Why Should You Use Cork Flooring (vs. Other Flooring Types)

A worker in blue overalls, a yellow T-shirt, and a cap is laying cork flooring over a blue underlayment. Across the bottom are the words "Why Should You Use Cork Flooring (vs. Other Flooring Types)." In the top right-hand corner is a question mark.

When it comes to flooring, cork is often an overlooked material.

Although cork may not be what initially comes to mind when you think of flooring, believe us, it’s a sustainable material with the potential to transform any space into something unique and special.

On that note, why should you use cork flooring instead of conventional flooring?

You should use cork flooring because it’s highly durable, impermeable, and highly resistant to abrasions and cracking. Moreover, unlike other flooring materials, cork is highly resistant to dust mites, dirt, and dander. Therefore, it’s suitable for the entire family, including the asthmatic.

In the rest of this article, I’ll discuss the pros and cons of cork flooring. I’ll also compare cork flooring with other popular floorings to help you make an informed decision for your home.

Let’s get started!

What Is Cork Flooring?

A worker installs cork flooring over a concrete floor. He wears a red T-shirt and work trousers, and protective gloves. The cork is in roll form and is being glued to the subfloor as it is unrolled.
Cork flooring often comes in roll form, allowing for quicker installation.

Cork flooring is made by harvesting cork from oak trees, grinding it, compressing, and processing it into sheets. The sheets are bonded with resins and then baked in a kiln to form tiles used as flooring.

The cork used to manufacture floors is harvested sustainably without felling the tree.

Once the bark of the cork oak trees matures (usually between 9 and 12 years), it is peeled off, leaving the tree intact. The tree is left to regrow the bark for subsequent harvesting.

Cork flooring comes in various colors and patterns to meet the specific needs of different people. It’s usually installed in one of the following two ways:

  • The floating method is the most common way to install cork flooring. In this case, the planks and tiles are attached through a click-locking system without gluing. Builders prefer this method because it’s easier to accomplish and requires minimal sub-floor preparations.
  • Glue-down installation requires cork tiles to be glued directly onto the subfloor. It’s mainly used for permanent floor installations.

The Pros of Cork Flooring

The following are the main benefits of using cork flooring in your project:

Sustainability and Eco-Friendliness

A cork floor in a kitchen made from tiles of cork. Across the lower middle of the image are the words "eco-friendly."
Cork is a highly sustainable product that is 100% renewable and much better for the environment than hardwood flooring that involves the felling of trees.

Sustainable construction is hailed as the best way to reverse the negative environmental effects of the construction industry.

Since the construction industry is responsible for 50 percent of climate change, it’s our responsibility to choose eco-friendly materials; cork flooring is one of them.

Cork’s sustainability stems from its harvesting and manufacturing and extends to its use.

Unlike hardwood flooring, cork doesn’t contribute to deforestation. Cork is harvested sustainably by making vertical and horizontal incisions through the tree’s outer bark before peeling it off.

Once the bark is removed, the tree is left to regenerate a fresh bark within nine to twelve years.

Moreover, you don’t need additional binding because the cork binds to itself. During its manufacture, a substantial amount of processing energy is obtained by firing a boiler with cork dust. Consequently, its embodied energy – the energy required to produce cork flooring – is very low.

Finally, cork is biodegradable; when it reaches the end of its life cycle, you can compost or recycle it.

Excellent Thermal Insulation

It may surprise you that 10 to 20 percent of a household’s heat loss occurs through the floor.

This high amount of heat loss through the floor is attributed to two factors:

  • The stack effect: The heated indoor air becomes lighter and rises through convection, creating a void in the house. The cold outdoor air from outside is drawn in to fill the void left by the warm air. Consequently, the floor gets colder, causing the HVAC system to work harder to maintain the temperature.
  • Thermal bridge effect: The gap between the floors and walls, which often allows heat flow due to poor insulation, creates an escape route for warm air. This reduces your HVAC system’s effectiveness, costing you more in terms of energy bills.

Cork flooring has a high R-value of between R-3.6 and R-4.2 per inch. This high R-value offers excellent insulation against stack effect and thermal bridging.

Eliminating stack and thermal bridge effects keeps indoor temperature constant throughout the year, making the house more comfortable. The floor remains comfortable to walk on with bare feet.

High Durability

A photograph of a cork board with a cartoon hammer overlain.
Cork flooring is very durable and can withstand a lot of wear and tear.

