Cork flooring is a natural, resilient, hypoallergenic material that is warm and quiet to walk on, and is suited to both modern and traditional designs. It has gained in popularity in recent years, and there is now a wide range of cork flooring options available.
Cork is the bark of the Cork Oak tree. Cork forests cover 5.4 million acres around the world, with the primary areas being the Mediterranean region of Europe (Portugal, Spain) and northern Africa.
Fifty per cent of the world’s cork production is in Portugal, mostly because of the climate and soil conditions that make Portugal a prime area for the growth of cork oak forests.
Cork is meticulously harvested by hand. On average, trees are not harvested until they are mature — about 25 years old. The bark is then stripped on 9-year cycles. No cork trees have ever fell during harvesting, and only 50 per cent of the bark is removed at one time. This enables the cork oak tree to use its own natural defences to protect itself from disease, etc. Cork oak trees live 150 to 200 years.
After cork bark is harvested and aged for 3–6 months it’s cleaned and boiled for production. The rough exterior is cut off and the rest is ground up and mixed in a binder. A paste is added to cork granules, and then the cork is molded into large blocks and baked. Once the cork is baked, the blocks are sliced to make cork planks or tiles.
Light, medium and dark cork colours are achieved by baking the cork at varying temperatures. Stains for custom colours are applied just prior to the application of UV Acrylic Varnish.
Cork has high visual appeal created by its distinctive random grain. The natural grains of the cork mean no two tiles or planks look alike.
Cork is quiet and resilient (it “gives” under normal pressures) because there are 100-million prism-shaped, air-filled cells per cubic inch of cork. Cork has an insulating factor of about R-2.8 per inch. Its natural insulating properties mean cork flooring can help reduce heating and cooling costs.
Cork is hypoallergenic. Because of its natural properties cork resists mold, mildew, bacteria.
Cork is a natural fire retardant. It’s used by NASA as an insulator on space shuttles and unmanned rockets. (A ¼” thick layer of cork, for example, is used on the Delta II rocket — the Mars Rover II — to prevent rocket fuel from becoming too hot during engine ignition.)
Cork is warm under the feet. As Cork is 50% air, it will absorb the heat of your feet while walking on it and will reflect it back to you. This is why you have a nice warm sensation when walking bare feet on Cork. A comparison heat test has been done with different floors. The following graphics show you how Cork is much warmer under the feet than any other type of floorcovering, like vinyl or hardwood.
Although Cork is resilient flooring, certain care must be taken to prevent damage from furniture feet and pet nails, etc. Furniture feet should have pads on them; pet nails must be kept trimmed. Minor scratches in cork floor can be camouflaged.
Because cork is a natural product it is affected by humidity. Cork flooring expands and contracts. Humidity levels need to be between 30% and 60% to prevent cork flooring from either drying out or becoming too moist.
Cork is a natural product with shade variations that enhance its look. Also, because Cork is a natural product fading will occur with exposure to sunlight.
Cork floors work really well in spaces that get used: entrances, hallways, kitchens, family rooms, bedrooms.
Cork is available in a range of textures for different décor needs and styles. Cork tiles or planks can be mixed and matched to enhance different décor styles and create customized looks.
CASUAL interiors: Cork pulls together mix & match patterns ie. furniture, creating a warm, comfortable look. A “Casual” style, for example, is a “Roots” kind of furniture look, or an “Ikea” kind of casual look. Furniture can be mixed, but the cork floor pulls all the room elements together.
MODERN interiors: Modern interiors have sharp lines and minimalist looks in terms of furniture. The modern look can be stark, but the use of cork textures warm up the room and prevent starkness. Cork also adds a dramatic touch to a modern interior.
Cork has been used in flooring for over 100 years. It was first used in the United States in 1890.
Some famous examples of buildings where cork flooring was used — the First Congressional Church in Chicago (1890); the Mayo Clinic and Plummer Building (1912); the U.S. National Archives (1930); the U.S. Library of Congress; and Lafayette College in Easton, Pennsylvania (1930). In Canada, a famous example is the old Toronto Stock Exchange (although the cork floors used there were the old massive cork tiles that could be sanded and refinished, like hardwood).
Cork was extremely popular in the U.S. for almost the entire first half of the 20th Century, from 1900 to 1945. It was popular and widely used in both residential and commercial applications.
From 1900–1945, cork was a common flooring choice for government buildings, banks, universities and houses. (Some examples have been cited above.)
The use of cork flooring actually peaked in 1927, when 2.9 million square feet was sold in the United States. Renowned American architect Frank Lloyd Wright chose cork flooring for many of his home designs, including his famous “Falling Water” home in Pennsylvania.
Cork flooring is popular again today because of its looks, ease of maintenance, and environmental qualities.