Green is in, whether it’s a green car or green kitchen cabinets. So if you’re looking to make your kitchen a more environmentally-friendly space then springing for cork floors is a good first step. Cork floors are considered one of the best green alternatives to traditional flooring.
Cork Flooring Production
Cork, which is commonly used as the eponymous cork stoppers in wine bottles, is made from the bark of 25 to 30-year-old cork oak trees that grow in Portugal and Spain. Since only the bark is harvested, the cork trees can continue to flourish until their bark grow thick enough to be harvested again after nine years. It’s a naturally renewable resource.
Literally nothing is wasted from these harvests – when cork bark is made into wine-bottle cork stoppers, the waste is used to produce cork flooring. Granulate cork scraps are mixed with adhesive, cured, then decorated with pigments and finished with a varnish.
Benefits of Cork Flooring
Cork is considered very durable, recyclable, biodegradable, and extremely sustainable; as mentioned above, nothing is harmed in the cork flooring manufacturing process. Here is a quick rundown of the many benefits of cork flooring.
Durable and resilient – Cork flooring is highly resistant to cracking and abrasions. It’s also impermeable to gases and, with proper sealing, is essentially water- and dirt-proof. Cork also has a degree of fire resistance, is a good heat and cold insulator, and is sound-resistant.
Cork flooring is soft and very elastic compared to hardwood floors due to the compressed air in the millions of cork cells. Cork can give you enough comfortable support even if you have to spend hours standing and working in the kitchen. Its elasticity gives it a cushioning effect that lets it bounces back similar to thick carpeting, so indentations caused by furniture won’t be permanent.
Don’t rely only on cork’s native properties, however. If you want to fit your house with cork flooring, install soft pads or coasters to furniture feet especially the heavy ones. If you have pets, clip their toenails to avoid damaging your cork flooring. Sharp objects like high heeled shoes can also puncture and damage cork flooring, so try to keep areas with cork floors stiletto-free zones.
With proper maintenance, cork flooring can last up to four or more decades. Adding a coat of polyurethane and recoating every year is recommended to help protect it. Keeping humidity levels between 30 to 60 percent in areas that have cork flooring will also help keep it at its best.
Healthy and hygienic – Suberin, a waxy substance that occurs naturally within cork, makes it insect-resistant. Cork is naturally resistant to over 38 species of insects, including that bane of wood floors, the termite. Cork’s inherent anti-allergen and anti-microbial properties also keep it safe from mold and mildew and make it the perfect alternative to carpets that can trigger allergies.
Furthermore, it doesn’t give off gas or shed microfibers. The adhesives that most cork flooring manufacturers use are no- or low-VOC organic compounds that have little to no adverse effect on air quality.
Its fire resistance means it will melt or ignite only at very high temperatures, and even if it does combust cork generates less smoke and releases far less toxic gases compared to synthetic materials.
Aesthetically pleasing and versatile – Cork flooring is available in a wide range of styles, colors, and sizes. You can buy either cork planks or cork tiles. The former allows you to create an almost-seamless floor while the latter allows for more customizability in terms of color and design.
Even if you don’t have the budget to totally replace your currently kitchen flooring, cork can be installed over existing flooring systems such as wood or linoleum. The reverse is also true – cork can be used as an underlayment layer for materials like ceramic, stone, and wood.
Finally, one surprising benefit of using cork flooring is that in doing so you’re actually helping keep cork trees from becoming endangered.
The World Wildlife Fund believes that the declining use of cork as wine bottle stoppers (aluminum screw tops and plastic stoppers are more in demand) is putting oak cork trees as well as the unique species that use them as a habitat at risk. Supporting the cork flooring industry means helping keep these threatened oak cork forests intact.