Installing Cork Flooring

Cork flooring is supposed to be one of those new-fangled ‘wonder floors’ that has all the properties of vinyl flooring, yet remains ecologically sound.  While I disagree with this hyperbole, installing cork flooring is one of the more interesting things you can do for your house, and it certainly is a conversation piece.  But is cork flooring everything they say it is?

Cork flooring is 100% natural, no additives, resins.  It comes from southern Europe and northern Africa, and yes, it really is cork–just like the cork in your wine bottles.  Cork bark is very thick, so after about 10 years, it can be sliced away from the tree and used to plug up your Chateau Rothschild…or your kitchen floor.

Cork floor feels just like padded vinyl flooring when it’s installed.  It does have a certain “soft” feeling or bounce under foot, though not as much as you might expect.  Do not expect this to feel like those resilient rubber mats that you find at gyms.

Cork does not do well in highly moist places like bathrooms or any place where the humidity is 65% or more.  If you must install in bathrooms, make sure you have good ventilation.

Cork Tile Flooring

Cork Flooring Sizes

Just like with its sister resilient flooring, vinyl, you’ll find that cork flooring comes in the usual dimensions:

  • 12″x12″ wide
  • 24″x24″ wide
  • Plank-size cork at 12″x36″

Cork planks are not cork through-and-through.  Cork planks have fiberboard in the middle of a cork “sandwich” for greater structural stability.

Thicknesses of cork are:

  • 3/16″
  • 5/16″

Preparing Subfloor for Cork

You won’t find a lot of cork-specific subfloor instructions.  You’ll pretty much want to prepare the subfloor/underlayment just as you would any wood or concrete.

Make sure that either base is clean, flat, smooth, and level.

Moisture can really damage cork flooring, so make sure that the concrete has a moisture level of no more than 5% before installation.

Cork Flooring Finishes

One thing that homeowners may not know is that cork flooring is finished much in the same way that wood flooring is finished.  You can stain cork flooring.  In fact, you can even manually sand portions of cork flooring lightly, if using very fine paper such as 150-grit.  No, you won’t want to sand the entire cork floor; just a few spots that might need it.

Cork flooring will take conventional polyurethene finish (again, just as you would do for wood flooring).

If you’re a glutton for punishment, you can even finish your cork flooring with wax.  Apply paste wax to the cork surface; buff it out; apply again and buff again.

Learn About Cork Tile Floors

Cork tile floors seem like the best of all worlds. They are natural. Yet this natural source is renewable. They can take any color (unlike the mostly drab-looking recycled rubber tile floors). They are excellent at quieting noises and softening your footfall.

But cork tile floors are also fashionable, and I’m often suspicious of trends (I mean, how durable can cork floor be anyway?)?  But that’s for another day.  Here are some quick tips about cork floors:

Tips for Installing Cork Tile Floors

  • Cork is very particular—never confuse it for your ordinary resilient tile—so here are some tips on installing this specialized type of flooring.
  • Get adhesive designed for cork tile floors. Otherwise, you might damage the tile.  Any kind of water-based contact cement will do the job.
  • Don’t be worried about the apparent fragility of cork tile. Yes, they are fragile in the out-of-the-box state, but after installation and gluing they become as strong as other types of flooring.
  • Acclimatize your cork tile by letting it sit in the room where it will be installed for 3 full days.

Cork Tile Flooring