry is grown throughout the central and eastern United States, and many FSC-certified forests are located in Pennsylvania.
  • Maple: Maple is available in both soft and hard types, and sugar maple is a coveted type of hardwood. This beautiful wood has many unique types of grain and a light color that is suitable for a wide variety of furniture, stair treads and flooring. Maple grows abundantly along the east coast of North America.
Eco-Friendly Flooring Hardwood Flooring

Is a Natural Oil Finish Right for Your Hardwood Floors?

Oil Finish Walnut Prefinished Engineered Hardwood Flooring
Oil-finished hardwoods like this beautiful walnut featured on are popular for their natural appearance.

Back in July, we took a look at the many options available for non-urethane hardwood finishes.  Among these, we briefly discussed penetrating oil sealers, which have been quickly gaining in popularity as natural and vintage looks have become increasingly desirable.  In fact, natural oil finishes have been common throughout Europe for quite some time and are used on about a third of hardwood floors there.  Consequently, many of the most trusted brands we use here in the U.S. were developed by manufacturers across the pond.  In this post, we will take a closer look at what makes natural oil finishes so appealing, their advantages and disadvantages, as well as some popular brands.

Penetrating oil sealers come in two basic varieties, natural oil, and hard wax oil finish, all of which will add value to your home.  The specific kinds of oils used and their proportions are what differentiate one brand from another.  Most use linseed or tung oil, or a combination of the two, as a base, but soy, sunflower, china wood, safflower, hemp, and other oils are also used.  Moreover, some formulas include resins or waxes (from carnauba, candelilla, or bees) to enhance durability.  “Danish oil” is a mixture of tung oil and varnish, which, though considered a penetrating oil sealer, has many different properties from natural and hard wax oil finishes.

A natural glow

One of the outstanding qualities of natural oil and, though to a slightly lesser degree, hard wax oil finishes is their ability to enhance the natural beauty of your wood floors.  Rather than resting on top of the wood and forming a protective barrier, as urethanes do, oil finishes soak into the wood and bond with it at a molecular level, making the wood itself stronger, but leaving its texture and color unobstructed.  Over time, they produce a patina that ages with the wood, so it never acquires the dull, outworn look that can occur with surface finishes.

Surprisingly durable

Hardwood enthusiasts accustomed to urethane finishes often express concern that a natural oil finish may leave wood vulnerable to greater wear and tear.  While it is true that with a penetrating finish wear does occur directly to the wood, modern oil finishes are much more resistant to wear than those originally used to condition hardwood.  What wear does occur tends not to upset the beauty of the floor as it would with surface finishes.  Scratches, even those made by your dog’s nails, tend to blend in with the texture of the wood because there is no surface layer to contrast with.  Moreover, any serious damage to the finish can almost invariably be spot repaired relatively easily, providing a huge advantage over surface finishes.

Oil finishes can also be refreshed from time to time as needed without any great hassle, unlike urethane finishes which must be removed completely and reapplied as though the wood had been laid down new.  With a properly maintained oil finish, you should never need to sand down your floors.  If reparability is the new sustainability, as many in the industry are saying, then natural oil finishes are the way to go.

green leaf icon smallSafe for your family and the environment

Visit any “green building” site, and you will almost certainly come across an article or two about the merits of natural oil finishes.  Most oil finishes release fewer volatile organic compounds (V.O.C.s) than other finishes.  Plus, as J. Neufeld of the U.S. Green Building Council’s Green Home Guide points out, “You could get away with never having to refinish your floor again. How’s that for sustainability?”

“If you’re airborne sensitive to VOCs, a natural finish is the only solution”, comments Organic 4 Green Living, “That’s why we’d always recommend the use of natural and organic products to refinish your floor”.

