the benefits of cork flooring

The Benefits of Cork Flooring

By Tobias Roberts Rise Writer
Jul 9, 2020

When choosing between different flooring alternatives, most homeowners think that their options are limited to carpet, hardwood, or tile. Cork flooring might bring to mind a bunch of wine corks arranged artistically as a wall decoration. But, historically, few people would think to use cork as a flooring material. Below, we look at some of the environmental issues associated with more traditional flooring materials. Then we'll offer a rundown on the top five ecological and health benefits associated with cork flooring.

Table of Contents

  1. Potential Problems with Carpets, Hardwood, and Tile
  2. What is Cork Flooring?
  3. Benefits, Sustainable Features, and Commonly Asked Questions About Cork Flooring
  4. Is Cork Flooring Water Resistant?
  5. Where Can I Buy Cork Flooring?

Potential Problems with Carpets, Hardwood, and Tile

While carpets were historically a favorite of homeowners, several important issues have surfaced around their potential human toxicity. Most carpets are made from synthetic materials, including nylon, polyester, acrylic, latex, polyvinyl chloride (PVC), 4-phenyl cyclohexane, and polyurethane. Besides being petroleum-based, these synthetic materials, the adhesives used to bind the carpet to the floor, and popular chemical stain repellants off-gas VOCs into the home, thus compromising indoor air quality. 

Moreover, carpets naturally attract and hold allergens that further impair indoor air quality. Finally, from a waste perspective, the non-biodegradable nature of carpet means that carpet discards take vast amounts of space in landfills

Hardwood flooring, on the other hand, is sourced from a renewable resource: trees. Laminate flooring and MDF flooring can contain formaldehyde and other off-gassing chemicals. So, where possible, most homeowners prefer solid wood products. 

You can find beautiful wood flooring made from sustainably sourced lumber. However, reports often surface related to the unsustainable management of lumber. For example, a report in 2017 recounted how US timber distributors, including the leading wood supplier for Home Depot, were fueling massive deforestation in the rain forests of Papua New Guinea. This is despite their original claims of sustainable forestry practices along their supply chain. 

While tile flooring is durable and sourced from one of the most abundant resources on earth (dirt), homeowners rarely consider other environmental considerations. One report on tile flooring in Asia concluded that ceramic tile flooring had a significant ecological impact. The impact stems from massive greenhouse gas emissions related to the double-firing process during manufacture and heavy material transportation across long distances. Tile, therefore, can have a large embodied energy footprint.

Cork Floor Maison Boom Boom
Cork Floor. Photo Credit: Maison Boom Boom

What is Cork Flooring?

Cork flooring is a flooring alternative sourced from the cork tree that is native (and most abundant) in Portugal. Once the cork is harvested from the tree's bark, it is ground up and processed into large sheets. These sheets are baked in a kiln (like ceramic tiles) and then installed into homes or commercial buildings. They come in a variety of shapes, finishes, and colors to suit any taste or style.

The cork tree can be harvested once every nine years and can only be harvested from mature trees over 25 years old. However, removing the bark from the tree does not damage it, and the bark will naturally grow back.

Cork Floor Fireside Design
Cork Floor. Photo Credit: Fireside Design

Benefits, Sustainable Features, and Commonly Asked Questions About Cork Flooring

Despite its relative anonymity, cork flooring has been around for hundreds of years. Frank Lloyd Wright began to install cork flooring into several buildings that he designed decades ago. Mahogany, walnut, and cherry usually come to mind when one thinks of precious hardwood floors. Luckily, cork flooring offers the same attractiveness as several other health benefits and sustainability features.

Is Cork Flooring Sustainable?

Cork flooring comes from the cork tree's bark that grows throughout southern Europe. The ancient practice of harvesting the bark only once every nine years ensures that the trees are not damaged and continue to grow for hundreds of years. Cork flooring, then, comes from a sustainable and renewable resource that captures large amounts of carbon dioxide. While other trees have to be cut down to be made into wood flooring, the cork tree grows and sequester carbon from the atmosphere at maximum rates.

