Cork Flooring Review
Cork Flooring Types
Cork flooring has made a considerable comeback from it's heyday 70 and 80 years ago, but it hasn't caught on for many consumers. Reasons include few retail showrooms displaying products, or they're tucked in back corners out of view. Although the cork flooring of yesteryear is different from today's trend with floating cork floors, the older style construction is still available but the time to prepare, install and finish is considerably longer.
As the 21st century moves forward, consumers are now offered with do it yourself products that do not require the painstakingly preparation and installation procedures that were common with older glue direct products. Click together floating panels generally measuring in dimensions of 12" wide and 36 inches long are common place in many flooring stores.
Types & Styles Of Cork Floors
Aside from click together cork that is prefinished and ready to go once installed, unfinished tiles can be installed, sanded and finished much like hardwood flooring. However, we highly suggest seasoned professionals for this one. Other new ideas include mosaic (Jelinkek Cork shown right) tiles that come from cork bottle tops. The circular pieces are connected to a mesh backing and set in a trowled mastic, grouted, and finished with a water proof sealer. Surprisingly from our research these types can be used in shower stalls!
Colors and More Colors
Numerous prefinished colors are available and some manufacturers can custom color to any desire on minimum sized orders at much higher prices. Prefinished colors run the gamut ranging from pure white to jet black. Custom coloring on site with unfinished cork can be achieved with the right professional. These floors are not a DIY job considering their properties. Extreme care and knowledge of how cork functions should be addressed.
Thicknesses & Appearances
There are several types of tile thicknesses used for both home and commercial applications. Thicknesses are more common at 1/4 and 1/2 inch with the latter preferred for commercial settings. Older more established cork floors used in recent years are much thicker than common prefinished products sold today. Most prefinished floors after installation present a square edged appearance, but several manufacturers also offer a beveled appearance.
Patterns made from cork are very similar from one manufacturer to the next. More common names include Athene, Odysseus, Titan, Cleopatra, and Edipo. APC Harmonia shown.
Cork Floors Look Like Wood?
Believe it or not there are a few products manufactured by Dasso a Chinese manufacturer of many hardwood and bamboo styles. The construction (right) is identical to the common click type cork floors, but at 7 1/2 inches wide. How do they create the wood floor look? It’s quite similar to laminate flooring. However the feel underfoot is just like any other cork floor.
Material and Installation Costs
Cork material costs run less than better quality prefinished hardwoods. Installation rates will be higher for glue down applications as floor preparation makes up a large portion of the labor involved. Floating floor labor rates are similar to that of wood floor floating systems. Unfinished applications generally follow that of finishing wood floors.
Installing Glue Down Cork Tiles
Installing cork tiles requires similar prep work as vinyl flooring as they are glued direct to the subfloor. This is the most vital part of any successful square tile installation. Why? Cork is resilient and not rigid. Failure to prepare a flat, defect free subfloor and your final appearance will telegraph every irregularity the subfloor has.
Extra Measures For Quality Appearances
If an irregular subfloor is causing concern, some manufacturers recommend the use of medium density fiberboard. Installation calls for screwing and gluing over the existing subfloor. It may be pricey and you may be thinking; "why not luan or some cheap particleboard?" These products along with OSB, flake board, or masonite should not be used.
Once a new subfloor is installed, prep work does not stop there. Let's not forget the telegraphing effect that will occur. Fasteners must be set below the new subfloor surface, seams should be filled with a cementious patching such as Ardex Feather finish products. Once the compound is dry, joints should be sanded to a smooth flat appearance.
Layouts - Balancing The Look
Layouts should be performed prior to any other work. Check for square in the room to be installed. If there is a wide imbalance you can separate the difference, or simply allow the out of square area to fall on an opposing wall that may be hidden or less noticeable on final completion. Starting areas should be examined. With contact cement you want to start in an area that is accessible and not become trapped.