The downside

Most of the disadvantages of natural oil finishes have already been mentioned:

  • Any damage to the floor occurs directly to the wood, rather than to a replaceable (albeit troublesome to refinish) surface.
  • Penetrating finishes do require reapplication every few years and tend to produce some strong odors which may encourage you to vacate your home for a day or two (longer if you are sensitive to smells) while they dry.
  • Natural oil finishes do not offer much resistance to solvent damage from substances like cleansers, alcohol, and urine.  If cleaned up in a reasonable amount of time, this damage should be reparable without too much difficulty, but if you foster dogs or host a lot of keggers, you may want to consider something more durable, like a moisture-cured urethane.  Or concrete.
  • Some varieties require several coats for the initial application, which could require you to be out of the house for several days since each coat can take 24-48 to dry depending on the climate.  There are, however, a few one-coat oil finishes on the market and it is possible to get factory-finished natural oil flooring, though this is often only available through specialty distributors.
  • Even for those varieties that require only one coat, some have to be applied by hand with a rag or something similarly labor-intensive.  If you’re doing it yourself, consider the time and work required.  You may want to take a little vacation and have it done professionally instead.


Though few people would choose a natural oil finished based on this factor, many do appreciate that most oil-sealed floors can be damp mopped, a nice feature in food service environments or homes where sticky messes are frequent.  In general, you will need to use a special cleaner to mop your oil-finished floor (check with the finish manufacturer), but you can do so with confidence knowing that, not only will mopping not harm the finish, the special solution is actually designed to reinforce it.


For the most part, finishing your floor with an oil finish will not cost any more or less than a urethane finish.  You will need to “refinish” more frequently, but refinishing an oil finished floor is significantly less expensive than refinishing a floor with a polyurethane surface.

As we mentioned, it may also be more difficult and more expensive to purchase prefinished flooring with a natural oil finish, and most of this will be engineered.  Prefinished solid wood with a natural oil finish is available but can be very difficult to find.  It should be noted, however, that the added durability provided by factory-applied urethane finishes does not apply to pre-applied natural oil finishes.  The only advantages of pre-applied oil finish are that your installation will be completed more quickly and the odor common to natural oils will have already dissipated.


Unlike urethane finishes, natural oil and hard wax oil finishes often come in a variety of tints, eliminating the need for a stain.  The finish will tend to be a matte to satin.  A gloss finish can be achieved by applying a coating of wax to an oil-finished floor, but we do not recommend this course.  Wax requires a great deal of upkeep once applied and negates many of the benefits of a natural finish.  If a glassy look is what you want, better to go with a urethane.

Rubio Monocoat
This “Cherry Coral” finish from Rubio Monocoat is one of more than 40 color choices available from the company.

Some popular brands

These are the manufacturers most often mentioned in conversations about oil finishes:


Not sure what finish to choose?  Come on into MacDonald Hardwoods and talk to one of our experts about what finish might be right for you.


Eco-Friendly Flooring Hardwood Flooring

Where Does Wood Flooring Come From?

So you know that the wood for hardwood floors can come from a number of different tree species, both domestic and exotic.  But have you ever wondered just where those trees come from, how they’re grown and harvested, or, say just how many trees it takes to make a hardwood floor?  Well, keep reading and find out how your floor was born.

Where do the trees for flooring grow?

There are more than 20 species of tree that grow in the United States that provide excellent wood for flooring.  Most of them grow in the eastern part of the country (hardwoods tend to be of the deciduous broad-leaf variety rather than the evergreen needle-leafed trees of the West Coast).  More than half of hardwood harvested domestically is oak that grows from New England to the Midwest.  The U.S. also imports quite a bit of “exotic” hardwood like mahogany, rosewood, teak and wenge, which typically grow in more tropical regions like Brazil and Indonesia.  However, we also get a good amount of wood from Canada, including the maple of which they are so proud (justifiably so).

How many trees does it take to make a hardwood floor?

