One of the more interesting floor coverings, cork flooring has been is use for over one hundred years. In the early days, cork was used mostly in commercial buildings such as banks and municipal buildings for its resilience and sound dampening qualities. Today, cork is being rediscovered by savvy homeowners looking for alternatives to “the hardwood jungle
Earth Friendly and Foot Friendly
Cork is actually the bark of the Mediterranean Cork Oak tree which is harvested by slicing the outer layer off of the tree carefully so as not to damage the tree itself. This practice is believed to improve the health of the tree itself, and the bark will grow back in place and be ready to harvest again in nine years. This sustainable crop is recognized by individuals and organizations for its inherent eco-friendliness.
The cork bark is comprised of many cells containing a harmless gas that compresses underfoot and then bounces back to its original form. This makes cork extremely comfortable to walk or stand on, because of the “give.” Cork is naturally resistant to water and microbial attacks, thus protecting the tree, and these properties make it an ideal surface for kitchens, prone to both water and food spills. Cork is also fire retardant, and non-toxic when set ablaze (try THAT with a vinyl floor!)
Cork doesn’t absorb like hardwood can, and thus creates a non-permeable barrier on your floor that neither absorbs microbes or allergens, nor releases any gases or particulate, making ideal for allergy sensitive applications, or anywhere indoor air quality is important.
From Wine Bottles to Wine Cellars
Cork has made the long journey from modest bottle-stopper to a top choice in modern flooring. The resilience makes it ideal for high traffic areas, and kitchens, where standing is made noticeably more comfortable. Cork also has fantastic sound deadening properties, and is thus a favorite for apartments and high-rises. But think about your home library, or kids playroom; couldn’t they benefit from comfortable sound-reducing flooring? And a cheeky application would be a wine cellar, where cork would serve to insulate the cool floor, provide comfort and protection from breakage, and of course, serve as visual metaphor!
Many Styles to Choose From
Cork flooring is available in a number ways, both pre-finished and unfinished. Solid cork tiles are quite popular, and easy to glue down directly to the subfloor. New on the scene is engineered cork flooring that is something like a cork sandwich; a layer of cork underlayment, then a High Density Fiber board (HDF) layer for stability, then a top layer of cork. These boards are approximately 12’ X 36”, and offer both the sound dampening, insulating and cushioning qualities of cork, while providing the structural rigidity of the HDF board. These engineered cork floors can be installed as glue downs or floating. Finally there is mesh-backed mosaic cork tiles that install just like ceramic mosaic sheets on adhesive, then grouted.
Cork flooring thicknesses can vary from a ¼” to ½”, and we recommend always going for the thickest, for premium long-term performance in cushioning, sound-deadening, and refinishing.
Cork comes in a huge array of colors, plus unfinished for a custom look of your own creation. Popular finishes include water-based finishes, waxes, varnish, and urethane coatings. Do check with a flooring specialist for his recommendations prior to purchasing a finish.
Installing Engineered Cork Flooring
When using engineered cork floor boards, be sure to start with a prepped subfloor. This means level, clean, and sealed (in basement applications.) Because these boards are rectangular, you’ll most likely want to orient them parallel to your longest wall, or running “with” the length of the room. Open several packages and do a “dry set” laying out the boards as you’d want them to lay. Remember that cork will have a wide variety of color/shading and that packages will vary from one to the next. Be sure to mix up colors and patterns, so you don’t have lighter or darker sections, but rather a well-integrated floor.
Use a chalkline as your starting point and snap the boards together per manufacturer’s instructions. Build first toward the nearest wall, then reverse from the starting line out in the other direction. Always check back to verify that you are remaining true and square to the room. This holds true for glued as well as floating applications.
Installing Cork Flooring Tiles
Because solid cork tiles are flexible, they will mimic the irregularities in the subfloor, so you’ll need to thoroughly prep and level your subfloor. This may include sanding down joints between ply sheets, or high spots over joists, possibly utilizing some leveling compound to bring up low spots.
Depending on the condition of your subfloor, you may find it easier or less time consuming to install a new medium density fiber board subfloor over the top of your existing one. This will give you a clean, level surface (provided there are no major underlying variations.) With a new MDF subfloor, you’ll need to affix with flooring adhesive and screw into existing subfloor – remember to sink the screw head into the board, and then you’ll fill and smooth over those holes.
Now, you must patch all seams with an engineered cement and skim coat the floor for a perfect, pool table finish. Seal accordingly with a complementary primer, and you are finally ready to affix your cork tiles.
Just like engineered cork flooring, it’s important to open several packages of cork tiles and lay them out, making sure to mix up the lights and darks, the plain and patterned. Using a contact cement (check with the manufacturer) applied with a brush in corners and edges, and a medium-nap roller in open areas, cover an area wide enough to accommodate a row or two of tiles, and let the cement dry to tacky. Set your cork tiles in the tacky cement and use a roller to set them in place. Edges can be trimmed with a carpet knife or razor edge. Apply finish as desired, and enjoy your new resilient, cushioned, and acoustic cork flooring!