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Cork Flooring

By: Hsin-Yi Cohen BSc, MA, MSt - Updated: 9 Aug 2016 | comments*Discuss
Cork Floors Cork Flooring Cork Tiles

If you want flooring that is quiet, warm and soft underfoot, as well as being completely renewable and 100% biodegradable, then cork flooring is for you!

Cork is one of nature’s most unique materials. It is incredibly elastic and compressible, and thus soft underfoot, while at the same time being strong and durable. It is also impermeable to moisture. It is also very buoyant and light and has natural rot-resistant and fire-resistant properties. No synthetic material can replicate cork’s unique set of properties, which is a result of its flexible membrane, its honeycomb structure and its inherent lightweight base material.

The tree that cork is derived from is unique too in that its outer bark (cork) can be stripped and removed several times, with little harm to the tree. Since these cork oak trees – which are indigenous to North Africa, Spain, Portugal, Italy and Southern France - can live up to 200 years, this constitutes a steady source of a truly renewable raw material.

Benefits of cork flooring

The unique properties of cork combine to give cork flooring a wide range of benefits:
  • Soft and comfortable – cork has a wonderful cushioning effect, due to its extreme elasticity and compressibility. Thus it is soft to touch and will depress under pressure, then spring easily back into shape. This makes walking and standing on it very comfortable and is also great for preventing breakages of glassware and china!
  • Warm – then natural structure of cork means that tiny compartments of air are trapped within and these provide a layer of insulation against heat transfer. This low heat conductivity makes cork one of the best insulating materials in the world, with insulating r-values better than many carpets! So not only will you be reducing heating costs in winter but your bare feet will have something comfortable to walk on on cold winter mornings!
  • Durable – cork flooring has superior durability to many other types of flooring. Again, its incredible elasticity plays a part, enabling it to recover well from compression and thus cope well with areas of high traffic and heavy wear and tear.
  • Quiet – the bubbles of air trapped in cork’s honeycomb structure also provide fantastic insulation against sound and even vibrations. This is why cork is sometimes used beneath floating floor systems as a muffler and to help give the floors a more natural sound. It is also a great choice for intensive building projects, such as apartments, where you need to dampen the sound of heavy footsteps from above. With its cellular structure and natural air pockets, cork is essentially the original “silent flooring” from Nature.
  • Natural resistance – cork is naturally resistant to many things: it is naturally resistant to rot, due to its anti-microbial properties. It is also fire-resistant and anti-static. Because it does not shed irritant fibres and does not attract dust, cork is ideal for people with allergies.
  • Water-resistant – moisture cannot permeate cork because it contains a natural substance called suberin which makes it impermeable. This makes it ideal for many areas where there may be high moisture. For example, cork is popular for use in kitchens as surface spills cannot penetrate and can simply be wiped off.
  • Easy care – cork is very easy to clean and resistant to soiling.
  • Natural beauty – cork offers a natural beauty that is soothing to look at. It comes in a range of natural honey tones, as well as being available in stained shades, that can vary from red to green to black.
  • Eco-friendly – as a completely renewable resource that is also 100 natural and biodegradable, cork is a fantastic choice for those looking for sustainable flooring.

Some Drawbacks…

Naturally, there are a few drawbacks. For example, cork is susceptible to strong sunlight and extreme exposure over an extended period of time will result in fading. So it may not be the best choice for rooms in strong, direct sunlight for large parts of the day. Cork can also have a slight, distinct odour, although this has not generally been considered a serious issue.

While cork is impermeable to liquids and can safely be installed in rooms such as bathrooms, large spills (such as water splashed from the bath) should be mopped up and it is important when installing the cork flooring to make sure that the room perimeter has been caulked, before installing any moulding or base boards.

Cork – The Universal Choice

Because of its many superior qualities, cork has been a popular flooring choice in a variety of settings, from schools to hospitals, restaurants to hotels, shops to offices. On the domestic scene, it is suitable for all rooms in the house and is especially good for homes that have children and pets.

We've found UK flooring direct has a great range of cork if you want to order your flooring online at reasonable prices.

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[Add a Comment]
Pia - Your Question:
Cork flooring is not as natural as is made out. A binder is used - as far as I could find out (hard to get this info from manufacturers)usually it is the polyurethane toluene diisocyanate (TDI). This is the same polyurethane used in polyurethane foam manufacture. Also watch out for pre-finished cork and check what they coat it with. I regret putting cork flooring in my house.

Our Response:
Many thanks for your observations - they will give our readers food for thought.
SustainableFloors - 10-Aug-16 @ 11:27 AM
Cork flooring is not as natural as is made out. A binder is used - as far as I could find out (hard to get this info from manufacturers) usually it is the polyurethane toluene diisocyanate (TDI). This is the same polyurethane used in polyurethane foam manufacture. Also watch out for pre-finished cork and check what they coat it with. I regret putting cork flooring in my house.
Pia - 9-Aug-16 @ 12:52 PM
@Chris - the best floor coverings are generally stone and ceramic tiles as they are the most effective conductors of heat. You can use cork, but I would check with the heating supplier about what is the best thickness as they are a natural insulator. I would also check whether the adhesive is compatible.
SustainableFloors - 10-Mar-15 @ 11:15 AM
Can you stick cord tiles down on a solid floor with under floor heating
Chris - 7-Mar-15 @ 7:13 PM
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