Cork Flooring 101: Warm Up to a Natural Wonder

Although cork floors have surged in popularity over the past decade or so, they’ve been kicking around for at least a century. Back in the early days, cork appeared largely in commercial and public spaces, although residential usage increased after Frank Lloyd Wright decided it for lots of the homes he designed.

Its prevalence hit a peak in the 1960s and’70s but waned until the 2000s, when its aesthetic allure and sustainable nature made it a design darling. Wondering if to jump on the bandwagon? Read on to learn more about the pros, cons and unique considerations.

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The principles

Natural cork comes from the bark of cork trees, found chiefly in southern Europe and northern Africa. Scraps of bark left over from punched-out bottle stoppers are floor, pressed and baked into sheets which are ready to convert into flooring tiles and planks. Portugal is the epicenter of the cork sector and accounts for more than half the world’s production.

What you will love

If you have ever noticed how quickly that the wine cork pops back into shape when it is released from the bottle, you get a good idea of how elastic and elastic cork is. Its shock-absorbent structure translates into comfort underfoot–a real blessing in spots where you spend long periods standing, such as in a kitchen or home gym. (This means dropped glassware or china has less probability of shattering.) Plus, it holds warmth and muffles seem like a champ.

Cork also has severe green cred. The trees slowly regenerate their bark after it is harvested, and the harvesting process itself is strictly controlled as a way to keep damage minimal. Since the trees can live between one and two centuries, cork is a long-term renewable resource. And when there is an allergy victim in your home, it is a dream material: It does not contain dust and contains suberin, a natural chemical that fends off mold, mildew, rot and insects.

Fans of cork adore its natural variations in tone and texture, which make a richness and depth that the best manufacturers can’t replicate. If you would rather go daring, cork can be dyed or stained any colour that fits your fancy.

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What to consider

Although cork is durable, be prepared to put in some maintenance. Crumbs, dirt and other detritus can scar its surface over time, and therefore don’t go more than a week without sweeping or vacuuming. Cork also needs to be re-sealed with protective coatings of polyurethane every couple of years. Alternatively, you can seal it with wax, which is less likely to scratch but must be eliminated and reapplied more often. Some cork flooring comes pre-finished, although it still will need periodic doctoring to keep it in shape.

Cork may bounce back from small nicks, but major dings–for example, slipping a desk throughout the floor and taking a chunk of cork with itare tougher to repair. Furniture eventually will leave permanent scratches unless you put it on protective coasters to cancel the pressure. As with carpeting, sun will fade it over time.

Additionally, cork does not always work well in damp locations. Though its normal waxiness repels moisture,standing water may permeate the joints and cause damage. If you truly want cork in a bathroom, laundry or basement space, it is worth consulting with a specialist about how to ward off water leakage and infiltration.

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Most cork flooring comes in one of two kinds: planks or tiles. Planks can either be solid cork or engineered laminate-style (cork veneer with a fiberboard core). They’re available in glue-down or”floating” applications–the tiniest locks together in the edges and sits directly in addition to any surface, which makes it particularly DIY-friendly. Avoid engineered planks in moisture-prone areas; they’re very likely to warp.

Tiles, created from solid silk, generally are glued into a subfloor. Installation isn’t difficult, but it might take a good number of prep work to get the underlying surface fit.

If you’re opposed to the appearance of tiles, or you want custom-cut shapes and layouts, cork can be sold in sheets. But, installation becomes much more demanding, so you may need the help of a specialist.

What you will pay

Cork isn’t cheap, just, but it is manageable on a budget. The purchase price tag falls approximately between $2 and $12 per square foot, uninstalled (professional setup normally adds $3-5 per square foot into the total). Do not skimp on quality–inexpensive, lower-density cork flooring won’t hold up in the long term.

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to Learn More about cork flooring and where to buy it, See the World Floor Covering Association ( or the Portugese Cork Association, APCOR (

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