Should PVC Flooring and Nylon Carpets Be Banned?

European study of flammability suggests that we stick with less troubling alternatives.

Often, academic research doesn’t trickle down to homeowners and building experts. Such is likely the case with a study of flooring flammability conducted in Slovakia in 2014. While researching an article on plastics, I stumbled upon this report, and found it unusually frank in its condemnation of certain modern flooring materials. It was published in the Research Journal of Recent Sciences.

Here’s the abstract:

Seven flooring material were tested in order to find out their properties from fire safety point of view. Following three indexes were measured: mass loss, flame spread rate and emissions of CO, NOx, SO2, O2 were monitored. The fire safety characteristics of synthetic materials are mostly negative due to faster mass loss comparing to the natural materials.

Based on the results one of the materials is no more recommended for the use due to health and safety risk character. Fast mass loss in hand with its toxic emissions of phthalates and dioxin make PVC a very risky flooring material. We do not recommend its use. Nylon (polyamide) carpets should be not used due to their high flammability. Wooden based floorings such an oak parquet, spruce board, OSB boards are high recommended. Linoleum and Laminate floorings, especially due to low flammability are recommended, too.

The study goes into greater depth about why certain materials are more or less favorable with regard to fire performance, and the authors are careful to note that some organic materials also produce toxic emissions when burned. The bigger issue with PVC floors and synthetic carpets is the speed at which flame spreads and how intensely they burn. They’re explicit in their condemnation of PVC-based flooring:

PVC is becoming one of the worst material with negative impact on human health due to the
phthalate emissions released also in standard room temperatures. Several countries, including the Czech Republic already have taken steps to reduce or eliminate the use of PVC in public buildings. Using PVC in some products is completely prohibited (e.g. toys). Moreover, tests have shown its high flammability. Slow burning of PVC is sometimes invisible with transparent flame and can cause dangerous fire effects.

It should be noted that the fire and toxin issues associated with PVC flooring do not necessarily reflect the performance of other PVC products such as vinyl siding or plumbing. PVC piping, for example, does not contain Pthalates. Fire-retarding additives also can improve the performance of most vinyl products, although the retardants may contribute to toxic emissions if and when the material does ignite.

Source: Research Journal of Recent Sciences, Fire Safety Assessment on Seven Flooring Materials by Roman Michalovi