Cork Flooring – It’s What’s Happening

March 20, 2014

Posted in macstaff

cork flooringIf you’ve been thinking about installing hardwood floors in your home, you may want to consider the benefits of cork tile or planks before making your final decision.  Cork can create the warm, welcoming feeling often sought from hardwood, but with some added bonuses that might surprise you.  Comparable to hardwood in cost and maintenance, cork is quickly becoming the material of choice in modern homes.

Cork is highly renewable  The material for cork is harvested from the long-lived cork oak, a variation of oak native to the Mediterranean region (exotic, right?).  It is essentially bark peeled from mature trees every 8-12 years or so.  The harvesting process does no real damage to the tree, which simply regrows its bark between harvests, eliminating the need to cut down and regrow trees except for every, say 250 years or so.  Even more eco-happy, much of the material for cork flooring is reclaimed from the manufacture of things like wine corks and other cork products, so it already has one “reuse” cycle before it even gets to your home.

Cork is good for your health  Cork has a couple of benefits to your well-being.  You have probably squeezed a wine cork or pushed a pin into a bulletin board before.  Imagine how a material with that kind of give might feel under your feet and how much easier that might be on your back and legs, especially if you are one to, for example, work in the kitchen or at a standing desk for hours at a time.  While cork flooring is much denser than a wine cork and is sealed with a polyurethane sealant that makes it much less squishy than a bulletin board (and much more durable), its unique cellular structure gives it significantly more shock-absorbing power than most other flooring materials, especially those traditionally used in the kitchen.

Cork is good for your dishes  The same shock-absorbing power that can save your back from undue strain can also save things like glasses, vases, and children from injury when they fall from high places.

Cork is an excellent insulator  This applies to both heat and sound.  In fact, it is so good at keeping in heat and keeping out sound that it is often used as an underlayment other flooring materials for this very purpose.

Cork is versatile  Like other tile (see what we did there?), cork can be used to create a wide variety of looks for practically any room in the house.  From natural cork planks (used in such classy joints as homes designed by the much admired Frank Lloyd Wright) to brightly died cork tiles, it is not hard to find a cork to fit the room.  In fact, the variety may make it hard to choose.  Fortunately, you can mix and match as you please.

Cork is made partially of magic  OK, so not magic exactly, but a substance called Suberin that creates a natural resistance to molds, bacteria, and insects and, get this, acts as a fire inhibitor.  When you think about it, this only makes sense, given that the purpose of the bark on the tree to protect it from these very things.  Still, it’s pretty neat.

Cork floors are very forgiving  While we do not recommend being careless with your cork floor, its natural variation in tone and texture tends to hide minor bumps and bruises and its resilient texture allows it to self-heal to some degree.

So who wouldn’t want a healthful, magic, self-healing floor, you ask?  Well, while cork does have a lot of positive attributes, it also has some characteristics that need to be considered before laying it throughout your home.

Cork requires some maintenance  As we mentioned before, cork requires similar maintenance to hardwood – it needs to be swept or dry mopped regularly to remove harmful abrasives; it needs to be kept dry so that it does not absorb liquids, which will stain it; and it should only be cleaned with specific products designed to keep it looking its best.  Cork also tends to require more frequent refinishing than hardwood, even when properly cared for.  This typically means having it re-sealed with a few coats of protective polyurethane every few years.  Alternatively, it can be sealed with wax, which is more resistant to scratching but must be stripped and reapplied more often.

Cork is not especially pet-friendly  Because of its texture, cork can be more easily gouged by a pet’s toenails, damage that is beyond the cork’s power to self-heal and is not always easy to repair.

Cork is best installed by a professional  While it is possible to install certain forms of cork flooring on your own, the vital importance of sealing it properly really recommends that it be done by a professional with experience laying this type of flooring.

Cork needs to be protected from heavy objects  The same cellular structure that makes cork so friendly to your feet also leaves it subject to indentations and gouges from heavy objects.  It is important, then, that furniture never be dragged across a cork floor (though this also applies to hardwood) and that coasters be used under the legs of heavier items to better distribute their weight.

Cork is subject to discoloration in direct light  Cork has a greater tendency to fade in sunlight than hardwood, so it may not be the best choice in rooms that receive a great deal of direct natural light.

Cork is sensitive to moisture  Like hardwood, cork will respond to changing humidity levels in your home.  However, because cork expands in every direction rather than only in the direction of a grain, like hardwood, expansion and contraction is usually less noticeable.

Cork is not for everyone  Though cork comes in wide variety of textures and colors, some people simply do not care for the look.  But, if the idea of cork appeals to you, it is worth talking to our experts.  They can help you hone in on the styles of cork that might best suit your needs, both practical and aesthetic, so that you can make an informed decision about whether cork flooring is right for your home.