Cork is a material we’ve all come into contact with at some point. Whether it’s in the stopper at the end of a wine bottle, a gasket or that Oboe you played in band decades ago, it’s a material with many uses. It’s also an excellent alternative flooring style if you’re looking for something that draws attention to a room.
While we are big fans of this buoyant bark, there are several things you’ll want to consider before you start taking measurements or begin browsing through shades. We’re going to cover all the key areas to help you make an informed buying decision and tell you where you can find the best cork flooring for your home.
The Wonderful World of Cork
Cork isn’t the first option most consumers turn to when it’s time to consider new hardwood floors or carpeting. It’s not as popular as oak or other hard woods, but it would be a mistake to overlook this peculiar wood as it has several advantages over hickory, vinyl and other styles of flooring commonly found in homes.
One of the biggest perks of cork flooring in our opinion is the fact it’s hypoallergenic and has antimicrobial properties. While not a cure-all, it can be helpful if you suffer from allergies. The cellular structure also excels at repelling water although it’s not waterproof, and still needs to be adequately sealed.
Cork is also known for its noise-dampening properties. It’s used in some recording studios to block out sound and stop vibrations, and it can do the same in your home. This material is much softer than other woods as well, so it feels good underfoot – especially if you walk around in socks or barefoot. Hate cold wooden floors? Well, cork is warmer and provides better traction as well.
Due to the way cork is harvested, it is the most eco-friendly option we’ve come across. Trees don’t need to be cut down to use the bark, and as it only comes from certain parts of the world, it’s one of the more exotic types of flooring you can easily find.
Cork Flooring Problems
While we are big fans of cork in general, there are a few minor drawbacks to this material and one that’s fairly significant depending on your preference of pet…
One of the minor issues with cork is the fact there’s no grading system, just like with bamboo. That means specifications can be harder to come by and there’s no scale to let you know about the variations to expect when it comes to color and character. Want to install it in an area that receives a lot of direct sunlight? Well, you’ll want to think twice as some cork is prone to fading.
It’s not the best choice for bathrooms or any areas that tend to get wet, and you have to keep expansion in mind which we’ll cover in our cork flooring installation tips. You’ll also need to proceed with caution when moving heavy furniture considering cork compresses, so dents may be an issue if the quality isn’t top-notch and you have extremely heavy things in your home.
Overall, cork flooring required more care than other styles of wood flooring as it’s softer, so it can scratch easier. That means if you have large, active dogs in your home, you may want to reconsider using cork. It’s possible to keep the scratches at bay with frequent nail trims, but a 100-pound pooch can wreak havoc on your flooring – cork or not. If you do have a high-energy canine in your home, check our list of the best flooring for dogs.
Cork, Hardwood, and Bamboo Compared
Are you still on the fence with cork flooring pros and cons? Well, the easiest thing to do is simply compare it to hardwood and other exotics like bamboo, another sustainable flooring type we’re quite fond of.
Cork and Bamboo are both renewable woods which are eco-friendly and reasonably priced. They are also unique compared to hardwood in regards to their overall style, and a great choice if you want to get those LEED credits. Bamboo and cork flooring costs are similar although you’ll have more variety with bamboo overall but more colors with cork.
Cork is softer than bamboo, a better insulator and also quieter considering it dampens sound. It also has those unique antimicrobial properties and will keep mold and mildew away. On the flipside, bamboo will hold up better against scratches and can handle water and moisture better than cork. Neither can hold a candle to hardwood; however when it comes to durability.
Hardwood doesn’t compress like a cork floor, so you won’t have to deal with indentations. It’s easier to clean than cork, and solid flooring can be sanded and refinished several times. They are more pet-friendly than either bamboo or cork as well, but you’ll still have to keep nails maintained and could deal with more slippage. Cork flooring prices are comparable to some hardwoods but cheaper than most quality options.
Types of Cork Flooring
Unlike some types of flooring, you only get two options with cork, so your choice comes down to tiles or floating floors. The latter is something many consumers may already have in their home as hardwood floating floors are very popular today. Tiles are a bit different; however, and both styles require a little more thought when it’s time to install.
Floating Cork Flooring
If you want cork flooring that’s easy to install, you’ll want to consider floating cork floors. They fall under the engineered category, so they aren’t solid, but sandwiched with other layers. In this case, you’ll get a layer of cork on top with stabilizing core of MDF or HDF along with another layer of cork on the bottom.
These boards are pre-finished and more durable than on next option on the Janka scale, but you may still need to seal them to ensure your seams are waterproof. They are also available in several shades although you won’t find nearly as many options as you will with bamboo flooring or other types of wood.
When you truly want something different, tile is worth considering as long as you keep a few things in mind. Cork tiles are glue-down, so they are trickier to install than planks due to their square nature. That said, some tiles have an adhesive backing which can you save you a lot of headaches and time.
