Cork: The Environmental and Practical Flooring You Haven’t Considered

Cork: The Environmental and Practical Flooring You Haven’t Considered
  • Opening Intro -

    Reclaimed and refinished hardwood isn’t the only sustainable flooring option that’s also fashionable and full of character.

    If you think your wine-snob dinner guests will be impressed by the cork in your bottles of chardonnay, wait’ll they get a look at your cork wood floors.

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By Arthur Salmeron

At the same time, your green-minded friends will appreciate your eco-chic taste.

Surprisingly, cork isn’t new as a flooring option. It has been used in larger buildings like churches since the 1800’s, which means you don’t have to worry whether it’s a good idea, having been tested for more than 200 years.

It’s Sustainable

Cork, which comes from the bark of trees that grow in Portugal and Spain, is a renewable material that’s friendly to the environment and cozies up nicely to nearly any room in the house. Harvesting cork doesn’t harm the trees, which are peeled, but not cut down, in the process. Cork trees can yield new crops every decade or so.

Although it is a renewable resource, it is limited, so flooring companies are making more sustainable (and economical) choices, going so far as to recycle old cork wine stoppers to make flooring. Jelinek Cork, with offices in Europe and Canada, slices discarded stoppers into quarter-inch-thick rounds and uses them to make tile bases, according to the London Telegraph.

“Nothing is wasted in the process,” Jelinek’s Ruary McGregor tells the Telegraph. “Off-cuts or unwanted pieces are ground up and turned into insulation material.” Which is good news for the growing number of homeowners who want their home decor choices to reflect their environmental sensibilities.

It’s Attractive

As a flooring choice, cork has the rich, handsome color tones of traditional hardwood, but with a softer, warmer feel. Whether it’s used in large sheets, tiles, plank-style, or as a composite, cork can be cool and subtle, or dramatic. The interesting marbled look is sometimes mistaken for marble, until guests examine it more closely, usually with a curious smile.

You can stain cork any color you like, and like wood, it’s natural beauty is enhanced and protected with a simple water-based polyurethane.

It’s Functional

There are a number of interesting properties that make cork ideal for use in many rooms of the house, and even on stairs.

Being softer than most other hard floor surfaces, cork is great for in the kitchen, where glasses and other fragile items have been known to slip out of hand. A tea cup is much more likely to bounce on a cork floor, than it is on ceramic tile. Since we also tend to stand in the kitchen for extended periods, cork’s forgiving nature is helpful to feet, legs and backs. Of course, that same softness makes it great for kid’s play areas, too.

The natural air pockets created by the unique cellular structure also means that cork has a “self-healing” property when pierced by sharp objects. Many people figure that cork would be fragile– not so.

What’s more, the same properties that make it soft and resilient also help it to absorb sound more than hardwood, tile or linoleum making it great for improving the quiet, comfortable feel of larger spaces. It even contains a natural substance called “suberin” that protects it from mold, rot and insects. That’s a good trait to have in tree bark, and it happens to be helpful in flooring, too.

It’s Cost Effective

Of course it’s possible to damage cork, so you won’t want to drag heavy furniture or appliances across it, and without proper padding, heavy items like a sofa can leave indentations. However, a well-maintained floor can last 30 years, and that’s not bad, especially compared to less environmentally sensitive choices like synthetic carpets. Depending on the type and quality of cork you choose, it could cost anywhere from $1.50 per square foot to upwards of $4.50. It isn’t the cheapest flooring you can find, but it’s far from the priciest option.

So when you’ve finished your flooring project, have all your friends over to stand around admiring your taste in wine, your flair for home décor and your commitment to the environment.

Author Information

Arthur Salmeron is a freelance writer in Geneva, Illinois. He is an expert on architectural topics. He writes primarily about custom wood stair parts and other wood stair railings including Newel Posts.

 

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