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!

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