Its not Just for Wine Bottles Anymore!

by : Carol Freyer

Cork flooring is taking off as an environmentally friendly flooring choice. There are a lot of reasons to choose this type of flooring to appeal to environmentally conscious home buyers. This material has been known for its versatility from antiquity, but only now is it becoming a serious choice for the home owner who wants materials that are low-impact, environmentally speaking, as well as durable and affordable.

Cork comes from mainly from the bark of the Cork Oak tree (Quercus suber), which grows in southwest Europe and northwest Africa. The unique aspect of this tree is the way the bark grows. Over a period of 10-12 years between harvests, the bark thickens on the tree until it can be harvested without endangering the tree's health. Harvesting is done entirely by hand. A Cork Oak can live up to 250 years and can provide twelve harvests of its bark from the first cut at around 25 years of age.

This specialized bark is a honeycomb of individual cells that make the material extremely low density. At the same time, this gives cork a lot of flexibility to cushion the impact of daily life in a busy home. The clusters of cells also make cork an excellent insulator that tests show experiences less heat loss than other alternatives, such as hardwood or ceramic tiles. Unlike many other flooring surfaces, cork has a remarkable ability to 'bounce back' from abuse, making it more likely to resist heel gouges and furniture legs.

Cork also contains Suberin, a substance that is the home owner's special friend. Suberin is heat resistant, water resistant and resists mold. It can even be used in kitchens and bathrooms. If a home is burning, this substance does not release toxic gases into the air. Suberin will also do its level best to beat up wood-loving insects and steal their lunch money, which encourages termites to take a hike.

Practicality in flooring often doesn't inspire one unless aesthetics are considered. Cork, fortunately is very pleasing in appearance and can be colored to suit nearly every home decor. Cork tiles can also be laid in attractive designs to further enhance your floor's appearance. Many are now being finished with a non-toxic oil that can render the floor ready to use in minutes. With new innovations, cork can be very easily laid by professionals and amateurs alike.

Cork seems to be the renovator's dream, but there are some downsides. No matter the color, it will end up on the yellow side with age, especially if it is frequently hit with direct sunlight. Despite the natural resistance to heat and wet, relative humidity and heat changes will affect the floor to some degree as time flows onwards. Be aware of what sealants are being used on the floor when you have it laid - some contain toxic additives. It helps if you choose an environmentally conscious company to buy/lay the floor. They should be happy to help you choose the best combination for health and usability.