Cork Flooring

November 17, 2005
beautiful cork flooring
Cork flooring has been part of the construction scene for over 100 years, and is making a comeback. It has a very different look and feel from ceramic tiles, hardwood, stone, or carpeting, and is worth looking into for your next floor.

Uncorking the Joys of Cork Flooring

Cork isn’t just for wine bottles any more! Cork makes a great foor too. Cork has been used in a variety of ways for thousands of years, and flooring has been on the list of cork uses since the late 1800s.

Cork is the outer bark layer of the cork oak tree. Cork consists of a tight web of up to 40 million cells per cubic centimeter, cells that retain gas and give cork its unique character. These trees are found growing in Mediterranean climates like Portugal, Spain, southern France, Italy, and the Maghreb region of north-western Africa. Cork is considered environmentally friendly and sustainable; not only does cork regrow, but also it is readily recycled and biodegradable.
Cork floor qualities include:

  • cushiony and comfortable to walk on
  • impermeability
  • light weight
  • insulating
  • resilient and elastic; re-expands quickly after compression
  • muffles sound
  • warm to the touch
  • resistant to insects and fires
  • non-allergenic and no offgassing

Cork flooring’s possible drawbacks are:

    • seems fragile
    • too soft to make it a good flooring
    • flaky
    • expensive

Cork flooring’s two styles are tiles and planks, and it comes in a range of natural colors. Tiles are glued down and planks are generally floated. Cork tiles are solid cork, about 1/4″ think and are usually 12″x12″ or 12″x24″, with a veneer of decorative cork on top. Cork planks are a sandwich, the layers being cork, a solid center core, cork, and a decorative cork veneer. The solid core is typically made of a fiberboard like HDF (high density fiberboard). The plank dimensions are about 1/2-5/8″ thick, and a nominal 1 foot wide by 3 feet long. Tiles are typically glued directly to the subfloor or concrete slab, while planks are clicked or glued together but floating on the subfloor.
The hardness of cork is rarely discussed because it is so different from wood and laminate flooring materials. Its Janka rating is 200, but that doesn’t accurately reflect its durability. Its softness seemed like a problem when I dropped a wood sample on it, and the corner of the sample cut into the flooring. I went to show our flooring installer the cut a few months later and couldn’t find it; the wound had “healed” without a trace.
Cork has been around for thousands of years. It has been used for floats for fishing nets, stoppers for wine and olive oil bottles, sandals, insulation on boats, and even roofing in northern Africa. As a flooring material, it has been used for over a hundred years in buildings like churches, private homes, courthouses, health clinics, libraries and banks. Cork flooring has recently made a comeback, and it’s being used in a wide range of buildings, including restaurants, bars, showrooms, as well as private homes.
From personal experience, I see the cons of cork flooring being in the new approaches to finishing the product. The floating cork floor we put in our house has a finish that streaks when damp mopped, has attained a dull finish, and scratches easily. The finish hasn’t kept the cork bits from flaking out of the tile, even in low-traffic areas. I frankly blame that on the finish rather than the concept of cork flooring. I haven’t tested this yet, but I wonder if a urethane finish would not only improve the existing finish, but also seal the seams that don’t seem to bet as impervious to moisture as advertised.
Cork flooring has the most abundant list of benefits I have ever seen or experienced. It is such a delight to walk on, adding a spring to your step, and it muffles sounds, like carpeting does. Its hard surface keeps allergens from hiding, so cleaning is easy and reduces allergy problems. It is beautiful to look at, partially because of its lack of grain and directional growth. Because of its insulation quality, cork mutes sound transfer between floors, and maintains a reasonable temperature range. If you are striving for a “green home”, take note because it qualifies for points under LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, a green building rating system developed in the U.S. by the Green Building Council); that’s a huge statement of support for the sustainable aspects of cork.
If you are looking for an elegant flooring that is durable, comfortable, easy to maintain, and has a unique look to it, then cork is the right choice for you. When you choose a cork floor, you are choosing to have a floor that will last several lifetimes. What a great choice!


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