If Home and Garden TV is one of your favorite channels, then you know that cork flooring is one of the hottest design trends in today’s home improvement market.
What you may not realize is that cork has been used for flooring since the late 1800s!!!
Part of this steady demand can be attributed to cork’s durable and resilient nature, but there are perks in line with more modern sensibilities, such as:
-Warmth and comfort
Of course, when looking at any flooring options you have to consider more than their current popularity.
How much does cork flooring cost? What are the benefits and drawbacks associated with this particular material? To decide whether cork is the right flooring option for your home consider you budget, aesthetic preferences and usage priorities.
What is Cork Flooring?
Comprised primarily of the thick outer layer bark of cork oak trees, cork flooring is naturally resistant to insect activity, as well as microbial growth. Cork forests are evergreen and are primarily located in the Mediterranean region, where cork has been harvested for many centuries. Portugal is the top producer of cork, supplying roughly 50%, followed by Spain, supplying 25% and France, Italy, Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia supplying the rest.
Cork material naturally has millions of air filled cells, which allow cork to bounce back from dents and also make it feel cushiony to walk on. Thanks to these tiny air pockets cork also provides natural thermal and sound insulation, making it perfect for use in bedrooms and children’s rooms.
How is Cork Flooring Made?
One of the more eco-friendly flooring options on the market, cork floor treatments are manufactured under tight regulation to ensure sustainable harvesting of virgin materials. Surprisingly, despite all the advances in technology, cork flooring is still harvested solely by hand, and it is a very labor intensive process. The first harvest is done when the tree is about 20 years old, with subsequent harvests occurring about every nine years. Harvesting has no negative impact on the tree, and a single cork tree can produce up to 20 harvests in a 200 year time span! This makes cork flooring a highly sustainable resource, and the top choice of many eco-conscious homeowners.
After harvesting, cork bark is left to dry in the forest where it was harvested for several months. When it reaches the factory, whole products like wine corks are punched from the bark for use in other applications. The remaining pieces of cork are boiled and ground, then combined with adhesive resin products or high-density fiberboard to produce a high-quality flooring material. As you can see in the image, each cork plank is comprised of many layers.
How Much Does Cork Flooring Cost?
Among natural flooring materials, cork is considered one of the more budget friendly options. Installation costs will vary based on your region and the particular installer you hire. However, the average cork flooring cost for common to mid-grade quality materials ranges from $5 per sq. ft. to $12, when including both labor and material. Specialty products and unique styles can be up to twice this cost, ranging between $12 and $20 per square foot.
There are a number of factors that contribute to the difference in cost for basic vs premium cork flooring options:
1. Aesthetics: The least expensive cork flooring comes in sheets, and looks like compressed granules of light brown color (just like the cork in wine bottles). However, premium cork floors have an a top decorative layer of cork which can be finished in a wide range of colors and looks. This veneer can be stained, etched, bleached, painted and installed in different patterns. High-end cork floors can be finished to look like bamboo, marble or hardwoods.
Durability and Longevity: Cork flooring is made in a number of different densities, which effect the price. Higher density makes for a more durable, long lasting material and consequently will cost more. An average quality cork floor should have a density of at least 28 pounds per cubic ft. Premium quality floors should have density up to 34 pounds per cubic ft.
Installation Quality: A properly installed cork floor can last for decades, so it is important to find an experienced installer. Keep in mind that contractors with proper licenses, insurances and positive reviews from past clients will charge more for their services.
Architectural and Decorative Styles Best Suited to Cork Floors
Though cork flooring is often used as part of a modern or minimalist scheme, you are in no way limited to those applications. Cork floors can fit a variety of architectural and decor themes because of their versatility and the wide range of available finishes. In addition to planks of various widths, cork can be installed in a wide range of tile sizes. If you want to get really creative, it is possible to install cork floors in different unique patterns.