If you have a radiant flooring system, you’ll want to proceed with caution although some tiles made to work with those systems. The biggest thing to consider are the seams, as you’ll need to seal these floors yourself or bring in a professional to apply the final touches. Overall, cork tiles offer more of the benefits of cork including when compared to their engineered counterparts.
How to Choose Quality Cork
Now we’re going to discuss how cork is made and harvested to help you better understand what makes quality cork and why it’s so eco-friendly.
Cork trees are only found in certain parts of the world like France, Tunisia, Morocco, and Spain. You do not have to cut down cork trees for harvesting either unlike oak, pine or even bamboo. Instead, the bark is taken from cork oak trees every nine years, but only after the tree is around 15 years old.
The bark is stripped with special tools by hand, then left to dry before being sorted and processed into a variety of goods. With flooring, what happens to it after it leaves the forest varies depending on the manufacturer, but resin may be involved in the process which can produce VOCs. In other words, pay close attention to what’s in the tiles as well as any glue used during the installation process.
Considerations with Cork
This exotic wood isn’t regulated like others, so it can be harder to know what to look for. As it’s a softer wood, the first thing you’ll want to consider is how strong it is, which is easier said than done in most cases.
- Durability – The Janka scale is a great way to get an idea of how well your floors will hold up, but that’s a specification that may be hard to come by with cork. We did find several brands which give you a score although it wasn’t impressive for obvious reasons. It’s still something to look for if you’re buying planks, but pointless with tiles which brings us to…
- Density – Depending on the style and manufacturer, you should be able to get information on the density of the product. Simply put, if you have a lot of foot traffic in your home, you’ll want cork tiles with a higher density. On average, most products for residential use are rated at around 450 kg/m3 with a few exceptions.
- Recovery Time and Compression – Cork can scratch and dent, but unlike hardwood, it can actually recover from minor dents and dings as it compresses. Recovery time is something manufacturers tout and a spec you don’t want to overlook with tile. There is no perfect number although some companies claim recovery rates in the 90% range after compression of 50% which is definitely impressive.
- Thickness and Width – Another area where cork differs from typical hardwood floors are the overall dimensions. While you can find extra wide engineered planks, big boards are more common than not with cork flooring. Widths can range between 5 to 12-inches in most cases, and the thickness varies considerably as well.
- Finish – This is where things can get tricky as the finish and color depends on the style of wood you choose along with the manufacturer. If you want blue cork, that’s an option along with other vivid hues, or you can get something natural that’s coated in a clear finish as well.If listed, pay attention to the wear layer on pre-finished flooring and prepare to install a few coats yourself with either style. Considering cord can fade in direct sunlight, natural finishes and shades may be more suitable for sunny areas as well.
Safety Concerns & Certification
Cork flooring is like any other hardwood in terms of safety in regards to what it may… or may not put out into the air of your home. That’s another thing that will vary from manufacturer to manufacturer although it comes down to a few areas more often than not with binders and glue.
If you want a product that’s clean and green, look for wood flooring that has been certified by Greenguard and other agencies. Binding agents can be troublesome with tiles as well, so again, you’ll want to look for products that produce low VOCs and carry the proper certification for indoor use.
The finish is the other thing you’ll have to consider, and not something that generally comes into play with other woods. As mentioned, tiles have to have the seams sealed, and it’s something you’ll want to seriously consider with engineered wood as well. That means you need to find a product that’s safe to use, and while we won’t recommend a brand, water-based polyurethane is a good place to start.
The Cost of Cork
|Cork Type||Average Prices||Average Cost with Installation|
|Floating Cork Flooring||$3 – $10||$4 – $11|
|Cork Tile||$3 – $11||$5 – $14|
|Cork Brand||Average Prices||Average Cost with Installation|
|WE Cork||$4 – $7||$5 – $9|
|Globus Cork||$6 – $11||$8 – $14|
|Wicanders||$4 – $9||$5 – $12|
|Heritage Mill||$3 – $10||$4 – $12|
|Lisbon||$2 – $4||$3 – $6|
|Cali Bamboo||$5- $6||$6 – $8|
DIY or Professional Installation?
Installation Tips for Cork Flooring
We’re not going to spend much on installation aside from telling you to measure twice, so you only have to cut once when using engineered cork. The waste percentage can be a little higher so estimated your square footage and considering overages and extras beforehand is critical.
With click-lock or floating floors, you’ll need something to cut your boards and the usual tools like pencil, tape, a square, and some patience. Underlayment is critical as well, and manufacturers should have products available to match their lines. While that can get expensive, you are better off staying within a family of products if you’ve never installed flooring before.
Acclimation time is important, and you’ll want to inquire about that before you start laying flooring if it’s not plainly listed or the company’s website. It involves removing your cork flooring and placing it in the room you plan to install it in which lets it acclimated and alleviates a variety of issues. Tile installation can be tricky depending on how they are made, but not something we’re going to dig into as it varies by product and manufacturer.
You’ll also want to make sure you can actually acquire enough material for the job as this is a specialty product, and not commonly found in the usual hardware stores. You may end up for a nasty surprise when you take home a half-dozen samples only to find out it will take a month to order enough material for your home.
