Underlayments: Green by every definition

Underlayments: Green by every definition
August 22, 2011

With ever growing discern, consumers are asking for green flooring products and manufacturers have answered with environmentally responsible solutions. The next step, however, should be giving her a totally green system, right down to the underlayment.

In today’s market, that is not a difficult request to meet. Whatever you or your customer accept as green attributes, there are multiple options available.

Standards are in the process of being set to define just what green means for underlayments. ANSI is still developing definitive outlines for the product specifically, said Matt Heil, underlayment product manager and director of national retail sales at Pregis. However, the recently ratified laminate standard, released in February, touches on it in sections 5.4.3, 5.4.5, and 5.5.3 that deals with sundries, looking at environmentally sustainable inputs, bio-based packaging materials and avoidance of using chemicals of concern.

Currently, the main standard is for sound absorption and control. A product must be a 180- to 220-grain, said Pete Pino, operations manager at APC Cork. “If it is too small, there are too many air molecules and it loses sound control properties. That dimension closes the air chamber and controls sound.” Sound transmission class and impact insulation class look for products that achieve 50/50 standards: a 6mil product on a 1⁄4-inch slab meets those requirements, Pino said.

One of the oldest forms of underlayment comes from the quercus suber, the same cork oak that produces cork flooring. As with all cork products, including bottle stoppers, the product is made from the bark of the tree. “We don’t cut anything down,” said Tim Thompson, marketing manager at Amorim, which started making stoppers and underlayments in 1870. “Typically we can get 16 harvests from one tree, so they live for a long time. We have a tree that is 300 years old, which we call the Whistler.”

Because most cork companies make multiple products from the material, there is often little to no waste in production. Think of the way you eat chicken: The best meat is cut straight from the breast, while the bones and giblets are used to make soup bases. Nothing is wasted. Cork is very similar, only the chicken breast is the topical flooring and the giblets are the underlayment.

“There is zero waste in our plants after all of these products are manufactured,” Thompson said. “This is a very unique process that ensures our commitment to the sustainability of the global environment in which we live today.”

APC’s Pino resounded the cry of all natural with his company’s underlayments. “It’s all cork and it’s a natural, green product,” he said. “There’s nothing in it but cork.”

Synthetic materials

Not at all underlayments are created green. According to Jack Boesch, director of marketing for MP Global, many can be made from petroleum-based chemicals and some actually give off volatile organic compounds (VOCs). This could raise a red flag for many environmentally conscientious shoppers.

MP Global is different. “Since the day our company was founded in 1997, our business model was to manufacture insulating and padding products from recycled materials that normally would have gone into landfills,” Boesch said. “Currently, we utilize approximately 780 tons of scrap fibers from the textile and carpet industries each month.”

Specifically, its QuietWalk has been certified to 94% recycled content, while some of its other products are certified at 100%. “According to what we’ve been told by SCS, our underlayments are the only ones on the market certified for Indoor Advantage Gold,” he added.

Certain manufacturing processes can also attribute to environmental stewardship. For example, products made from the same material lend more efficient manufacturing processes as well as the option to recycle, said Pregis’ Heil. “When you laminate two polyethylene substrates together, commonly known as low density polyethylene (LDTE), this construction can utilize waste materials during production and is recyclable at the end of its useful life,” he said.

However, it is a different story for products that fuse different substrates, like poly- styrene and polyethylene, due to the fact they are different materials. Polystyrene is a plastic used to make hairdryers, TVs and kitchen appliances, while polyethylene is the most simple and most common of all commercial polymers. “At end of life you can’t recycle two different substrates [so closely manufactured together],” Heil said.

In addition to manufacturing recyclable underlayment, Pregis focuses on the bigger picture of its carbon footprint in the production of its goods. “We dedicate ourselves to new technology and solutions that minimize impact on the environment while maximizing benefits to our customers,” said Daché Davidson, marketing manager. “By staying at the forefront of important trends such as source reduction, waste minimization, recycling and resource conservation, Pregis creates a winning proposition for our customers.”

-Emily Hooper

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