What is Cork Flooring?
Homeowners have seen an influx of eco-friendly products in recent years, especially when it comes to flooring. Bamboo is one of the most popular hard flooring surfaces, and while durable, it can be a bit cold and unforgiving underfoot. Cork flooring is an interesting alternative to bamboo, and in this guide, we’re going to talk about why it’s an excellent choice for homeowners today.
The Versatility of Cork
Cork is something almost everyone has heard of and is used in some surprising applications. Most will be familiar with its use in wine bottles as a stopper, but it’s also found in shoes and shuttlecocks. This resilient material is known to keep its shape, which makes it ideal for use in gaskets as well.
From bulletin boards to bobbers on the end of a fishing line, there are millions of ways cork is used in today’s world. You can even find it on the space shuttle or in floorboards, although it all essentially comes from the same place. That would be the bark of a unique tree that only grows in certain parts of Europe and Asia.
While a number of things make cork flooring unique among comparable products, it’s the most renewable type of flooring you can buy today. That’s due to the way it’s harvested, which involves removing bark from the cork oak tree at a certain age. Cork comes from the bark of these trees, which are not damaged and will continue to grow after each harvesting.
This video doesn’t deal with cork flooring specifically but is an excellent example of harvesting and some of the manufacturing process behind products it’s used in.
Types of Cork Flooring
While most cork flooring is comprised of ground-up material, there is more than one type of cork flooring and several formats to consider. The most popular type and widest assortment of colors are in the engineered category, however.
Engineered cork flooring has a base layer, core, top layer, and wear layer for protection. It’s constructed in a fashion similar to traditional hardwood or bamboo engineered flooring, but with a veneer made from cork. In plank format, premium cork flooring can be thicker than luxury vinyl or engineered hardwood.
There is also cork flooring that’s solid aside from the backing layer on the bottom. While commonly used in commercial spaces, this comfortable type of flooring comes in tile form. It’s not as easy to acquire and is usually more expensive per square foot as well.
How Cork Flooring is Installed
As a multi-layered style of flooring, cork can be installed in several different ways. That means it’s an excellent choice for homeowners that want to install flooring themselves. Just like LVP or engineered flooring, cork can be used as a floating floor or attached to the subfloor or a room with adhesive. With that in mind, an adhesive is required for cork tiles to keep the corners from curling.
The subfloor will need to be free and clear of debris or unevenness, but installation is quick and easy. Cork flooring in the engineered class will have beveled, micro-beveled, or square edges. These pieces lock together, which makes installation or removal a breeze. You can find out more about the installation process in our guide.
Where Cork Flooring is Used
While not as versatile as vinyl flooring, cork can be used in almost any room. We have even seen it used on walls or as accent pieces throughout homes. It’s more popular in some areas, however, including the living room, hallways, and bedrooms. It can be used upstairs or even in below-grade rooms as long as it has the right rating.
While we’ve seen plenty of cork flooring in kitchens, it’s not the best choice for damp areas. It needs to be sealed to prevent water damage. Cork handles H2O better than solid hardwood or laminate but isn’t comparable to vinyl in that regard. You’ll also need to be wary of indentations with heavy furniture as cork is softer than traditional engineered flooring.
12” x 36”
11.6” x 35”
Glue Down Tile
12” x 24”
Glue Down Tile
11.8” x 11.8”
12” x 37
11.5” x 36”
Cork Flooring Pricing
Cork isn’t as popular as engineered flooring made from oak or other domestic species. It’s also not as prevalent as luxury vinyl, which may lead you to believe it’s expensive. Bamboo flooring can certainly come at a premium, although we feel it’s affordable and in line with bamboo or exotic species.
Cork flooring costs between $3.50 to around $5.00 per square foot on average if you’re looking for engineered flooring. Solid cork is slightly more expensive and can be more than $6.00 per square foot. When it comes to availability, cork is right behind bamboo so it’s easy to acquire locally or online through a number of retailers.
Pros and Cons of Cork Flooring
While we’ve explained what cork flooring is and how much it can cost, that doesn’t tell the whole tale. As with any type of flooring, there are pros and cons to using cork in your home, and we’re going to touch on the most significant ones.
Comfort and style are two big reasons homeowners choose cork. It has a completely different look than any traditional hardwood or bamboo. In fact, it can’t be replicated through LVP like other species or stone, which makes it unique from that standpoint. It will make a statement in any room, but it’s also comfortable.
Cork is a material that can retain its shape and bounce back from minor dents and dings. That makes it more comfortable underfoot than other types of hard flooring surfaces and it can hold warmth which keeps your feet warmer in the colder months. Cork flooring is considered hypoallergenic but is also highly resistant to insects and mold.
This highly renewable material is one of the best eco-friendly types of flooring you can buy, although sharp or heavy objects can damage the floor. Care is needed with the placement of heavy furniture in rooms with bamboo flooring, and you’ll always need to use protection to keep the floor from being gouged or scratched.
Those are just a few of the key points to keep in mind with cork flooring. If you’d like to dig deeper and learn more about this material, this guide is full of useful information about the pros and cons of cork flooring.
Cork Flooring FAQ
Q: Can install cork flooring over tile?
A: Yes, cork flooring can be installed over tile, wooden and concrete subfloors given they are level and free installed to the manufacturer’s directions.
Q: Are cork floors hard to clean?
A: No. While softer than traditional hardwood or vinyl, cork flooring can be swept, dusted, mopped, or lightly wet mopped when properly sealed.
Q: Will I need to use underlayment under cork flooring?
A: While you should refer to the installation directions, most cork flooring has a layer of pre-attached underlayment. A vapor barrier may be required, however.
Q: Is cork warm underfoot in the winter?
A: Cork is an excellent insulator and one that can actually hold heat during the colder months when compared to tile, hardwood, or vinyl flooring.
Q: How long do cork floors last?
A: You can expect cork flooring to last from 15 to 30 years depending on the quality and manufacturer.
Q: Is cork resistant to water?
A: Yes, although it’s still not suitable for damp areas unless it has the right rating and is sealed. Cork is naturally resistant to moisture and insects thanks to a material within it called suberin.
Q: Does underfloor heating work with cork flooring?
A: While you will need to check with the manufacturer beforehand, we found that most engineered cork flooring is suitable with underfloor heating systems.
Q: Does cork fade over in sunlight?
A: Cork flooring can fade like other forms of flooring when exposed to sunlight over extended periods of time.
Q: Will cork flooring need to acclimate before it’s installed?
A: That depends on the format and brand. Cork tiles generally have to acclimate for 24-48 hours or longer in the room where they will be installed. Engineered cork flooring varies as some brands can be installed out of the box.