The biggest thing to remember with cork flooring installation is to follow the manufacturer’s directions and remember to seal the seams. If you slip up with either of those areas, you could find yourself with an expensive mistake or floors with a voided warranty. The power of underlayment and expansion gaps should not be underestimated as well.
The Best Cork Brands
Cork may be exotic, but there are dozens of companies the carry or produce cork flooring. While hey often say that variety is the spice of life, you may have a hard time tracking down some of the brands in a store, so keep samples in mind as well.
WE Cork carries a little bit of everything from wall coverings made from cork underlayment and even expansion joints. They also have plenty of cork flooring including tiles, planks, and something called Corkoleum, an intriguing product that is sold by the roll. It comes in three textures and can be stained any color you choose, but if you prefer something traditional, there are several collections to choose from as well.
WE’s Classic Collection consists of four shades of tile while the Traditional Collection has around 18 across three different lines. If you want the feel and advantages of cork but the look of wood, the digitally printed Serenity Collection is an option. You can find WE Cork’s products at flooring stores throughout the United States.
This company sells direct and is a one-stop-shop for all your cork tile needs including flooring and pre-assembled cork overlays. A simple bowtie or checkers pattern can add another layer of depth to a room, and you simply need to glue these down. The same goes for their selection of cork tiles which are available in different sized rectangles and squares.
Globus can also do custom sizes for a small fee if you meet their minimum 300 sq. ft. requirement and have three textures with Nuggest, Striata, and Traditional. There are over 30 shades for each style, so it’s safe to say there is a hue for everyone. Pricing on Globus Cork tiles begins at $5.99 per square foot for regular 12 x 12 natural tiles or $7.98 for colors with the Nugget and Traditional lines. The Striata textures start at $8.00 and top out at $11.20 per sq. ft. if you want 24-inch tiles in premium colors.
Wicanders probably isn’t a brand most folks will be familiar with, and you’re not going to find them at any of the usual big box retailers. If you can manage to track their flooring down, you’ll be thrilled with the selection which includes around 26 different styles of cork flooring in various shades. They have both tile and engineered planks although their current inventory has far more tile.
Interesting options from Wicanders lines include Traces Spice and Reed Meridian cork flooring if you want something different that will and prefer engineered to tile. On the tile side, you have things like Tweedy Wood Coffee or Appeal if you’re looking for something more natural. Warranties vary between 10 – 25 years depending on the product and there are over a dozen locations across the United States that carry their products.
Heritage Mill is a name you’ll come across frequently if you shop at Home Depot and they have around 13 styles of engineered hardwood listed on their site. All their planks are easy to install with a click-lock style system and come in standard sizes at 5 ½” or 11 5/8” x 36” and are prefinished. They advertise everything from cork with a cobblestone look to more natural styles and even have cork in pink.
In addition to flooring, Heritage Mill has a line of cork wall panels that will add pop to any room and look just as good as their planks. Pricing starts at around $3.65 per sq. ft. for a Macadamia plank and increases from there. That said, the stock is slim and frequently changes so you may need to make a direct inquiry if you see a shade you like on the company’s official site.
Best Stores for Cork Flooring
While those are just a few of brand we recommend, you can find other styles of hardwood flooring at hardware stores and flooring shops as well. There are far too many options to list, but here are a few of the more convenient options.
Green Building Supply
The best store for cork flooring when you need to shop online would be Green Building Supply in our opinion. They have more flooring in stock and ready to ship than other retailers including tiles and floating floors. While the brand selection is limited to Nova and USFloors for the most part, we think you’ll be pleased with their range.
There are around 30 different styles of cork flooring to choose through Nova’s lineup including four types of tiles. They also carry a few types of cork from Wicanders along with 19 flavors from USFloors. We also love their range of supplies which include underlayment, adhesives and eco-friendly finishes to top of your flooring.
Lowes & Home Depot
We’re putting these two retailers together because wherever you find one, you’ll find the other within a few miles. Each has their own selection of cork flooring as well, and for Home Depot you’ll get Home Legend and Heritage Mill which briefly discussed. Unfortunately, they may have more samples than actual cork in stock, so look online before you make the trip.
Lowes is home to cork flooring from Cali Bamboo and USFloors Natural Floors line, but again, the selection is sparse. They have more moulding than planks, and you won’t find cork tiles at either of these locations.
BuildDirect is a great place to pick up different kinds of hardwood flooring, and they have a solid lineup of exotics as well including cork. They carry the Evora Pallets brand, which consists of 17 different products with high textured solids and slick tiles that resemble luxurious marble. Most of the engineered planks have an HDF core with a square or beveled edge and are easy to install.
One of the big draws of BuildDirect’s cork is the price point as Evora’s lineup starts at around $2.00 per square foot. That’s considerably cheaper than other brands, and they have everything you need to complete your project with adhesives, underlay, and over 100 types of mouldings.