Metal and fiberglass homes have unique challenges with thermal bridging and humidity, and often require waterproof flooring that can hold up to some moisture.
Usually, vinyl sheet flooring is used in trailers and RVs. Vinyl sheeting has significant offgassing. The post outlines healthier options.
The following list is the flooring I would specify in vans, metal trailers, fiberglass trailers, and any other tiny house made of metal (like SIPS), plastic or fiberglass.
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1. Odorless Sheet Flooring (Non-Vinyl)
UPO Xpression and Zero Tile are two odorless plastic based sheet floorings. These are an excellent alternative to vinyl sheet/rolls.
The company UPO is part of Kahrs, a company many like for their engineered wood flooring.
These UPO floors are made from minerals and the plastics TPE and polyolefin. Polyolefin in this case almost certainly means PE (polyethylene) and/or PP (polypropylene). They don’t use any plasticizer and there is no PVC.
I was impressed and I was happy to see a healthy alternative to PVC sheet flooring. I even found these much lower in offgassing than luxury vinyl plank (LVP).
These do require a glue though. You would have to test that when comparing this to other options. LVP comes in a click down which eliminates the need for glue.
In all trailers that I have seen, glue down flooring is used, and it’s almost always vinyl sheet.
2. Bio-Based Polyurethane
This product is the only one on the list that is a commercial order. It’s by Shaw Contract.
Bio-Based polyurethane means it’s made of 90% natural oils (but not linseed). It barely has an odor. It also contains minerals. The backing gives off just slightly more odor than the top – the backing contains PE and fibreglass.
While it’s not available to individual homeowners, it’s a product we can push for in mass produced trailers, schools, offices and other places where vinyl sheet might normally be used.
When demand goes up it will likey become available for smaller orders.
3. Odorless Mineral-Based Vinyl
UPO Quartz Tile is a stiffer tile than the Xpression and Zero Tile. It’s made of quartz mineral and PVC. With no pthalates and no DHEP.
I tested this product before I knew it was PVC and was quite surprised when I found out what it was made of. Going based on offgassing, this is my top choice alongside the Xpression and Zero tile.
I have never tested another vinyl product with such minimal offgassing.
I did not like this company’s Safety Floor, which is a flexible vinyl that had too high offgassing for me.
This video compares Quartz Tile, Xpression, Zero Tile and Shaw Contract Bio-Based polyurethane:
4. Natural Linoleum
Marmoleum can be used in some metal or fiberglass spaces.
The Marmoleum sheet has jute on the back. The tiles have a polyester backing, which makes it more suitable for a trailer. Marmoleum click is not that different from laminate floor with a wood (HDF) substrate. I wouldn’t use that in a trailer.
With Marmoleum, I would make sure you have plenty of insulation underneath and an underlayment with a thermal break to prevent condensation.
Marmoleum is made from linseed, binders, wood flour, limestone and dry pigments which are mixed and then calendared onto a natural jute backing. It’s got a UV cured sealer on top.
This is the glue used to install it. Not everyone tolerates it but they do claim it’s 0 VOC. It does contain biocides. I do not know of any alternative that can used with this product.
I found that after one month the odor all but disappeared from the product – though many people say the odor never disappears 100%, but rather it comes out when heated.
5. Luxury Vinyl Plank or Tile (LVP, LVT)
Luxury vinyl plank (LVP) is much more tolerable than people generally think. Though it’s not as good as the options above.
It is very low-VOC, and most of it is phthalate-free now. A benefit over other options here is that much of LVP is click together and doesn’t require adhesive.
I tested Armstrong and Cali Bamboo brands – both surprised me in how low the offgassing was. I also tried the brands you can find at Home Depot which I review here. Armstrong and Cali Bamboo are still my top choices.
More details on my brand comparisons in my main flooring post.
Double-check on all brands to make sure it’s virgin (not recycled) vinyl. I prefer phthalate-free but other plasticizers can be problematic too. This flooring can also contain metals. I discuss that issue more here.
6. Magnetic Tiles
I tested Kablan’s magnetic ceramic tiles. These are ceramic tiles with a magnetic backing. The other side of the magnet is an underlayment that is glued down to the floor. No thinset or grout here.
I found they the magnetic backing components did have a moderately strong smell, though you may not be able to smell them at all (or very much) once the floor is installed.
I have a video review of them here.
These are much lighter than regular tiles. They have made them even lighter since I made that video. It might not work for many structures on wheels but it can work in more stationary homes including metal or fiberglass modular homes where you would want real tile.
7. Limestone & Polyester Tiles
I tested Armstrong’s Bio-Flooring, both Striations BBT and Migrations BBT. These are a rigid tile flooring that can replace vinyl, though they are glue down.
They are made from 85% limestone, polyester and a polymer (plastic) made from corn. I was surprised by the level of offgassing here. I was expecting it to be much lower. This is not something would be able to use in my home.
Whether it’s better than LVP I think would be very individual. I didn’t think so.
8. Simple or Unusual Floor Coverings
Metal sheets can be the final flooring in a customized trailer or metal SIPS house. They could be painted with AFM Metal Primer with different designs for a pretty effect, or covered with rugs or mats listed below.
Flooring made for Decks and Garages
These come in plastic and wood/plastic. The wood could be real solid wood or a composite, a lot like wood decking products. You would likely have to check out a sample to see if this works for you.
I like these because they allow an air gap on a floor where you couldn’t put a flooring right on the substrate. This would apply to concrete slabs that were not poured properly (like most garages, sheds) and metal floors. The downside is it would be a pain to have to lift them all the time to clean underneath.
- All plastic polypropylene click together tiles like GarageTrac as the rigid final floor covering.
- Hard plastic with real wood on top.
Plastic Sheets, Carpets and Mats:
- Hard plastic sheets (polycarbonate or acrylic) as a structural floor layer.
- Plastic carpet (non-vinyl) as a non slip layer.
- Rolls of flexible silicone as a cover over metal.
- Silleather (silicone leather) floor covering.
- EVA mats (this formamide free one) as a final floor covering.
- Polyethene with polyurethane leather playmate, a very cushiony “rug”!
- TPU mats as a floor covering or non slip “rug”
- Rubber flooring if tolerable.
- Non-toxic yoga mats, like TPE as a rug or floor covering.
Where you might need these flooring types?
Floors of metal vans. Metal and fiberglass trailers – both conventional and custom made.
Metal and fiberglass tiny or modular homes, including metal SIP homes.
Some of these might apply to boats or other homes on water.
In these living spaces organic flooring like wood, engineered wood and laminate are not usually used.
It’s preferable to have an inorganic flooring that holds up to condensation, leaks, spills and high humidity.
Corinne Segura is a Building Biologist with 6 years of experience helping others create healthy homes.
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