Well, the number of trees you need will, of course, depend on the size of floor you are making and the size of the trees the lumber comes from, among other factors.  To give you an idea, though, consider the floor installed at AT&T Stadium for the recently concluded Final Four NCAA men’s basketball tournament.  That floor, about 9,800 square feet of solid maple (70’ x 140’ – almost twice the size of a normal basketball court), it has been widely published, required somewhere around 30 mature trees, though the size of the trees at harvest was not specified.  Coming closer to home, one might expect to get from a tree about 18 inches in diameter with about 10 feet of mill-able trunk something close to 100 square feet of flooring, depending on the quality of the wood once it was milled.

Is that a lot of trees?

If adding up the numbers above has you running for the bamboo or cork, wait just a moment and consider the following.  In the last century, almost all manufacturers of lumber in the United States have found ways of harvesting and replanting that allow forests to replenish themselves at an even faster rate than they are being culled.  After all, for people in the logging and lumber industries, nothing would do them more harm than to see the end of the forest—it’s the source of their livelihood.

baby beech

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service, the annual net growth of hardwoods at present is significantly greater than the average annual demand.  In fact, even though it takes some 40 to 60 years for most hardwoods to mature, the trees that are growing in forests used for logging today probably won’t actually be needed for another 100 years.  So, even though it seems like a lot of trees, remember that trees are one of the most renewable resources around.  They require no energy-gobbling factory production or even significant irrigation and the carbon they trap as they grow stays trapped, even after they have transformed into cabinets, furniture, flooring, and art.

Are there rules about which trees can be used?

There certainly are.  Most people in the logging industry understand the importance of reforestation.  For them, the plenitude of the forest is not only an environmental issue but one of economic concern as well.  It is doubly important to those involved in the production and distribution of lumber that forests remain in robust health.  Though opinions on how lumber should be harvested vary quite a bit, most lumber in the U.S. originates in forests that are carefully managed in one way or another.  There are also a host of organizations that exist specifically to ensure that trees have been harvested safely—for the forest, the loggers, and the quality of the lumber.

As to exotic woods, it is against the law in the U.S. to import wood products that have been illegally harvested abroad.  Though it is left, of course, to those governments to determine the laws related to logging in their countries, exotic wood flooring is now coming more and more from either tree plantations or areas specifically designated for harvesting which, in most cases, are well-managed for the health of the forest.

So what about the parts of the tree that can’t be used for lumber?

This is actually one of the coolest parts of the lumber industry.  Throughout the process of milling and cutting wood for lumber, every extra part is used for something.  Decent-sized bits not suitable for lumber are sent to manufacturers of furniture and other things that require smaller, less uniform pieces.  Bark and shavings are sent off to be used for paper or mulch, or, along with sawdust, used to heat and sometimes even power the mill.

At MacDonald Hardwoods we take care to ensure that our wood flooring is sourced from responsible manufacturers, people we trust to provide the highest quality product ethically and sustainably.  With hardwood, you can rest assured that your floor and your forest will be around long into the future.

Image credit: Cowboys Stadium configured for basketball Wikimedia
Image Credit: Baby Beech fickr

Eco-Friendly Flooring Home Decor

Cork Flooring – It’s What’s Happening

cork flooringIf you’ve been thinking about installing hardwood floors in your home, you may want to consider the benefits of cork tile or planks before making your final decision.  Cork can create the warm, welcoming feeling often sought from hardwood, but with some added bonuses that might surprise you.  Comparable to hardwood in cost and maintenance, cork is quickly becoming the material of choice in modern homes.

Cork is highly renewable  The material for cork is harvested from the long-lived cork oak, a variation of oak native to the Mediterranean region (exotic, right?).  It is essentially bark peeled from mature trees every 8-12 years or so.  The harvesting process does no real damage to the tree, which simply regrows its bark between harvests, eliminating the need to cut down and regrow trees except for every, say 250 years or so.  Even more eco-happy, much of the material for cork flooring is reclaimed from the manufacture of things like wine corks and other cork products, so it already has one “reuse” cycle before it even gets to your home.

