You may be considering cork flooring, but have concerns about whether it will be durable enough for to stand up to the normal daily routines in your home. When you think of cork, do you think about the easily gouged thin material that is used for a bulletin board? Better yet, maybe you think it is as strong as the cork that easily falls apart if you don’t remove it just the right way from a wine bottle.
Today’s cork flooring is more durable than its predecessors were. Keep in mind, however, that it is not for everyone. It depends on where you intend to install it and your lifestyle.
Check out the varieties of cork floors we have available HERE!
You may have walked on cork flooring in such places as museums, hotels, libraries, hospitals, or even schools without even realizing it. This alone may serve as a testament to its durability, being it can be found in many public places. It has sound-dampening qualities so you do not hear the loud click clack of footsteps on it as you would with types of hard floors like tile or stone.
Cork…a Greener Choice
With many people making the choice toward greener living, choosing cork flooring is one way to honor that commitment. What many do not realize is that cork floors have been available for well over a century, so this is not exactly a new option to hit the flooring market.
You also may not know that cork comes from the outer bark of the Quercus suber, or Cork Oak tree, which grows in the Mediterranean region.
There are approximately 5.4 million acres of cork forests throughout the seven countries that are the largest producers: Portugal; Algeria; Spain; Morocco; France; Italy; and Tunisia.
The harvest of cork is highly regulated by the countries in which it is produced. Portugal, for example, produces half of the world’s supply of cork and carefully oversees the cork forests, since cork is a major component of their world trade.
Cork production itself has a low impact on the environment because of its sustainable harvesting practices and the fact that there is almost zero percent waste in its manufacturing. Cork is a renewable resource in that the tree is not cut down or destroyed in the process of harvesting cork.
Each cork tree is stripped of its bark only every nine to ten years, once it reaches the age of 25. This is to ensure that the forests are not depleted and the trees are not damaged due to over-harvesting. The tree itself has a life span of 250 years or more.
Producing Cork Flooring
Once the bark has been stripped from the trees, the resulting slabs are cleaned and boiled, and then the rough outer surface is removed to give what we know as cork. The best cork is then selected to be used for making bottle corks. These are punched out of the cork slabs, which leaves these slabs full of holes after this process. Fear not, this leftover mess does not go to waste; it is ground down into small particles.
These particles are then mixed with a binding agent such as melamine, phenol formaldehyde, or natural proteins. It is then baked in special ovens after it has been molded in large blocks.
A good portion of the cork flooring that is produced is made from scraps left over from making bottle corks. The remainder is sliced from the slabs of cork harvested from the trees.
You may be saying “Whoa!” at the mention of formaldehyde or melamine. Contrary to what you might think, once processed with the cork these do not present a danger, because cork does not off these chemicals, nor does it shed fibers.
Do not confuse natural cork flooring with floor tiles that are made of cork-vinyl composite. This mixture of cork and vinyl is not a green choice, because its top layer is vinyl, its inner layer is cork, and the bottom backing is made of PVC. There are environmental concerns surrounding PVC.
Deciding if Cork Is the Right Choice for Your Home
Cork flooring has a distinctive look to it. Even though it is made from wood, it does not have what we expect in the way of a wood grain effect to it. With different colors available, cork color options range from light to dark, so you are sure to find a color to match your particular décor plan.
A unique feature of cork is that, because of its inherent nature of being soft, it is comfortable to stand on. This makes it ideal for areas where you stand a lot of time. It is also great for its sound-absorbing qualities, which make it a perfect choice for flooring used for rooms located on the second floor of your home.
Cork itself is durable and, because of the nature of its airtight, honeycombed-shaped cell structure, it is naturally waterproof. This does not mean, however, that it cannot be damaged by extreme moisture conditions. One of the best features of cork is that it has a memory and can bounce back from being compressed. This is why it has been the choice for floors installed in many public places that see a lot of foot traffic day after day.
Think of when you remove a cork from a wine bottle. If you try to put the cork back in after it has been removed and sitting for a bit, do you find it has expanded and is difficult to get back in the bottle? This is because of the memory of the cork. Unlike hardwood flooring that can be easily dented by high-heeled shoes or furniture with thin legs, cork can decompress and return to its original shape.
The cork flooring is coated with several layers of oil- or water-based varnish that helps it resist scratches and other damage. Keep in mind though that any floor that is repeatedly subjected to abuse, no matter the finish, will become damaged. This is a concern for households that have pets. Dog or cat nails can easily damage cork flooring and even puncture through the sealant coat and gouge the cork if they are not continuously maintained.
Proper Installation Is the Key
Most of the issues that arise with cork floors come from improper installation. When installing cork flooring, it is usually best to leave it to a professional. They will need to test the moisture content in the room where it is to be installed. Too much moisture will interfere with the adhesive that is used to install the flooring and cause it to liquefy and lose its tackiness. This will lead to buckling of the flooring and also cause the flooring to expand, just as wood does, from prolonged moisture exposure.
The quality of the subfloor cannot be ignored. Cork, by nature, is soft, so a successful installation is dependent upon having a strong subfloor. The plywood that is used for the subfloor must be moisture free, otherwise you will have a buckled floor.
A professional installer will also be able to properly sand the floor itself to eliminate bumps and imperfections before sealing, if you are installing unfinished cork. Again, because of the nature of cork, this has to be done very carefully to avoid damaging the floor.
Because of the tackiness of the adhesive that is applied to both the subfloor and the underside of the cork, you cannot slide it into place. You need to be exact when you lay down each piece. Each piece is then lightly tapped with a rubber mallet to make sure it is in full contact with the adhesive layer on the subfloor. The installer will then use a roller across the entire floor to further ensure that it lies flat.
Care and Maintenance of Your Floor
Cork floors are not difficult to care for. As a rule with all types of flooring, you should immediately clean any spills when they happen. You should also sweep and vacuum your cork floors regular to remove any dirt, sand, or debris that may be tracked in that can dull the finish by scratching or wearing away at the surface.
Use rugs and floor mats at your entrances to catch dirt or debris that may be tracked in. Do not use mats with rubber backings because they can ruin your floor’s finish.
Cork, just like hardwood, will absorb moisture, so you will want to limit the exposure to your floors. If you have cork flooring in your kitchen, be sure to use mats in areas that are prone to water splashes from your sink.
Mop your cork floor at least once a week with a damp mop. Do not wet mop your floor because, over time, it will damage your floor. Every so often or when your floor is particularly dirty, you may use a mild detergent that is meant for wood floors or preferably one that is recommended by the manufacturer of the cork flooring.
Because of cork’s memory property, you can make small fixes to it. A little trick to quickly repair a heel dent or pressure mark without waiting for the cork to bounce back on its own over time is to take a damp towel and dampen it with very hot water. Allow the towel to lie over the dent for one to five minutes. This will quicken the dent recovery process.
With proper care and maintenance, you will find that your cork flooring will remain durable, have a long lifespan, and add value to your home, all similarly to hardwood flooring.
Take a look at all the varieties of cork flooring available for your home HERE!