When it comes to choosing a suitable flooring material for your home, there are plenty of options to consider.
From engineered hardwood flooring to laminate, tile to carpet – the choices can be overwhelming.
But what about cork – the same material used to seal wine bottles and make bulletin boards? What are the pros and cons of using cork as a flooring material?
Since all materials have benefits and drawbacks, weighing both sides before deciding is essential. As a homeowner or builder, the key thing to know about cork flooring is whether it’ll meet your needs before committing to its use.
In the rest of this article, I’ll discuss the pros and cons of using cork as a flooring material.
This will help you make an informed decision about your home’s flooring. Let’s dive in!
We live in a world where eco-friendly and sustainable construction practices are necessary.
According to the UN Environment Programme, the construction industry is responsible for 39 percent of carbon dioxide emissions and climate change. Unfortunately, this results from relying on conventional building materials like concrete and wood.
Cork’s sustainability emanates from its harvesting, processing, and use.
Cork is harvested sustainably from cork oak trees.
The harvesting doesn’t involve felling the trees. Instead, horizontal and vertical incisions are made into the tree trunk before pulling off the bark by hand.
According to the Cork Institute of America, no mechanical stripping devices are allowed to ensure the tree remains as healthy as possible.
After removing the bark, the tree is left for 9-12 years to regenerate the bark naturally before re-harvesting.
Moreover, cork processing into flooring material doesn’t involve toxic components. It’s only boiled, ground, and then compressed using adhesive resins.
Coupled with its low embodied energy and carbon, cork makes an excellent flooring material with minimal environmental impact.
Indoor acoustic comfort is a critical factor in any home or office.
You want a noise-free home to relax in after a long working day, or a calm office to concentrate on your tasks; that’s where cork flooring comes in handy.
Cork is an excellent soundproofing material thanks to its high noise reduction coefficient (NRC) and honeycomb structure.
Due to its honeycomb structure, cork has air-filled cells. Since air dampens sound, this property makes cork flooring excellent at sound absorption.
When you walk on cork flooring, the material absorbs most of the energy from your footfall, reducing impact noise transmission. This helps reduce noise pollution from within the house.
Moreover, cork has a high NRC of 0.7. Thus, it absorbs 70% of sound waves, reflecting only 30%. This makes it an ideal flooring material for homes with underground garages or noisy downstairs floors.
It’s worth mentioning that you need at least a 3mm (0.12 inches) cork layer for efficient soundproofing.
We can’t afford to waste energy due to soaring electricity costs. For instance, the average cost of electricity in the United States is 10.42 cents per kilowatt-hour, and it’s much higher than that in many parts of Europe. Consequently, we all want to reduce energy consumption to lower utility bills.
Using high-insulating materials is an excellent way to lower your household’s heating and cooling energy consumption.
As a homeowner or builder, you might not realize the importance of floors for energy efficiency. Uninsulated ground floors account for 10 to 15% of a household’s energy loss.
Also, floors over basements and crawl spaces contribute immensely towards energy loss.
For instance, in winter, for every cubic foot of hot air leaking through the home’s upper parts, another cubic foot of cold air enters through gaps and openings at the bottom of the house – the opposite is true in the summer. And guess what? When this happens, your HVAC system works more, resulting in higher energy costs.
How can you mitigate these problems? By installing a floor with excellent insulating properties.
Cork flooring has excellent thermal insulation properties, thanks to its natural air pockets. Its honeycomb structure and millions of tiny air cells allow it to trap more heat.
Additionally, cork has a high R-value ranging from R-3.6 to R-4.2 per inch, indicating its excellent thermal insulating properties.
What’s more, cork’s low thermal conductivity rate of 0.036-0.38 W/mk means it transfers heat slowly, reducing energy loss.
It’s necessary to double-check your subfloor’s R-value before installing cork flooring. This is because a floor’s insulation performance varies with the gap between the subfloor and the subsequent layers. A tighter fit provides more insulation than a loose one.
That said, it’s crucial to have an air gap of 25 to 30mm (0.98 to 1.18 inches) to allow the insulation to breathe and avoid condensation build up.
Cork is a highly durable material due to its excellent elasticity.
High elasticity means cork retains its honeycomb cell structure and shape even after being exposed to pressure. It is also hypoallergenic, water, and fire-resistant, making it safe to work with and resilient to common household hazards.
Cork’s elasticity makes cork flooring ideal for areas with high foot traffic, such as restaurants, schools, and stores.
The material’s water resistance makes it suitable for bathrooms and kitchens. Its anti-slip properties reduce falls or slips due to unexpected wetness on the floor.
Cork’s shock-absorbing feature points back to the material’s structure. The small air pockets in cork cells establish a shock-absorbent structure that cushions the feet from hard impacts.
Such a floor is ideal for the elderly and those sensitive to hard floors.
Moreover, cork flooring is ideal for yoga studios and gyms where people perform exercises that require soft floors.
Cork’s elastic and soft nature makes it susceptible to damage.
Heavy furniture and appliances like fridges, tables, and dense wood can leave permanent indents on your cork floor.
Other possible sources of damage to cork flooring include:
- Scratches from dog and cat claws.
- Dents, chips, and cracks due to impact forces like dropping heavy or sharp objects.
- Fading due to exposure to UV light.
As a precaution, it’s recommended to use rugs or carpets in heavily trafficked areas to minimize the possibility of damage caused by constant footfall.
Moreover, consider placing felt pads or castor cups underneath heavy furniture.
Cork flooring falls on the higher end of the price spectrum when compared to vinyl, laminate, and other flooring materials.
You should expect to pay between $5 and $20 per square foot for cork flooring.
The fact that cork is harvested periodically and requires skilled laborers makes it costly.
Therefore, cork flooring might not be an option if you’re on a tight budget. Consider using luxury vinyl tiles or laminate to save money without compromising quality. These materials provide a similar look and feel at a much lower price.
It’s worth noting that although costly, the long-term benefits of installing cork flooring outweigh the cost. The material’s longevity and thermal and acoustic insulation will save you money in the long run.
Although we mentioned that cork flooring is water-resistant, it’s not immune to standing water.
Cork starts absorbing water after prolonged exposure to standing water. When this happens, the floor develops unpleasant marks.
It’s advisable to apply wax or polyurethane sealant to make your cork floor more resistant to water.
Alternatively, immediately mop excess water from your cork flooring to keep it in top shape.
Installing glue-down cork flooring can be messy.
Besides ensuring a level subfloor and underlayment, you must be experienced in working with adhesives and varnishes to install glue-down cork flooring. Installation mistakes will negatively affect the floor’s efficiency and finish.
With that in mind, hiring a professional installer is the best option. However, you should be ready to dig deeper into your pockets because glue-down flooring installation is quite pricey.
Although floating installation is an easier DIY approach, it doesn’t last as long as the glue-down option.
Final Thoughts On The Pros and Cons of Using Cork as a Flooring Material
Cork is a versatile flooring material with its fair share of pros and cons.
While it’s a sustainable, durable, and comfortable material with good insulation and soundproofing, it’s susceptible to scratches, water damage, and fading.
Ultimately, choosing cork as a flooring material comes down to your preferences, budget, and the specific needs of your space.
Now that you know the pros and cons of using cork as a flooring material, check out this article about the disadvantages of engineered wood flooring for some further flooring advice.