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Use Of Cork As Flooring Material

Updated on February 7, 2016

Cork floors have been used since the turn of the century. It is heat and noise insulating, lightweight, fire resistant, attractive, breathable and a naturally waterproof flooring material (though it does absorb and imbibe some amount of moisture). It can be manipulated into all sorts of shapes and sizes. According to Allied Cork, a piece of cork, the size of a sugar cube, contains around 60 million air-filled pockets, making it extremely elastic. You can squeeze it, that it condenses under pressure, only to spring back later to its original shape.

Use of cork as flooring material

The Cork Oak Tree Bark
The Cork Oak Tree Bark | Source

Processing of cork and its pros and cons

Most of the cork comes from a few countries in the world. Portugal leads in its production, to be followed by Spain and Italy. It is harvested from the medium sized evergreen cork oak tree that grows in the Mediterranean region (south-west Europe) and parts of northern Africa. The tree forms a thick corky bark, and over time the bark can develop considerable thickness. Initially, it takes 25-30 years for the cork oak to reach harvestable status. Later, as the cork regrows it can be harvested every 10-12 years. The entire process is done manually, without the use of machinery. Harvesting doesn't harm the tree, and every time a new layer of cork develops. Cork Oaks live for about 150-250 years, during which each tree can be harvested around 25 to 30 times.

After drying in the forest for several months, the bark is transported to a factory where wine bottle corks are made. The leftover material is boiled, ground up, then compressed, using adhesive resins. This ground up product can be cut and used as the final flooring piece.

Cork is low in volatile organic compound (VOC) emissions. However, it is essential to check the finish applied. It is not very well suited for bathrooms as it absorbs moisture. It is resistant to mold and mildew and feels soft under the foot.

Despite all the star labels, there are certain aspects that need to be taken care of, with cork flooring. It is recommended to maintain humidity levels of the room between 30 and 60%, as cork floor tiles can swell or warp with changes in moisture levels. Cork floors tend to scratch and show indentations, especially from high-heeled shoes. Be sure to have your pet's nails clipped, else they can cause damage.

Benefits of cork flooring:

  • Naturally spongy; provides a more cushioned walking surface.
  • Very resilient
  • Hypoallergenic and resistant to mold and mildew
  • Withstands foot traffic well
  • Does not require too much maintenance
  • Naturally shock absorbing, so dropped glasses less likely to break
  • Cellular nature allows cork store warmth
  • Available in a wide range of natural tones and man-made colors.

Drawbacks of cork flooring:

  • Expensive
  • Needs to be installed by an experienced professional
  • May become permanently indented if furniture pads not used
  • Does not hold up well to very heavy furniture sitting on it for long periods of time
  • Light sensitive. The natural color fades as it ages if used in rooms with plenty of direct sunlight
  • Spilled fluids must be cleaned quickly to avoid absorption
  • If a sharp object is dropped on the floor, a chunk of cork could get carved out.

Reference sources:

www.inhabitat.com

www.homebuilding.thefuntimesguide.com

www.howstuffworks.com

www.realtor.com

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    • Kristen Howe profile image

      Kristen Howe 2 years ago from Northeast Ohio

      Cool idea. Thanks for sharing this hub!

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