Cork Underfoot – Installing Engineered Cork

By on 2 February, 2013 in DIY, Heather Coleman with 0 Comments

Photo by Heather Coleman

One of my first articles for MML (back in August 2011!) was about choosing flooring for the den/home office. I am ashamed to say that it took me until December 2012 to actually install the aforementioned flooring. Nothing like looming holiday/birthday parties to jump start those DIY projects!

We did decide to go with engineered cork from Lumber Liquidators. Initially I thought the install would be pretty straightforward. I got a small tapping block from Lowe’s. I already had a rubber mallet and a wonder bar. I read through the instructions and it suggested spacers for the perimeter, but I thought that I didn’t need them. I mean who wants to spend 20 bucks on little pieces of plastic that are just holding place? Instead I decided to use paint sticks– they seemed to be roughly the right width and I felt like the length would actually make it easier .

Checking the floor for high spots, random nails and installing the moisture barrier was pretty straightforward, and I was optimistic that this was going to go quickly. Engineered cork can actually take a little variance in the subfloor, so I wasn’t too worried about getting up the last remnants of the VCT that had been glued to the concrete since the 1960s. I just put the moisture barrier straight over it. There are a lot of underlayment options with cork, but we chose to go with a simple moisture barrier. Engineered cork already has a layer of cork on top and bottom, so it insulates against sound and cold pretty well. Cork is one of the few flooring products that you can buy that actually has an R value.

I did a rough layout of the room and decided to start against the fireplace wall. It was my longest solid wall and a focal point of the room. I opened several boxes, just to make sure there wasn’t color variation (there wasn’t– they were all from the same lot), and got to work. After several frustrating hours I barely had two rows in. I would tap one end of the 12 x 36 inch panel and the other would pop loose. I would tap harder and the previous row would start to separate. I got to the end of the row and tried to use a wonder bar combined with a couple of other tools to pull the last piece into place. Definitely not as easy as I thought it would be. All hope I had for completing this project in an afternoon dissipated, and I turned to the Internet to try and figure out where I went wrong.

YouTube is my favorite spot to watch DIY videos. I have learned how to do all manner of things, from replacing a laser in a wii to giving an old iPhone a new life as an iPod touch by replacing the screen. More recently I learned how to caulk before painting, how to build a driveway gate and how to replace a broken wall tile in the bathroom. You truly can teach yourself to do anything!

So I looked up engineered flooring videos. This one gave me a good overview, and pointed out that a pull bar would be very helpful for the edges. I also decided to go ahead and get spacers, since the floor wanted to slide around still with the paint sticks. Still I was having a lot of trouble getting it to click into place. I talked to a couple of people at Home Depot, but they weren’t very helpful, so I went back online. I found this video, and saw that they were using a much larger tapping block, and I noticed on several videos that instead of a mallet or hammer, they were using a softface hammer, so I headed off to Home Depot in search of some new tools.

The new tools simplified the process considerably, but I still wouldn’t say that the install was easy. Once I got going with my new tools it took a little over a day to complete. My hands were incredibly sore afterwards, and I still haven’t installed the shoe molding. Overall though, it looks really good and is not obviously a DIY job, which was important to me. I love how it feels underfoot. Unlike the tile and hardwoods that we have throughout the rest of it house, it is actually warm. I had intended to put down a rug, but we are enjoying the floor itself so much that I haven’t!

All in all, I would say that laying engineered cork in a couple of rooms is a doable weekend project, especially if you have help. More than a couple hundred square feet and I would call in a professional though, as it is not nearly as simple as the tutorials make it seem! As with everything, the right tools made a tremendous difference– thank you YouTube!

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. She is on Google+, Linked In, Twitter and Pinterest.

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