How Durable Is Cork Flooring?

Cork flooring is also highly durable and will last for decades when proper care is taken. Cork naturally has a cellular makeup that includes millions of microscopic pockets of air in every square foot. These pockets allow cork flooring to endure heavy foot traffic. Unlike other hardwood floors, cork flooring has some flexibility, allowing it to indent and recover its original shape slightly.

Does Cork Flooring Provide Insulation?

The cellular nature of cork flooring also makes it a fantastic insulator. The tiny air pockets insulate against heat and cold. Cork flooring has a 3.0 R-Value per inch. This puts cork's insulating factor at three times more than tile and more than double that of pinewood and certain types of carpet. With cork floors, the walking surface will maintain a sensation of warmth in the winter and coolness in the summer. Cork flooring also absorbs noise. The 40 million cells in each cubic centimeter of cork will help insulate your space from those noisy neighbors (or kids) downstairs.

Is Cork Flooring Water Resistant?

Cork contains a natural substance called suberin, which is naturally water-resistant. The suberin (impermeable waxy substance) in cork flooring is a wax-like material that repels water and offers superb protection against insect infestations.

Cork Flooring is Versatile

Cork flooring can be installed over a wide array of different subfloors, which include wood, cement slabs, and tile. As long as your subfloor is level and dry, cork flooring can easily be installed. Often, the costly job of ripping up old tile or hardwood flooring can is avoidable when installing cork.

Cork Flooring in The Standard Hotel StyleBeatBlog
Cork Flooring in The Standard Hotel. Photo Credit: Style Beat Blog

Where Can I Buy Cork Flooring?

We've shown the multitude of health benefits and environmental sustainability features associated with cork flooring above. However, many home contractors continue to think that the only use for cork is to stop up wine bottles. The good news is that cork flooring has gained traction with customers and is becoming much more widely available. The following companies provide quality cork flooring options for a sustainable and natural flooring alternative that addresses some pitfalls of more traditional options like carpet, tile, or hardwood.

Evora Cork Flooring
Photo Credit: Evora Flooring

Evora Cork Flooring

Evora offers a 25-year warranty on many of the cork flooring pallets that they offer. They offer a wide range of colors to choose from, with pricing from as low as $2.00 per square foot.

Jelinek Cork Flooring
Photo Credit: Jelinek Cork Flooring

Jelinek Cork Group

Jelinek is another company specializing in cork floors. You can choose from un-treated tiles or tiles that are pre-finished with water-based urethane. Their standard tiles are 24 inches by 24 inches with ½ inch thickness, though you can also order custom-sized cork tiles or pallets.

APC Cork Flooring
Photo Credit: APC Cork Flooring

APC Cork

APC Cork also offers a wide range of cork flooring products. This company works only with providers who are FSC or PEFC certified. They also offer a wide rainbow of color and style options.

Leather Forna Cork Floor Cancork
Leather Forna Cork Floor. Photo Credit: Cancork

Cancork Floor / iCork Floor

This company, named Cancork Floor in Canada and iCork Floor in the US, offers many cork options and lots of product information.

Heritage Mill Cork Flooring Home Depot
Heritage Mill Cork Flooring. Photo Credit: Home Depot

The Home Depot

The Home Depot, and other big box stores, now offer various cork options. Brand and selection differ slightly when comparing the US and Canada, but prices are comparable. Some products even detail the possible LEED points that could be obtained when installing their product. The categories for possible points include Low Emitting Materials, Recycled Content, Rapidly Renewable Materials, and even Innovation in Design.

Disclaimer: This article does not constitute a product endorsement however Rise does reserve the right to recommend relevant products based on the articles content to provide a more comprehensive experience for the reader.Last Modified: 2021-11-26T17:59:23+0000
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