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What is Cork Flooring?

Although cork flooring has been around for many decades, it has recently become in high demand, due mostly to the fact that it is a “green” natural renewable material. It can be used without the guilt associated with using fine hardwoods from old-growth forests or tropical rainforests. Cork comes from the bark of the cork oak tree (Quercus suber) and is periodically harvested from the living trees in plantations planted for commercial purposes. To create flooring products, cork is ground up, compressed, and formed into sheets bonded with resins.

Advantages

It’s gained popularity in the United States as a flooring material because of its durability, beauty, “green” qualities and other unique characteristics. Cork flooring is:

Durable. It resists cracking and abrasions and is impermeable to gas and liquid. Cork flooring also bounces back, so indentations caused by furniture won’t be permanent. When properly maintained, cork flooring can last 40 years or more.

Healthy. Cork is naturally resistant to mold, mildew and termites. It’s also anti-microbial. Cork flooring does not off-gas or shed microfibers to negatively affect indoor air quality.

Safe. Fire-resistant, cork will melt or ignite only at very high temperatures. Before and during combustion, cork generates less smoke and releases far less toxic material than vinyl flooring.

Comfortable. A cork floor provides a comfortable cushion underfoot because it “gives” when compressed. Cork is also a natural thermal and acoustic insulator, which means rooms with cork flooring are naturally warm and quiet.

Aesthetically versatile. Cork flooring is available in tiles and planks in many styles, colors and sizes. Use planks to create an almost seamless-looking floor, or use tiles in single or alternating colors to create a nontraditional effect.

Practical. Unlike vinyl, the pattern and color of the cork penetrate the thickness of the material, so they’re retained as it wears. This lengthens the usable life of the flooring.

Disadvantages

Cork is susceptible to damage. This is not the right material if you are looking for a perfectly pristine floor, as cork is a very soft material. While this might be delightful on bare feet, it also makes these floors relatively easy to damage. If any sharp object is dropped, it can puncture the floor, and chair and furniture legs can pierce and scrape the material. High heels, if not properly padded, can cause punctures in the surface of a cork floor. Even small dirt particles can act like sandpaper grits, tearing across the surface of the material.

Cork can have permanent indentions. If you have very heavy appliances or furniture pieces, then you may have a problem with them sinking permanently down into the cork. This can not only cause permanent divots in the material but can also make it very difficult to move those pieces later on for cleaning or furniture rearrangement. However, this can be offset to some extent by using furniture coasters and placing larger pieces on flat wooden boards or other support pieces. In a kitchen, for example, you may want to rest the refrigerator on a plywood platform over the cork.

Cat and dog nail scratches are a particular problem with cork flooring. These can start showing up almost instantly, especially with larger, heavier dogs. Keeping their nails trimmed can help this, but pets will invariably damage a cork floor. 

Water can be a problem. The finishing process involves sealing cork in order to create an invisible barrier over its surface, and this offers some protection against water stains and damage. However, this seal is not perfect, and if the room is flooded,, the flooring material will probably warp and discolor. High humidity can also cause the cork to curl or plump, which may lead to tiles popping out.

Sunlight can cause the cork to fade. If direct sunlight is allowed to beam down on cork materials every day, then discoloration may occur and a patch of the floor can end up taking on a different hue than surrounding areas. This can be prevented by blocking sunlight with curtains or blinds, but it will require constant vigilance and care.

As a building material, cork has little negative impact on the environment. In addition to being used as surface flooring, cork can be used as an underlayment for hardwood, laminate and ceramic tiles to reduce room noise.

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