Sustainable Flooring: Cork

by andrewodom on January 10, 2011 · 12 comments


It states pretty clearly in our manifesto that, “……we are going to build our own home on a heavy-duty trailer that will feature sustainable building supplies and techniques….”

This includes our materials, our building practices, our waste, our carbon footprint, our use of the land, etc. And since our home – despite its size – will still have just over 200 sq. ft. it will have quite a bit of flooring. Because of this we have been thinking quite a bit lately about what we can afford to do in the way of sustainable flooring.

After years of absorbing HGTV our answer was first – of course – to use bamboo wood flooring. Bamboo is rapidly renewable, growing to maturity in five to seven years, compared to 50-150 years for many hardwoods. It is sturdy, with a hardness that rivals and in some cases exceeds the hardness of hardwoods. It’s attractive and readily available in solid, woven and engineered versions. It offers a variety of colors and grains and it is cost effective, often being less expensive than hardwoods and just as easy to install. But the crux is that the bamboo has to be cut down to be harvested. Yes, because it takes just a few short years for the bamboo to grow back it is relatively sustainable. But we just aren’t happy enough with such a process. We wanted to look harder.

At the suggestion of a friend we loosely began exploring cork flooring. As wine lovers and users of corkboard reminder boards for years, neither of us thought about the possibilities of such a bland material being an true option for flooring. But the more we read, the more we thought it could be a real option.

Cork is actually quite beautiful, rather durable, extremely comfortable and offers a resilient alternative to traditional floors.  Cork is truly a renewable resource as it is made by removing the bark of the Cork Oak. The Cork Oak is the only tree able to regenerate after harvest, without harming the tree itself. The bark can be re-harvested every 9-10 years without damaging the tree.

Some of the benefits of cork include:

  1. It’s extremely durable.  Most people think of cork as being as soft as wine bottle corks.  Cork flooring is a tough material and can withstand day-to-day foot-traffic.  There are cork floors over 50 years old in homes in Scotland that are still in good shape.
  2. It’s hypoallergenic and resistant to the mold and mildew commonly associated with other types of flooring.
  3. Cork is comfortable to walk on and provides a nice ‘spring’ underfoot.
  4. Cork is a good insulator and is resistant to temperatures.  It stays cool in the summer and warm in the winter.
  5. Cork is easy to install and comes in planks or tiles.  Any flooring contractor or confident DIYer can put it in.

Another reason we are now leaning towards cork is that it is perceived as an upgrade over other types of flooring in the real estate market. It is considered a sound purchase because although it is considered an upgrade and rather high end  it costs about as much as wood, tile or carpet. And since it comes in so many colors we can really customize the look and feel of the room with cork.

Lastly, cork is truly renewable in that the Cork Oak tree doesn’t need to be cut down in order to get the cork.  Bamboo, while seen as a renewable resource (because it grows so fast) still needs to be cut down to be harvested as mentioned above.  Thus, cork is a better environmental solution.  It usually costs less than bamboo as well.

What kind of flooring do you have? Is it considered sustainable? Would you consider changing to a more sustainable product? If so, why? If not, why not? And as always, if you want to share this post or send it out on Twitter, please just use the social networking icons above!

  • Jennie

    Cork is actually the material Rick and I have been thinking about using in our home. We all have some environmental allergies and carpet is difficult to keep really clean. Tile and such is hard on your feet – with little ones this was important to me. Cork was a pretty cool option and I was surprised at how beautiful it could be. Thanks for the insight Drew!

    • anotherkindofdrew

      Absolutely! One of the reasons we are going with cork is, of course, because of its extreme sustainability. We also really like how it “gives” a little with your body weight (unlike tile or manufactured wood), is easy to clean, and has a unique look.

  • Nebraska Dave

    @Drew, my house was built in 1965 at the height of oak flooring and woodwork. Even though Oak trees were cut down to put in the floor, I suspect it will last 100 years or so because it can be refinished many times before having to give attention to replacement. I’ve lived in my house going on 27 years and yes the floor is starting to look a little shabby around the edges but it’s held up to the raising of three kids, two dogs, and many other things that would be hard on floors. They still look pretty good but probably could use a refinished but I’ll most likely wait until the grandson and daughter moves out and I know it’s for good. It doesn’t like that will be too soon right now. It really is a joy to have them here. It keeps me and the floor on alert all the time. After two weeks off from school the floors need a good scub so see ya later. Now where’s that mop and bucket.

    • anotherkindofdrew

      If I could find good quality, reconditioned, wood flooring (heart pine, oak, black elm, etc) I would use it in a heartbeat. You just don’t find wood like that any longer and if it is already cut and milled, it is a great recycling purpose for the wood. You can always have the floor refinished (with a light sanding) to remove chemicals, age, etc. It would look as good as new! But I hear you on cohabitation. Sometimes, you just learn to love the beauty that age brings!

  • Christina

    We looked at cork when we were re-doing our house. It cost too much for the space we had – but I think it is lovely and you guys will love it.

    • anotherkindofdrew

      Awwww….thank you Christina for suggesting that because we have a smaller space we’ll be able to afford it. HAHAHAHA. You are so right. It is expensive flooring and I am still not sure it is going to make our budget. We may have to live a year with subfloor and throw rugs until we can afford cork. hahahahah.

  • http://twitter.com/CherylBreuer Cheryl Breuer

    I love cork, too. Our house has mostly hardwood which is original to the house. I don’t plan on changing it because that seems wasteful. If we ever redo the kitchen, though, using sustainable products is a must. Both concrete and recycled glass are on my list for the countertops. I’m not sure about the floor yet. Cork might be a great option. The springy feel you mention makes it more comfortable to stand on for long periods than harder materials.

  • Lisa

    What about Marmoleum? We have used both cork and marmoleum in our homes and love them both. Don’t let the wacky german colour choices get you down either. I would also have to second finding some great second hand hardwood. It’s out there. Somewhere, or so I’ve heard.

    Good luck!

    • http://www.tinyrevolution.us andrewodom

      Interesting you mention Marmoleum as it is what we are beginning to research for our kitchen area. The colors are quite attractive we think. And the enviro-friendly nature of the product is awesome. We have yet to get accurate pricing so we aren’t sure where that would fit. I am pretty sure all the awesome hardwood flooring (second-hand) has been taken by HGTV and the like!

    • http://www.anotherkindofdrew.com anotherkindofdrew

      Interesting you mention Marmoleum as it is what we are beginning to research for our kitchen area. The colors are quite attractive we think. And the enviro-friendly nature of the product is awesome. We have yet to get accurate pricing so we aren’t sure where that would fit. I am pretty sure all the awesome hardwood flooring (second-hand) has been taken by HGTV and the like!

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  • http://www.bobscarpet.com/contentpage.aspx?Id=9538 Kathy Carbone

    It’s really amazing! It’s like you’re using both carpet and hardwood flooring at the same time when using cork as your flooring, and since they are renewable, it’ll definitely save you some cash. What I like the most about cork flooring is that, the source of this wonderful medium can re-grow within a couple of years WITHOUT killing the tree at all!

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