70s House Eco Renovation

Replacing Carpets - Green Carpets Had To Go!

By Kenneth Barbalace

[Last update May 2, 2009]

Note: This is one in a series of articles documenting the eco renovation of our house. See the links at the bottom of this article for other articles in this series.

When we moved in, the green carpets were worn out and smelled very bad, which made the house very unpleasant to be in. They also posed potential health problems as they undoubtedly harbored lots of stuff old carpets harbor like allergens, dust mites, mold spores, etc. Carpets in general are a dicey issue for anyone with pets or allergies because they like to trap all kinds of bad stuff. The old green carpet was no exception. One thing about new carpets is that frequently the off-gassing (odors) of new carpets give me really bad headaches so we had to be really careful about what we put in. As an example if I go and hang out in the area of the carpet section at Home Depot or Lowes® for as little as five minutes I can get a nasty headache from the smell of VOCs coming off the new carpets. We decided we didn't want to go the wood flooring route because it wouldn't dampen noise in the house as well. Wood flooring would have also been a lot more expensive and time consuming to install.

Knowing we wanted to go with carpets we wanted to choose the most environmentally responsible option we could afford and one that would not make me sick as so many carpets do. We ended up deciding to go with Home Depot for carpets because they had an 12 months no payments and no interest option as well as a $140 whole house installation fee, and we were feeling a little cash poor having just closed on the house. The folks in the carpet department at the Portland Maine Home Depot were very helpful in providing us with the information we needed to balance our desire to be environmentally responsible against my health concerns and budgetary realities.

The new carpet made from recycled milk bottles

First they pointed us to their selections of PET polyester carpets. PET or polyethylene terephthalate is a high quality plastic used to make beverage bottles (e.g. milk and soda). PET carpets are made from recycled beverage bottles that are ground up, washed, melted down and turned into yarn. In theory, the carpet we are walking on now in our home could have been a beverage bottle that we returned for a deposit in the past. How cool is that? In addition, to being one of the only environmentally responsible synthetic fiber options, PET carpets are much softer than other synthetic fibers and the dye is mixed in to the fiber while the fibers are being formed rather than the completed fibers being dyed after the fact. What this means is that PET carpets tend to be more fade resistant and don't tend to lose their color from cleaning products like bleach.

We couldn't afford Home Depot's top end PET carpet, but they did have a 100% BCF PET carpet in a price range we could afford. BCF or bulk continuous fibers means that each strand of fiber in the yarn that is spun to make the carpt is a continuous strand instead of a series of shorter fiber strands (e.g. yarn made out of wool). Because the fibers are continuous it tends to be stronger and BCF carpets tend wear better.

The carpet we finally decided to go with is Shaw's Queen Carpet. It is a deep pile carpet and is very soft under our feet. As with our paint colors we choose a light color to help brighten up the room. It will be years before we see how well the carpet wears, but initially we have been very pleased with the carpet. It has virtually no new carpet smell and I have not been getting any new carpet headaches, which is really nice.

Carpet padding, made from soy beans

One of the reasons we didn't go with Home Depot's top of the line PET carpet is so that our budget would allow us to go with a premium carpet pad. Once it is laid down, you will never see the carpet pad again until it comes time to replace your carpets, but choosing the right carpet pad is important. The carpet pad option that we chose was Healthier Choice Flooring's Platinum Plus 10lb pad. This pad is a BiOH® polyols soy-based visco elastic polyurethane. It is hypoallergenic and has very low VOC emissions.

Healthier Choice Flooring® claims that their pad is the only carpet pad to be Greenguard Indoor Air Quality Certified® by the Greenguard Environmental Institute under the Greenguard Standard for Low Emitting Products. Also according to Healthier Choice Flooring, for the U.S. Green Building Council's LEED® certification program, the pad qualifies for credit under EQ 4.3 - Low Emitting Product and under MR 6 - Rapidly Renewable Product.

On the outdoor environmental front, according to Healthier Choice Flooring®, manufacture of their pad results in 36% less global warming emissions and 61% less non-renewable energy use than the production of conventional petrochemical polyols. They also claim that the pad results in zero-landfill manufacturing waste as all manufacturing waste materials are reused in products with recycled content.

Another significant reason we choose the Healthier Choice Platinum Plus carpet pad is that it does not allow moisture to travel through it. This means no moisture could come up from below it, making it ideal for concrete floors and no moisture can go down through it meaning pet accidents and other spills won't soak into the pad and become permanent odors/stains. If you have a pet or think you might get a pet at some point in the future, having a carpet pad that does not allow moisture to soak through it is important so that pet mistakes can be cleaned up and won't get into the sub-floor. With traditional padding, pet stains don't go away because they soak into the padding and get into the sub-floor, then leech back up into the carpet and/or release their foul odors every time they get damp.

Ripping out the old carpet

While getting rid of the old smelly carpet was an eagerly anticipated moment, actually tearing it up and removing the old padding was an itchy miserable task. Part of the reason the old carpet and carpet padding smelled so bad is that the backing of the carpet was made from a burlap like material and the padding was made from some sort of organic fiber that was much coarser than burlap. Removing this carpet was fairly easy, but very messy. The carpet and padding had locked up a lifetime of dirt and dust. The padding had also begun to breakdown creating a reddish dust of its own. While I was removing the carpet I made sure to wear a particulate mask and wear gloves.

Once the carpet was gone we vacuumed and swept the sub-floor several times to get up all of the dirt. We then mopped the sub-floor with a bleach and water solution to kill any allergens the old carpet and padding may have left behind. While there was no carpet on the floors I took the opportunity to replace some sub-floor that had rotted out in front of a sliding door and screw down the sub-floor into floor joists using deck screws to stop squeaks (it works really well if old nails are removed). I also painted over any liquid stains on the sub-floor with several coats of paint just in case they were pet stains. Painting over pet stains is a trick a landlord taught me. He said it was the only way to lock away the stain such that it will never get damp, leech up into the carpet padding and/or smell.

As unpleasant as removing old carpet is, it is one task I'd strongly recommend as a "do-it-yourself" task. In our case it saved us around $500 and it gave me several days to fix sub-floor issues before carpet installers arrived. Of course, you need to be able to dispose of the old carpets. Fortunately, I have access to a small pickup truck and our city has a transfer station nearby where I could haul the carpets. Best of all, our property taxes allot us three cubic yards of free transfer station disposal per year.

Installing the new carpet

I can't say enough about having professionals install carpets. While ripping out the old stuff is a DIY project, installing new carpets decidedly is not. They will install your carpets with minimal waste and because they have lots of practice they will do a better job in less time than you could yourself.

As the carpets were being installed, one of the first things I did was stick my nose against the pad and carpet to see if I smelled any of that dreadful new carpet smell. I smelled nothing from the carpet pad and virtually nothing from the carpet. Even with the windows closed, the first night after the carpets were installed I smelled no significant new carpet smell and I did not get any headaches I associate with new carpets.

The final bill for carpets

When all was said and done we had 105 square yards of carpet installed in our house. The PET carpet cost us $15.12 per square yard and the soy based eco carpet padding cost us $7.56 per square yard. Because of a promo Home Depot was running, whole house installation cost us $139.00. The final cost was just shy of $2,500 or $2.64 per square foot installed; we couldn't even buy cheap laminate flooring without installation for that price. It was really a nice feeling to be able to buy environmentally responsible carpet and padding without having to spend a small fortune. It is even better to not have that awful new carpet smell. Now we just have to buy a vacuum cleaner.

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