Cork tile installations perform best with the use of a contact cement. Types should be found with individual manufacturer specifications. Once you have a dust free subfloor to work with, begin to apply the contact cement to perimeter areas with the use of a brush, later to be followed with an ordinary paint roller with a medium size nap. Primers are also recommended before the contact procedure.
Begin installing tiles when the contact cement is dry. This is usually when it becomes tacky to the touch. Care and attention should be used when installing tiles as contact cement is not very forgiving. Start your installation off your preplanned snapped chalk line that should be done during the job layout. Tiles can be cut with a sharp bladed utility knife and straight edge. During the installation, cork tiles should be rolled (flooring roller) to insure adhesion with product and subfloor in all areas.
Extra Protection - Near Moisture Sources
For areas near moisture sources an additional coat of finish is suggested for added protection after installation of prefinished products. These water based eco friendly finishes are simple to apply providing directions are followed closely. Bona Kemi floor finishes are most often recommended and dry within a few hours under normal conditions.
On The Job Review
As I have the opportunity to work with a variety of floor coverings, I wanted to offer my review of APC Cork Flooring that I installed last week. The following section will be some information about the product followed by my thoughts about the product. Included are some before and after pictures.
The product I worked with was their planks floating floor. The construction consisted of: a top layer of cork veneer, a HDF (high density fiberboard) middle layer and a bottom layer of cork veneer. The top layer was factory finished- sanded, stained and urethaned.
The top layer is very distinctive of cork flooring with a wide variety of naturally occurring marks, texture and colors. Although the floor was smooth to the touch, it has the appearance of a uneven texture which is accentuated by the color streaks. Overall, it is extremely attractive and very unique for design purposes.
The product was 7/16" thick. Overall, the middle layer of HDF was the thickest portion of the floor at slightly less than 1/4", leaving the top and bottom veneers at slightly less than 1/8". The panels were about 1 foot wide and about 3 foot in length. I found this product to be an easy installation and consider it to be very doable for any do it yourselfer. The panels are definitely milled extremely tight in my opinion, such to the degree that the panels stay together nicely.
To add to this, since cork is so distinctive in appearance and natural in form, there is a wide variety of panels that are shipped after inspection. While all panels are common to the natural appearance of cork (ie. large color variations, pock-marked appearance, shading variations) some might not be what the homeowner expects their floor to look like.
Variation In Appearance Among Planks
It is an absolute must to lay out several panels of flooring from different packages prior to installation for the homeowner to fully appreciate the contrast the flooring will have in appearance and to make sure both the installer and homeowner share the same vision of the finished floor within the guidelines of the product's appearance. I also found that pulling panels from 5 different packages while selecting boards to be installed helped to randomize the final appearance of the floor.
Overall, I enjoyed working with this product. I thought the factory finish was quite good and is easily re-applied as needed with minimal time, effort and expense. There is cleaning and some maintenance required for this type of floor (ie. sweeping, swiffering or vacuuming; cleaning with a mild cleaner and a mop; re-application of the urethane finish when necessary depending on wear.) While it may seem like a lot of upkeep, it is basically the same as a wood floor but these floors are more easily re-coated by a homeowner.
I loved the finished look of the floor and the multitude of design choices. Simple, country design blends just as easily as sleek, modern design does. The wide array of colors and shades of light and dark really open up all avenues for decorating.
Consumer Benefits - Comfort
The real benefits of comfortable flooring in areas dominated by hard surfaces (like kitchens) is a great plus. Aside from a comfortable floor to stand on for long periods of time, cork also insulates your floors better and is hard to beat when it comes to acting as a sound barrier. Add to that the natural water-resistance of cork and it's easy repairability and you have a great choice.
The homeowners noticed the difference in the acoustics of the kitchen and the feel of the floor immediately.
I absolutely recommend cork flooring in any kitchen as well as any other room where a new floor with the above mentioned benefits would be appreciated. When it comes time to select a floor for your next room make-over, definitely give cork a 2nd & 3rd look.
Image Sources: APC Cork Floors (Top)