Earth First Flooring & Tile Co. details the range of green flooring options

  • John Asselin holds a sample of cork flooring at Earth First Flooring & Tile Co. in Sunderland. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Earth First Flooring & Tile Co. on Rt 116 in Sunderland. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Natural wood flooring options at Earth First Flooring & Tile Co. in Sunderland. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Natural wool carpeting samples at Earth First Flooring & Tile Co. in Sunderland. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Bamboo flooring samples made from mature bamboo plants at Earth First Flooring & Tile Co. in Sunderland. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Tile samples made from recycled tiles at Earth First Flooring & Tile Co. in Sunderland. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Marmoleum flooring samples at Earth First Flooring & Tile Co. in Sunderland. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

For The Recorder
Published: 5/16/2022 2:07:08 PM
Modified: 5/16/2022 2:05:21 PM

Many years ago, John Asselin opened Earth First Flooring & Tile Co. in Northampton. About 10 years ago, he opened a second store (same name) in Sunderland as he saw the need for sustainable flooring products grow.

“I have been really focused on sustainable and renewable products. It’s not always easy in the flooring business to find natural products,” said Asselin.

Choosing natural products contributes to better air quality in one’s home beyond qualities that are better for the overall environment, Asselin noted.

“Especially if you have children as they can often be more sensitive,” he said.

Synthetic flooring materials such as vinyl, linoleum, and carpeting can contain highly toxic chemicals such as formaldehyde, VOCs, and phthalates. Also, resins used in the manufacture of composite wood products such as plywood, particle board, and medium-density fiberboard can contain these toxic chemicals.

Formaldehyde is a noted carcinogen used to “fix” the state of a cadaver which is why it is used in products as a preservative. It can cause nasal burning and paresthesia in a person’s hands. Other short-term effects include headache, runny nose, nausea and difficulty breathing. Exposure may cause wheezing, asthma attacks and other respiratory symptoms according the American Lung Association.

Volatile Organic Compounds or VOCs are emitted as a gas and are a carcinogen that can cause a host of health issues, according to the American Lung Association.

Phthalates are “plasticizers” used to increase flexibility, transparency, and durability of a product. Phthalates are a class of hormone disrupting chemicals that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) lists as a “probable carcinogen.” They have been linked to breast cancer, infertility in men and women, and early puberty. Some studies have shown incidents of developmental abnormalities since they cross the placental barrier.

Asselin said in his efforts to find the best quality and safest flooring products, he is careful to purchase very little outside of the United States.

“We have standards in the United States they often don’t have in other countries,” he said.

Asselin said the products his company carries are “green label and certified,” which means the product has to have a certain level of recyclable or renewable components. Asselin’s flooring products also are Floorscore Certified which is another quality and standard rating for flooring.

For the past few years bamboo flooring has been a popular trend, but Asselin said he makes sure the bamboo products he buys have aged more than four years.

“Bamboo production in some countries is terrible. Yes, it keeps growing, but it’s is often harvested too early at two years. Bamboo needs to mature for three to four years at least for a quality product,” he explained. “There is a lot of rubbish out there being marketed.”

He added that some of the lower quality bamboo products can also have formaldehyde in them.

Asselin said he does get tile from Spain and Italy which is 40% recycled material and cork from Portugal. Cork flooring is waterproof and durable.

“Cork is one of the most extremely renewable products,” he said. “It just keeps growing and growing and you aren’t taking anything away from the earth.”

One of the flooring products Asselin sells is Marmoleum, which is made from linseed oil, wood flour, and woven jute. The product also contains pine tree rosin and some ground limestone. Marmoleum contains about 43% recycled material and contains no known toxins or heavy metals. Marmoleum comes in a wide range of colors and patterns.

“It’s a solid color product, meaning the color goes all the way through,” Asselin said. “It is antimicrobial, antibacterial, and durable.”

He explained the process of making Marmoleum is Co2 neutral and the heating process of production creates a highly dense product. In other words, the cellular space is so dense, not much else, such as dirt, can get in.

In terms of carpeting, Asselin’s business sells wool or carpet products made from recycled bottles.

“That’s the great thing about wool. You shave the sheep and it just keeps coming. Plus, it can always be recycled,” he said.

The wool carpets have a jute backing which helps to prevent dirt from passing through the fibers onto the floor. Asselin said often when you pick up a typical carpet that has lain for awhile there is “a lot of dirt (read dander, dust, and allergens) that collects underneath as well as in the carpet.”

However, if you are getting rid of carpeting, Asselin carries plenty of hardwoods such as red oak and maple that are grown in the U.S.

“The hard surfaces are anti-microbial and easier to clean,” he said. He recommends Simple Green products for cleaning wood surfaces or vinegar and water.

In terms of flooring trends, Asselin said he has seen a strong and growing interest in subway tile. Subway tile has been a staple since 1904 when designers used it in the New York City subway to create a clean and bright atmosphere. Subway tile is stain resistant and is easy to clean.

“We have a whole line in beautiful colors for bathrooms. People sometimes go for wild patterns that grab the eyes, but people always go back to simple,” said Asselin.

Due to COVID precautions Earth First Flooring & Tile Co. customers currently need to call to make an appointment. The business is expected to be fully open to the public again in the near future.

Cris Carl is an avid local gardener, licensed therapist and certified herbalist. She is an experienced journalist who has written for the Recorder for many years. You can reach her at cstormfox57@gmail.com.


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