Installing Cork Flooring

January 21, 2006

Installing cork flooring is easy, whether you are installing cork tiles or panels. Carefully read about cork flooring installing guidelines with each manufacturer you consider to catch the subtleties that may exist.

There may be issues around installing cork floors in bathrooms, on radiant floors, and in dry climates. Installing cork flooring tiles requires glue while installing floating cork flooring doesn’t so that the floor can move freely — float — across the floor with expansion and contraction.

The natural characteristics of cork means that when installing cork flooring, the variations in shade and pattern that make cork so unique and beautiful must be taken into account. Cork tiles should be shuffled prior to installation to ensure a more evenly balanced coloring on the floor.

The tendency of cork to expand and contract with humidity changes can be minimized by installing floating cork flooring, and by stabilizing the temperature and humidity in your house. Even so, installing cork floors in bathrooms or other areas with high moisture content should be avoided. However, if your choose to install cork flooring in a bathroom, the perimeter of the room should be caulked prior to installing the baseboards to avoid moisture penetration (or you can calk around the baseboards for the same reason).

To further minimize the impact of variables in the climate, the cork flooring must acclimate for 3-4 days prior to installation. To do this, simply remove the cork tile from its packaging and leave in the room where the floor will be installed. The room temperature should be between 60F and 70F with normal levels of humidity. If you live in a particularly dry climate, let the cork acclimate for several weeks to make sure it has dried and contracted as much as it’s likely to so that you don’t get shrinkage once it’s installed.

Installation Process For Cork Flooring

Prepare the Subfloor

Generally, cork can be installed over any sub-floor as long as it is smooth, level, clean, and dry. That means that any old paint, wax, grease, polish, and old adhesive must be removed to ensure a good bond.

  • For installation over existing wood floors, scrub with tri-sodium phosphate after using a paint or varnish remover. In extreme cases, the floor should be sanded, and then washed, rinsed, and allowed to dry.
  • For concrete sub-flooring, make sure the concrete is level using a latex fill or leveler. Then the cement should be primed using a concreted primer or for higher-moisture rooms, covered with polyethylene sheets as a moisture barrier.
  • To install on existing vinyl or other smooth surfaces, ensure the old floor is in good condition and rough up the smooth surface to ensure a good adhesive bond.
  • Cork floors do not seem to adversely affect radiant-heat systems as long as a “vapor barrier” is laid down between the sub-floor and the cork. However, check with the manufacturer to ensure compatibility and for recommendations for maintenance.
Lay the Tile

Once the sub-floor is ready, layout your cork tiles, making sure that the color and pattern variations are scattered throughout your room. Before applying your water-based contact cement adhesive to the perimeter of the room using a paint brush, chalk your lines onto the sub-floor. Then, using a paint roller to apply the adhesive to the rest of the floor, paint directly over the chalk lines because the adhesive will dry clear. Allow to completely dry for about an hour until tacky before laying the cork tile.

Starting in one corner, align the first tile to the chalk line and the next tile tight to the edge of the first. The remaining tiles can be laid in the same fashion and if necessary, can be cut using a sharp utility or linoleum knife. To attain a positive contact between the tile and sub-floor, the tiles must be hit with a mallet or rolled with a standard tile roller four times in each direction.


Before applying a top coat of urethane or flooring wax to your tiled floor, remove any excess adhesive from the floor using a damp cloth, if the adhesive is wet, and mineral spirits if the adhesive is dry. Plus, the tiles and seams should be vacuumed and then cleaned with a sponge. Since many of the cork tiles already have finish on them when sold, this final top coat helps protect the adhesive from moisture working its way through the seams.

If you opt to install a floating floor, be sure to leave a 1/4-1/2 inch gap around the edges of the room, giving room for expansion when temperatures and humidity rise. Some cork floor companies expect you to put an expansion joint at each room change, not just at doorways; be sure to ask before you make your cork purchase what your cork floor company’s policy is. Another interesting note is that you see maximum lengths of how much floating cork you lay before inserting an expansion joint; generally that number is much lower than is really necessary.

The video below shows a step-by-step process for cork floor installation.

Let the finish dry for four hours before walking on the floor with socks and 24 hours before walking on the floor with shoes. Your installation is complete.


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