Colors also abound, ranging from light honey to dark walnut. You can also order very bright colors, such as lilac, scarlet, tangerine orange, sky blue and green, which can look great in children’s bedrooms, play rooms and family rooms. Darker, more natural shades of cork, finished to look like wood will look beautiful with rustic or country style decor in living rooms and bedrooms. Tiled or patterned cork floors will fit right at home in a more contemporary space.
From a practical standpoint, though, there are some architectural elements which may make cork flooring a less desirable option. For instance, if your apartment or home has abundant natural light from large windows or skylights, cork may not be a good choice, due to it’s tendency to discolor with exposure to natural light. Applying protective coatings to windows to limit UV penetration can help protect your cork floor, but, generally, it is better to install it in spaces with fewer windows or an orientation, which limits natural sunlight.
Pros and Cons of Cork Flooring
As with any building material, there are both benefits and potential drawbacks to consider.
•Cork is a naturally sustainable resource, and installation can help reduce the carbon footprint of your home.
•Because cork is naturally cushioned, it provides a more comfortable walking surface than many other flooring options.
•While heavy furniture and sharp objects can damage cork flooring, it’s highly resistant to wear from normal foot traffic.
•Natural qualities of cork leave it far less susceptible to mold, mildew and rot.
•Cork is highly resistant to pest and insect activity.
•For allergy sufferers, cork can be the ideal flooring option, as it limits allergen accumulation and makes allergens easier to remove from the home.
•Because cork stores warmth naturally, it makes for a far more comfortable and warm surface to walk upon during winter months.
•Cork’s air pockets create a natural sound barrier, helping to insulate spaces from noise pollution.
•Cork is anti-static and fire retardant.
•High heels, pet toenails, heavy furniture and sharp items can easily gouge cork.
•Cork flooring should be treated with polyurethane coatings on an annual basis, though other maintenance considerations are typically minimal.
•While cork is naturally high in resistance to water, any liquid spills can be absorbed and have the potential to stain, if not cleaned up promptly.
Side-By-Side Comparisons: Cork Vs.Bamboo and Hardwood
For homeowners committed to using sustainable building materials, bamboo and cork flooring are often the two top contenders. Those more interested in aesthetics and lifestyle, as opposed to green living, may find themselves weighing the related pros and cons of hardwood in comparison to cork flooring.
CORK VS BAMBOO FLOORING
Bamboo and cork flooring are typically comparable in cost and sustainability ratings. They are the only two truly green flooring materials, as both bamboo grass and cork trees are not cut down in the harvesting process. However, in recent years concerns over the environmental issues associated with bamboo harvested in China have surfaced, making it less appealing to many homeowners. Cork requires special sealants to match bamboo’s natural moisture resistance, but provides superior sound insulation, thermal properties and comfort as a softer, more cushioned walking surface. Both materials share similar sensitivity to high levels of natural light, and both can dent under the pressure of heavy furniture if weight-dispersing pads aren’t used. Still, cork offers mold, mildew, pest and fire resistance, which are not considered typical of bamboo flooring.
CORK VS NATURAL HARDWOOD
Homeowners who are comparing natural hardwood to cork flooring may not be as invested in the sustainability aspect, but can still reap many other attractive benefits of cork. Again, the price point is roughly similar, with wide variances in hardwood costs dependent upon materials used. Hardwood doesn’t provide the same soft, comfortable walking surface. Even if eco-friendliness is not a primary consideration, the environmental impact of new hardwood flooring shouldn’t be ignored. In terms of longevity and durability, some hardwood types may be less susceptible to denting, but many will show wear more quickly. The same qualities which provide a natural cushion in cork flooring also make it more resilient, leaving it able to spring back into shape much more easily. Hardwood is not naturally resistant to microbial growth, insect activity or fire, though it may not be as easily discolored by an abundance of natural light.
Compared to other natural flooring choices, such as reclaimed wood and stone tile, cork flooring is a lot more cost effective. Its natural resistance to wear, pests and microbial growth, also make it an excellent long-term investment for the right space.