Cork is good for your health  Cork has a couple of benefits to your well-being.  You have probably squeezed a wine cork or pushed a pin into a bulletin board before.  Imagine how a material with that kind of give might feel under your feet and how much easier that might be on your back and legs, especially if you are one to, for example, work in the kitchen or at a standing desk for hours at a time.  While cork flooring is much denser than a wine cork and is sealed with a polyurethane sealant that makes it much less squishy than a bulletin board (and much more durable), its unique cellular structure gives it significantly more shock-absorbing power than most other flooring materials, especially those traditionally used in the kitchen.

Cork is good for your dishes  The same shock-absorbing power that can save your back from undue strain can also save things like glasses, vases, and children from injury when they fall from high places.

Cork is an excellent insulator  This applies to both heat and sound.  In fact, it is so good at keeping in heat and keeping out sound that it is often used as an underlayment other flooring materials for this very purpose.

Cork is versatile  Like other tile (see what we did there?), cork can be used to create a wide variety of looks for practically any room in the house.  From natural cork planks (used in such classy joints as homes designed by the much admired Frank Lloyd Wright) to brightly died cork tiles, it is not hard to find a cork to fit the room.  In fact, the variety may make it hard to choose.  Fortunately, you can mix and match as you please.

Cork is made partially of magic  OK, so not magic exactly, but a substance called Suberin that creates a natural resistance to molds, bacteria, and insects and, get this, acts as a fire inhibitor.  When you think about it, this only makes sense, given that the purpose of the bark on the tree to protect it from these very things.  Still, it’s pretty neat.

Cork floors are very forgiving  While we do not recommend being careless with your cork floor, its natural variation in tone and texture tends to hide minor bumps and bruises and its resilient texture allows it to self-heal to some degree.

So who wouldn’t want a healthful, magic, self-healing floor, you ask?  Well, while cork does have a lot of positive attributes, it also has some characteristics that need to be considered before laying it throughout your home.

Cork requires some maintenance  As we mentioned before, cork requires similar maintenance to hardwood – it needs to be swept or dry mopped regularly to remove harmful abrasives; it needs to be kept dry so that it does not absorb liquids, which will stain it; and it should only be cleaned with specific products designed to keep it looking its best.  Cork also tends to require more frequent refinishing than hardwood, even when properly cared for.  This typically means having it re-sealed with a few coats of protective polyurethane every few years.  Alternatively, it can be sealed with wax, which is more resistant to scratching but must be stripped and reapplied more often.

Cork is not especially pet-friendly  Because of its texture, cork can be more easily gouged by a pet’s toenails, damage that is beyond the cork’s power to self-heal and is not always easy to repair.

Cork is best installed by a professional  While it is possible to install certain forms of cork flooring on your own, the vital importance of sealing it properly really recommends that it be done by a professional with experience laying this type of flooring.

Cork needs to be protected from heavy objects  The same cellular structure that makes cork so friendly to your feet also leaves it subject to indentations and gouges from heavy objects.  It is important, then, that furniture never be dragged across a cork floor (though this also applies to hardwood) and that coasters be used under the legs of heavier items to better distribute their weight.

Cork is subject to discoloration in direct light  Cork has a greater tendency to fade in sunlight than hardwood, so it may not be the best choice in rooms that receive a great deal of direct natural light.

Cork is sensitive to moisture  Like hardwood, cork will respond to changing humidity levels in your home.  However, because cork expands in every direction rather than only in the direction of a grain, like hardwood, expansion and contraction is usually less noticeable.

Cork is not for everyone  Though cork comes in wide variety of textures and colors, some people simply do not care for the look.  But, if the idea of cork appeals to you, it is worth talking to our experts.  They can help you hone in on the styles of cork that might best suit your needs, both practical and aesthetic, so that you can make an informed decision about whether cork flooring is right for your home.

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