Go Green – Cork

Natural Cork is enjoying a resurgence in popularity today. From television design shows to shelter magazines, Natural Cork is seemingly everywhere and ostensibly the “hottest new product” on the market.

Many people think of cork as a relatively new and possibly unreliable option particularly as a surface flooring material. And yet, there are examples of Natural Cork floors in public buildings that were installed over 100-years ago and are still in use today. The Library of Congress in Washington, DC is one excellent case.


The ability to use cork in flooring applications was not discovered until the 19th century when American, John Smith, discovered agglomerated cork. Today, cork flooring is created from the post-industrial by-product of the bottle-stopper industry. This ‘waste’ material is ground up and then formed into sheets using minimal amounts of adhesive to bind the particles together under high pressure. The size, quantity, and type of cork granule in conjunction with varying degrees of pressure make the difference between “bulletin board” material and material suitable for flooring applications.

Historically, cork floors were finished in the same manner as any other wood flooring, i.e. with a paste wax buffed into the surface. However, the labor-intensive nature of this maintenance routine was seen as a real drawback when rolled sheet vinyl and similar ‘modern’ resilient surface options came on the market in the mid 20th century. Cork flooring fell out of favor and for perhaps 30 years was not readily available to the general public.

New finishing techniques and improved technologies have revived interest in cork over the past decade. Though still a small fraction of the overall floor coverings market, Natural Cork is enjoying a resurgeance in popularity driven in large part by consumer demand. What does cork have to offer that sets it apart from other flooring choices? Quite a bit it turns out. In fact, no other floor covering can match the combined benefits of cork.


Natural Cork floors combine the best characteristics of hard surface and soft surface flooring.

Natural Cork Carpet Hardwood Ceramic Tile Vinyl/VCT Laminate
Warm Yes Yes No No No No
Comfort Underfoot Yes Yes No No No No
Durable Yes No Yes Yes Yes Yes
Easy to Clean Yes No Yes Yes Yes Yes
All Natural Yes No Yes No No No
Resilient Yes No No Yes Yes No
Mold/Mildew Resistant Yes No No No No No
Acoustic Insulator Yes Yes No No No No
Thermal Insulator Yes Yes No No No No
Increases Home Value Yes No Yes Yes No No
Resists Insects Yes No No Yes Yes No
Fire Inhibitor Yes No No No No No
Easy to Install Yes No No No No Yes
Easy to Repair Yes No No Yes No No
Scratch Resistant Yes NA No Yes No Yes


The basis for Natural Cork flooring is agglomerated sheet material produced mainly in Portugal and Spain. This material has the appearance of compressed granules, which is exactly what it is.

In order to achieve a different appearance, it is necessary to laminate a thin veneer layer of cork on top of this core material. Lamination takes place at the time of original production making the thin layer inseparable from the core. The veneer layer carries the pattern. There are many patterns to choose from, everything from those that favor bamboo to those that mimic marble and much in-between.

NATURAL CORK PARQUET TILE – Glue-down tile, often referred to as parquet, is generally available in a range of patterns and colors, finished or unfinished, 12″ x 12″ or 12″ x 24″ are standard. It is possible to special order in other sizes up to 36″ x 36″ which is the limit of the production machinery. Tile can be installed over wood or concrete substrates that meet the qualifications for sheet vinyl applications. The preferred method of adhesion is water based contact cement, however other adhesives are used. It is not recommended to install tile in below grade situations.

NATURAL CORK PLANK – When applied to cork, the term ‘plank’ refers to a floating floor installation, where cork has been laminated to a fiberboard center core with a tongue & groove edge. This allows for several advantages:

1. Subfloor preparation is less stringent

2. The floor ‘floats’ and is less visibly affected by expansion and contraction normal to wood products

3. Plank can be installed below grade

4. Installation is relatively quick

5. Thicker product provides better insulation

As is common with other floating products, Natural Cork plank requires a perimeter expansion space that must be covered by baseboard or other trim. The necessity for perimeter expansion makes it difficult to use plank in a place where it will not be convenient to install trim pieces. This is particularly true in most bathrooms where roll-edged tubs and floor-mounted toilets are common. Therefore, it is recommended to use Natural Cork tile in bathroom applications.

Natural Cork plank products are milled with a specially shaped “click” together tongue & groove center core. This sophisticated and highly accurate milled shape ensures a very tight connection during installation and beyond. Click technology is a glueless installation resulting in less mess, less fuss and less time on the job. What’s more, floors that are clicked into place and also be unclicked for easy repair.

UNDERLAYMENT – Cork underlayment is used specifically for its ability to provide acoustic insulation. Available in both rolls and sheets, underlayment is used beneath other surface flooring to decrease noise transmission and impact sound. With ceramic tile, cork underlayment can also reduce stress-related cracking.

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