Cork Flooring Underfoot

By on 10 August, 2011 in DIY, Heather Coleman with 0 Comments

Photo by m.gifford

Much of my month has been spent trying to renovate an underused den into a home office. I am working from home a lot more and need designated workspace that I am not sharing with kids and a husband. We decided to finish this space before starting on the kitchen project, so time is of the essence!

Right now we are literally down to the studs and concrete in the room. This room was an addition to the house in 1964 and it had cheap, ugly wood paneling. We ripped that down and pulled up the carpet. Under the carpet we found industrial vinyl tiles in a very cool retro pattern. Unfortunately the edges were incredibly damaged, so up that came too (after many hours of work chipping it up bit by bit with a wonderbar).

The next step is to figure out what we want to do for flooring. The rest of the house except the kitchen is 70-year-old honey-colored oak. I didn’t want to do wood in the office because matching the color would be impossible. Bamboo was a no for the same reason. After pulling carpet up and seeing how disgusting things were underneath, carpet was also definitely out. Travertine and porcelain tile both seemed like pretty good options – easy to keep clean with kids and a dog. I could also extend them into the kitchen and have the flooring be continuous between the two spaces. The big problem with tile is that unless we install radiant heating, it is terribly cold for a living area.

Cork was another option that I had heard a bit about, but hadn’t actually seen before. A Google search told me that cork comes in two basic forms: engineered and individual tiles. The individual tiles are less expensive but must be glued down. Cork also requires a very smooth surface for installation. Engineered cork comes in large planks that click together. Most measure somewhere around 12” x 36”. They are composed of a layer of cork underlayment, then a high density fiberboard (HDF) layer, and then a top layer of cork. My favorite thing about them is that they have both thermal and acoustic properties. In other words, they never feel cold underfoot!

Initially I thought cork would be great for the office, but not good in the kitchen. I was worried that it wouldn’t be water-resistant and that it couldn’t handle heavy traffic. After a little reading, I learned that it is naturally water-resistant and is great in high traffic areas. It has been used in public areas in Europe for over 300 years – many museums and public libraries have cork floors. It also has a natural resiliency, so it is great for areas where you do a lot of standing.

In the end, we chose engineered cork flooring for the office and kitchen for a couple of reasons. First, cork is simple to install. It comes in large panels that snap together – perfect for the DIY’er. Next, it doesn’t require a perfectly level floor. We weren’t able to get quite all of the old industrial tile up, so the underfloor is a little bit uneven. Rather than having to put down backer board or plywood first, we could just lay this directly over and not worry about small imperfections.

I also love that cork is eco-friendly and extremely renewable. When cork is harvested, the tree itself is not damaged. It is actually considered beneficial to the tree to harvest the cork regularly. One tree can live 150-200 years, and can be harvested over 20 times during its lifespan.

Cork is available in all sorts of colors and designs. I wanted to be able to see what I was buying, which meant buying locally– that limited my options pretty significantly. I found several engineered options at Lumber Liquidators. They also carry one type of glue-down. I brought home samples of each and found one that would work with the brick wall that we have in the office, the hardwoods in the rest of the house, and the birch kitchen cabinets.

Now all that is left is installation! I did a dry run and it seems to go together pretty easily, so I am hoping that we can get it done in a weekend. I am ready to have workspace again, and also don’t want to wait too long to start on the kitchen!

Heather Coleman is a freelance writer and part-time DIY’er who mostly manages to fit her projects in around her family and her volunteer work. She lives with her husband, two boys and two pets in Midtown.

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