Cork is a highly durable material, thanks to its excellent elastic deformation of up to 2 percent strain.

Cork’s high elasticity makes cork flooring an excellent option that retains its shape and appearance after heavy foot traffic.

Moreover, cork’s honeycomb cell structure makes it highly resistant to water, flames, mold, and mildew.

Due to its excellent water resistance, cork flooring is suitable for moisture-prone areas like kitchens and bathrooms.

The above features make cork flooring highly durable. It can last up to 40 years or more with proper care and maintenance.

Improved Acoustics

Imagine the creaking sound of footsteps on a hardwood floor. This noisy sound is common in homes with conventional floors like laminate or hardwood.

Due to its compressible nature, cork flooring is your go-to option to reduce creaking noise. Cork compresses instead of vibrating as is the case with rigid materials like concrete and wood.

The compression makes it harder for sound waves to transmit through cork flooring.

Moreover, cork has a high Noise Reduction Coefficient of 0.7, meaning it absorbs 70% of sound waves, reflecting only 30%. Therefore, cork flooring is your best bet to reduce noise if you have an underground garage or a downstairs apartment.

It’s Friendly to Human Joints

Cork’s suberin cells are 90% air by volume. The high amount of air in these cells makes cork springy and cushiony.

Thanks to its high elasticity, cork flooring absorbs the force from foot traffic, reducing stress on your joints, especially the knees and hips.

This makes it an ideal option if you have elderly people in your house or are sensitive to hard floors.

The Cons of Cork Flooring

It Absorbs Water

A cork floor made up of individual cork tiles. Overlain is a cartoon graphic showing water droplets seeping into the material.
Cork absorbs water if it isn’t wiped up immediately.

Let’s clear the air here; we’ve mentioned that cork is highly resistant to water, so how come it also absorbs water?

Well, cork absorbs water when soaked in it. This means that if water spills on your cork flooring and you don’t mop it up immediately, it gets absorbed into the cork, creating unpleasant marks.

The solution is to mop up spilled water before it soaks into the cork.

Alternatively, use polyurethane or wax sealant on the floor to prevent water absorption.

It’s Expensive

Cork is a highly sought-after material, and harvesting it is laborious and can only be done once every nine years. These factors make cork flooring more expensive than conventional options like laminate and hardwood.

For instance, while cork flooring costs between $5 and $10 per square foot, hardwood flooring materials costs between $3 and $10 per square foot. Therefore, cork flooring might not be an option if you’re on a tight budget.

Highly Susceptible to Dents and Scratches

A cork floor with a knife lying on it and an image of a cat.
Cuts from dropped knives and scratches from household pets can damage cork flooring.

Cork’s compressible nature makes it susceptible to dents and scratches from sharp and blunt objects like furniture and cutlery.

It can also develop scratches due to pets like cats.

Some ways to protect your cork flooring from scratches and dents include:

  • Placing felt pads underneath furniture.
  • Not dropping sharp and blunt objects onto the floor.
  • Varnishing the floor.
  • Keeping pets’ nails trimmed.

Comparison Between Cork, Bamboo, and Hardwood Flooring

Besides cork, hardwood and bamboo flooring are other popular options. These floors are common in most residential and commercial buildings.

Let’s have a table comparing these types of flooring to help you choose the best option.

FeatureCork FlooringBamboo FlooringHardwood Flooring
Material cost$5-$10$1.50-$11$3-$7
DurabilityAt least 40 yearsMore than 50 yearsUp to 100 years
DimensionsTiles: 12”×24”Planks: 36”-48” in length and 7”-12” in widthLength: 36”-72”Width: 3.5”-7.5”Length: 12”-84”Width: 4”-5”
Thickness3-15mm10-15mm18mm (¾”)
Total cost with installation$7-$13$5-$15$6-$18
Ease of DIY installationThe floating method is easier for DIY than glue-down installationSimilar to corkIt requires expertise because it must be nailed or glued to the sub-floor
Fades when exposed to UVYesYesYes

 Table 1: Comparison between cork, bamboo, and hardwood flooring

Should You Use Cork Flooring? – Final Thoughts

Cork flooring is an excellent option if you want beautiful, comfortable, and durable flooring. However, you should be aware of its costly nature and susceptibility to scratches and dents.

Overall, using cork flooring is worth it because its pros outweigh the cons.

If you’re in the process of selecting flooring materials, you might be wondering, if engineered hardwood flooring is better than solid hardwood. Check out this article where we compare the two to get the best option.

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