Cork is a material we’ve touched on numerous times, and something most of our readers will be familiar with. It’s used in everything from wine stoppers to sandals and has become an interesting option for flooring as well.
Given cork floorings' rise in popularity, more companies are producing this type of flooring than ever before. That means there are more choices on the market, so it pays to know more about the product itself. That includes the advantages and disadvantages of using cork flooring in your home when compared to other products.
Cork may be closely associated with materials like Bamboo and other exotic species, but it’s in a different class than hardwoods when it comes to durability. Cork flooring is made by utilizing the bark from cork trees, not the actual wood or center.
With materials like Oak, Maple, Hickory, or even Bamboo, you’ll find a hardness rating through the Janka scale. Cork is different, as it’s a softer and more forgiving underfoot in all formats. These floors are highly resilient and can absorb impacts, but can also be gouged, scratched, or damaged by blunt objects.
Heavy furniture or objects can leave a permanent dent in softer cork over time. Furniture pads are a must in some cases, and you never want to slide anything across cork flooring. It can be gouged by sharp objects, which means dog nails can also be an issue compared to harder surfaces.
One of the reasons people choose cork flooring over other options is its distinct style. In its natural form, you can find cork flooring that ranges from light brown to grey and nearly white. There are also plenty of dark browns and several styles with a reddish hue as well.
What you won’t find with cork are many colors outside the natural realm. Dyes can be used, but it’s typically sold as an eco-friendly product in its natural form. That means the overall selection of styles and colors pales when compared to other engineered flooring or tiles.
Cork flooring comes in two basic formats with cork tiles and engineered cork planks. There are also two ways this type of flooring is installed. Engineered cork flooring can be used as a floating floor or glued to the subfloor while cork tiles generally require adhesive.
Solid hardwood flooring can be challenging for some homeowners to install as it is rigid compared to engineered hardwoods. Most cork flooring falls into that category, so it’s something we consider DIY-friendly for homeowners interested in doing the job themselves.
With glue-down cork tiles, installation is still something most homeowners can handle. If you do prefer to have a professional do the cork flooring installation in your home, the price is comparable to engineered hardwood or luxury vinyl flooring.
Another major advantage of cork flooring over hardwoods is sustainability. While a cork oak tree only grows in certain parts of the world, they are unique in a variety of ways. It’s highly renewable, and one tree is capable of producing flooring for hundreds of years without ever being cut down.
Skilled artisans are able to carefully remove the outer layer of bark from the cork tree while it’s growing. As the bark grows back, the process is repeated over the lifespan of the tree. The harvested bark is made into a variety of products, and cork flooring is one of those.
High-quality harvested cork is commonly used for wine stoppers, but many flooring tiles are composed of ground cork. While the core layer of engineered cork flooring may not be quite as “green”, we feel that cork flooring is one of the more eco-friendly alternatives in the flooring world today.
Considering that cork is used to keep wine from coming out of bottles, it’s safe to assume many homeowners believe it's waterproof. Well, that’s not exactly the case. While cork floats and may not become waterlogged, there are several reasons why it’s not the best choice for damper areas in your home.
The protective coating on cork flooring can help keep simple splashes and spills at bay. The core of the board could be made from fiberboard, however, which is not resistant to water. It’s commonly used in kitchens, but not bathrooms. Proceed with caution in below-grade areas as well. With that in mind, there are companies like Amorim which produce waterproof engineered cork flooring.
Pricing & Availability
How much cork flooring costs depends on the quality, style, and format of the product. Branding also plays a part, although the field of cork flooring manufacturers is relatively small. Cork flooring that’s thicker or waterproof is priced at a premium along with unique patterns and styles.
You can expect to pay between $3.50 to around $5.00 for most cork flooring, but plenty of styles are priced at $6.50 or more as well. Cork flooring is readily available in engineered form locally and online. Tiles can be harder to acquire due to a smaller selection overall, but still accessible.
Cork Flooring Pros and Cons
Cork is unique and hard to compare to any other flooring material. It’s just as “exotic” as bamboo, but with a completely different vibe. It’s also the softest form of hard flooring on the market, so it’s much easier and warmer under your feet than hardwood, vinyl, laminate flooring, or tile.
Cork flooring can put some bounce back into your step with a surface similar to memory foam. It’s dense and resilient, although not impervious to damage. Sharp pet nails can scratch or gouge the surface. Blunt or heavy furniture can also leave a lasting impression behind without proper precautions, and it’s not the best choice for bathrooms.
We feel that engineered cork is easy to install, while glue-down varieties can require a bit more skill. It can also be a little more work to maintain than hardwood as you’ll need to keep footwear in mind along with the sealant covering the boards. It’s also considered hypoallergenic and an eco-friendly form of flooring that’s highly renewable.
While we certainly feel the pros of using cork flooring in your home outweigh the cons, the style can be hard to match and you have to plan ahead for heavy furniture or appliances. Check out our guide if you are ready to look for cork flooring or just want to learn more about this unique flooring material.