Cork: A Durable, Hypoallergenic Floor Covering

If you have read my article, Cork: The Sustainable Alternative To Hardwood Floors you will know why environmentally cork is superior.

Now, let’s see why cork floors are growing in popularity.

A Soundproof Floor

Cork makes a relatively soundproof floor. It works well in apartments where you have neighbors above and below you. Also, you will feel vibrations through this floor a lot less than with other flooring types. Cork flooring absorbs sound and vibration.

Shock Absorbency

Dropping a heavy object usually won’t impact the cork floor that much. If you drop a glass or any breakable object on cork, chances are that it probably won’t break. The impact of the fallen object gets absorbed in cork flooring. A cork floor is firm but not bouncy.

The reason for the serious noise reduction from cork is because it is incredibly dense and has a unique cellular structure that is impregnated with lots of air.

Thermal Insulation

Cork insulates well. It provides natural thermal insulation. Some people even say that they have cut their energy bills by having cork flooring throughout their homes.

The “dead” air space in cork makes it an efficient non-conductor of heat. This means it reduces air movement.

When you walk on a carpet, it is warm because it is not absorbing the heat from your feet. Differently, a tile floor is taking the heat away from your feet. This makes the tile floor feel cold. Cork doesn’t absorb heat. This is why it feels warm to walk on barefoot.

Why Choose Cork Floors

One of the main reasons that people choose cork is because it is soft and cushioning. Cork is appealing to the elderly because it has shock-absorbing qualities.

For people who suffer from back and joint pain, this is ideal. For kids who take the occasional tumble, cork flooring provides a softer surface to break a fall. It gives relief for your feet, back and legs.

It is shock-absorbing because lots of air is trapped in the wood. It is the same reason that it is relatively soundproof and absorbs vibrations. About 50% of cork is air. This is why it is a cushioning floor.

A Durable Floor

Despite its soft, rubbery feeling, it is actually a durable floor that does not scuff very easily.

Cork is known as quite a resilient floor covering. Cork has a lot of give to it. It is recommended for areas where there is going to be extensive walking or standing.

Because of its natural resiliency, cork is commonly found in high traffic areas like government buildings, churches, libraries and banks. It is a flexible, relatively durable floor covering.

A Hypoallergenic Floor

An advantage to cork is that it is very comfortable for people who suffer from allergies. It does not absorb dust. Some manufacturers even coat cork floors with anti-microbial or paraffin oil treatments to inhibit the growth of mold, mildew and bacteria. This improves the indoor air quality.

Coatings on Cork Floors

Green Building Supply Environmentally Friendly Home Center uses JointShield, which is a paraffin oil product. This is designed to impregnate the joints, making the floor watertight. This creates a strong moisture barrier.

On the other hand, if cork floors do not have a protective coating, they will be susceptible to damage from mold and mildew. This will happen typically in kitchens, bathrooms and basements where moisture levels are higher. I highly recommend a polyethylene water barrier.

Cork and Its Physical Characteristics

Suberin is a natural, waxy substance that is found in cork. Cork naturally resists insects and termites because it contains suberin. This waxy substance also protects cork from rotting if it is slightly wet for a while.

Obviously, the amount of water on a cork floor should be minimal. It will get damaged if there is a lot of water on it, just like any other floor covering.

Cork Floors, Water and Flame Resistant

Its cellular structure doesn’t make it waterproof, but it helps repel water. With a proper binder, a cork floor can be fairly water resistant.

Suberin is also fire resistant. It won’t spread flame. It also will not release gas during combustion. For people with sensitivities, cork is popular because it is formaldehyde-free. It does not give off gas unlike a lot of other floor coverings.

New Varieties of Cork Floors

Cork flooring is not a new phenomenon. However, new forms of cork flooring have come out in recent years. The newer varieties of flooring are tiles and planks with snap or click lock joints. Cork is even available in the parquet format.

It has become popular because these new styles of cork flooring are easier to install and don’t use any glue. It doesn’t require a skilled floor contractor to install a cork floor. It is appealing for a DIYer. Most cork flooring comes factory finished with a topcoat of UV cured acrylic or a water-base.

Modern manufacturing practices compress cork so that there are a huge variety of rich textures, patterns and colors. The problem with the colored varieties is that scratches and wear marks show up more prominently than they do on natural cork. Also, a lot of people have had problems with dark colors turning much lighter pretty quickly. Some companies mix rubber with cork to get special texture. In my opinion, this is not a healthy choice. Rubber is an off-gassing material that will emit gas for a very long time. The diverse styles make cork flooring very appealing for consumers. Cork floor can be tailored to the consumer. There is going to be a style of cork flooring that suits your needs. Cork floors are very easy to maintain. They only require vacuuming and the occasional damp mopping.

Cork’s Small Environmental Impact

Cork floors look nothing like hardwood floors. Environmentally conscious consumers favor cork. They are not destroying forests. They don’t have to worry if the tree that was used to make their floors will be replaced with a new tree.

If you are considering cork floors, read my article “Installing Cork Floors” before starting your project.