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Cork Flooring


The general uses of cork date back thousands of years. It was used for roofing and sandals in ancient Rome and Greece, and as a fishing line floater in Ancient China. Its use in flooring goes back about a thousand years to Europe. More recently, cork had brief surges in popularity as a floor surface in the 1930’s and the 1970’s, and now it is coming back into favor. The reason appears to be the same thing boosting bamboo, environmental consciousness, specifically conservation.


You see, cork comes from the bark of the Cork Oak tree, Quercus suber, which grows around the coast of the Mediterranean. These cork trees generally live for between 150 and 200 years, and may not be harvested until they are 25 years old. A law called “The Nine Year Law,” passed in the 30’s, keeps them from being returned to for more provisions for that length of time. Some of the bark is stripped off the tree, with enough left to for it to sustain itself. The tree is otherwise left alone, and the removed bark grows back. That which is removed is left outside, where a natural reaction to the environment strengthens the cork. In addition to coming from such a replenishing source, cork flooring is made of the leftover materials from the production of bottle stops, so none of the harvested bark is ever wasted.


While cork flooring is quite a bit softer than hardwood flooring, it is actually much more durable in one particular way – denting. Cork is basically the original memory foam. You can dent it, but over time it returns to its original form, as if it was a really slow sponge. It is particularly unspongelike when it comes to spills. A waxy material called suberin, which is the primary substance of which cork is made, pretty much keeps water from penetrating into the flooring. You just need to wipe the spill up, as you would under any other circumstance. Cork is very moisture resistant, but not 100% impervious to moisture, so do get those spills up in a timely manor. Still, the moisture resistance suberin brings is at a level that makes cork work well in places other floors cannot withstand like kitchens and bathrooms.

Photo by Chris McAuley

If you expect water spillage to be frequent, such as near a bathtub, then it is recommended to caulk the perimeter of your floor before installing trims, moldings or base boards. You don’t want water to seep along that edge and lodge itself under the flooring. Mold or mildew could follow fast, not within the cork, which is naturally resistant to both, but under it, sandwiched between the boards and the floor.

For the same reason, cork’s applicability to a concrete basement floor can be a great choice, but only if done with certain precautions. You should check manufacturer’s instructions to see if they recommend such an installation, and then if they do, you must protect your flooring from moisture that would get to it from below, from your subfloor. If there is any risk of subfloor moisture, you must seal the subfloor off from your cork using a moisture barrier, a 6 mil polyethylene plastic. If your floor will float, the moisture barrier would go down, with the cork right on top of it. But even if you have glue down cork, there is still an option. Lay your moisture barrier over the concrete and make sure it is properly placed and sealed. Then lay a plywood subfloor over that, and you can glue your cork to the new plywood subfloor, both floors protected from moisture by the barrier.


More Benefits

With or without the extra plywood subfloor, cork provides an insulation benefit that will not only lower your heating bill, but feel good to your feet. It warms the floor in the basement, and in the bathroom, two places where we want warm feet! Cork also suppresses sound better than woods, laminates and stone style flooring. The suberin also makes cork fire resistant, and odious to insects. In addition to resisting mold and mildew, its anti-static electricity nature means that cork flooring doesn’t hold onto air particulates, making it even more hypoallergenic.

Styles of cork flooring

Cork comes in solid and veneer. With solid cork, just like with solid hardwood, the cork itself gives the look. The color and the patterning all go from the top of the plank to the bottom. These may only be glued down, but they may be sanded and refinished repeatedly, so solid cork is often used in areas where a lot of wear is expected, but a lot of time (think decades) is desired from the floor. If solid cork is solid hardwood, then veneer cork is the engineered, or the laminate of the bunch. Veneer style cork flooring can be installed as a floating floor as well as via the glue down method. It flooring has a thin, decorative layer on the top, adding variety to the looks available.

Cork can come in natural looks, or can be a particular color, green and black being the most common. It comes in a variety of plank sizes; lengths, widths and thicknesses all variable.


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David is a Writer at Floors To Your Home (.com), as well as the PPC Manager, a Marketing Strategy Team member, a Researcher, Videographer, Social Strategist, Photographer and all around Resource Jitō. In my spare time I shoot and edit video, explore film history, mix music (as in ‘play with Beatles multi-tracks’) and write non-fiction for my friends. Connect with me on W. David Lichty’s Google+

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2 comments on “Cork Flooring
  1. janet dilts says:

    I have 2 dogs and I`m remolding an old house was going to use cork in one area and bamboo in kitchen and dining room is this good idea or would you recommend something the wears better

    • admin says:

      I think you’ve asked the exact right question. Honestly, unless your dogs are tiny and reasonably calm, I would look for something with better wear.

      For the dining room, a laminate floor might be best. These tend not to be big moisture danger rooms, and what spills do happen they can handle if they’re taken care of in a reasonable time (which most do in a dining room). With laminates look for the AC Rating, a measure of the kind of traffic laminate can handle. It’s the only type of flooring that has this kind of rating, third party, thorough and almost universal. AC3 is the highest (of 5) level for residential uses. Most of what we have is AC3, though we have some AC4 laminate floors too – even tougher.

      For a kitchen there is usually moisture to consider: humidity from cooking and washing dishes, potential spills, snow or rain on the shoes when groceries are brought in, and slow, undiscovered leaks from appliances. You can’t beat ceramic for surface toughness, but from the sound of it you were already looking for the softer options in flooring. Generally we recommend vinyl plank in a kitchen – even over ceramic, where moisture in the grout could become an issue – and we try to keep in stock vinyl floors with a tougher wear layer than is standard. Our stock level can vary because it is a really popular floor for us, but the standard vinyls are pretty durable as well.

      I hope this helps! Feel free to call us if you have more questions. We have customer service people, not sales people, so ask with abandon.

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