If you’re curious whether cork floors are right for you, you’ll want to read through this guide to cork flooring. It captures all of the questions customers have asked us at Classique Floors + Tile about cork.
We love cork. It’s neither too hard nor too soft, too hot or too cool. Not only is it ‘just right,’ it’s also sustainable.
Classique Floors + Tile’s Ultimate Guide to Cork Flooring
What is cork flooring?
Wine corks and cork floors go hand-in-hand. All the cork that’s left over from making wine stoppers gets ground up, formed into large sheets which are then baked in a kiln or oven. The result is a dense product, ideal for floors in homes and offices.
Where does cork come from?
Cork is the bark of the cork oak tree or Quercus Suber which grows in areas around the Mediterranean Sea, and especially in Portugal and Spain. It is hand-harvested every nine years from trees that are at least 25 years old. Most cork oaks last over 200 years.
Harvesting is strictly regulated to protect the arid ecosystem the cork oak lives in.
What are the benefits of cork?
When you realize that cork is tree bark, you understand how it can offer so many benefits:
- It is naturally hypoallergenic.
- It is anti-microbial.
- It is resistant to mold and mildew (i.e., anti-fungal).
- It is very resilient.
- It is resistant to insects.
- It doesn’t hold a static charge, making it easy to keep clean.
- It is moisture-resistant.
- It provides thermal and acoustic insulation.
- It makes for a comfortable cushioned surface that gives a soft feeling to the feet and joints of people walking and standing on it for extended periods.
Let’s explore a few of these benefits in more detail.
Cork is a good insulator for temperature and sound
What makes cork bark different from other tree bark is its cellular nature which is full of air. One cubic inch of cork consists of approximately 200 million completely enclosed air cells. Air insulates against temperature as well as sound.
As a result, cork floors maintain a relative temperature of 70 degrees so floors feel warmer when it’s cold and cooler when it’s hot. It also absorbs sounds such as footfalls, echoes and other ambient sounds.
Cork is durable
If a cork oak can live at least 200 years, you can imagine how durable the cork bark – and resulting floors – have to be. Cork has been used for floors since the late 1800s. You’ll find it in high use spaces such as the Library of Congress, the Mayo Clinic, in museums, Frank Lloyd Wright public buildings as well as residences.
Remember that cork is a natural product. As such, it will exhibit color variation ranging from golden yellow to nut brown. You should also expect the color to change over time as your cork floors are exposed to sunlight.
Cork is resilient and protects from falls/impact
Remember the air-y nature of cork? Well, all of that air is trapped into tiny shock-absorbing compartments that make cork resilient and cushion-like. Perfect for protecting from falls, dropped items, as well as foot traffic.
Cork is naturally moisture resistant
The botanical name of the cork oak – Quercus Suber – refers to suberin, the waxy substance found in cork. It is the reason for cork being moisture-resistant, and insect-resistant and contributes to some fire-resistance.
That said, you should always quickly wipe up spills!
How is cork flooring sold at Classique Floors + Tile?
Although traditionally associated with brown and beige patterns, cork offerings have expanded to offer you choices in a range of colors and textures, ranging from stone, leather, ceramic and metal. When you visit Classique, you’ll find a wide range of cork design options to choose from including:
- Wide planks which are typically used for the glue-less floating floor option that locks together and can be placed over an existing floor. These are 12″ x 36″ and 1/2″ thick.
- Narrow planks that can mimic the look of hardwood or simply give you more design versatility, allowing you to alternate patterns. These are 5.5” x 78” long and are available as a glue-less floating floor option.
- Tiles that offer more fashionable looks and come in a variety of sizes and colors to fit in any home. Classique Floors + Tile has a great selection from Wicander’s Cork. These also come as a glue-less floating option.
- Glue down tiles that are still environmentally safe since there is no off-gassing and no VOCs in the water-based contact adhesive. These come in 12″ x 12” and 1/8” thickness.
Where can cork flooring be installed?
Cork flooring can be installed just about anywhere in your home. Depending on the location, though, you may decide on a floating cork floor or a glue-down floor which is better for spaces such as high-use bathrooms where humidity levels can be in the 85-100% range. For a basement installation, you’ll want to have the floor tested for moisture. If moisture is high, your installer can add a vapor barrier or underlayment. You can also install cork flooring over some existing floors.
Regardless, you’ll need to ensure that the subfloor is level, dry and clean before installing your cork flooring. Your Classique Project Consultant can help you decide which is the right option for your home.
What’s involved for installing cork floors?
Before installing your cork floors, you’ll want to ensure that the cork has time to acclimate to the environment in your home. For that reason, the cork needs to be delivered at least 48 hours prior to the installation date.
Another important requirement for a successful cork flooring installation is for the subfloor to be flat to within 3/16” in 10’. If the subfloor has humps and valleys and isn’t flat, the cork planks will “bounce” as you walk across them. Bouncing will compromise the structural integrity of the flooring and the flooring could fail.
When installing a floating cork floor, it’s important to leave 1/4 inch to 1/2 inch, depending on the product, around the flooring perimeter so it can expand and contract appropriately with temperature changes. Floors exceeding 30’ in length or width will require an expansion joint. An expansion joint will also be required when transitioning from one room to another. This is accomplished using a “T” molding.
If your existing wall base is narrow, you may need to change it to a base that’s wider at the bottom to allow for the expansion gap required. This can also be accomplished by adding base shoe molding to the existing wall base, if the existing base is a straight style.
Some cork manufacturers recommend 6 mil plastic sheeting under their floating cork floors, with overlapped, taped seams and a few inches of plastic up the walls behind the wall base. This helps keep the cork floor from being affected by moisture coming from the crawlspace or other moisture source.
Before installing the planks, it’s necessary to clean and clear the existing flooring surfaces. Installers will set up a table saw close by to custom cut boards. As they install the cork planks, they may use a mallet to properly position the plank grooves, as you can see in the image below.
How should cork floors be cared for?
Cork floors are easy to maintain.
- Regularly vacuum with the beater-bar off and/or damp mop to keep dirt and grit from abrading the surface of your cork floors.
- Avoid excessive moisture when you mop. Clean up spills quickly.
- Occasionally damp mop with a mild wood floor cleaner. Check with your Classique Project Consultant for specific recommendations.
As we mentioned above, cork flooring will fade if it is exposed to sunlight. You can minimize this with UV window films.
Some other recommendations:
- If you have a dog, we recommend that you keep its nails trimmed.
- Consider adding felt protectors or coasters under your furniture
Are you ready for cork flooring in your home?
We hope we’ve answered all of your questions with this ultimate guide to cork flooring. If we’ve missed a questions, please let us know.
We invite you to visit our Portland, Oregon showroom where one of our Classique Floors + Tile project consultants will answer your questions and be ready to guide you through everything from initial estimate to product selection to final installation.
You’ll be delighted, we promise!
Thanks for reading,