A celebrated interior element, cork is a compelling renewable resource regarded for its tactile touch and timeless, organic appeal. The vast majority of cork is used in the production of bottle stops, while its other uses range from consumer goods to construction uses and transportation components. Ubiquitously used for design and architecture applications, cork can commonly be seen cladding walls, ceilings, and flooring alike. Prized for its nuanced, natural look and cushiony feel underfoot, interior flooring applications of the woody material are merited as a result of its unique characteristics. The information below explores the advantages of cork flooring.
Innately renewable with a naturally recyclable composition, cork is harvested from the phellem layer, or outer bark, of the cork oak tree. “Cork is a rapidly renewable resource and does not require cutting down trees or using harmful materials to be produced,” says AJ Minite of Siena. Also known as the Quercus Suber tree, these slow-growing trees are often found in Mediterranean countries and can live for as long as 250 years. “Cork trees are harvested in nine-year intervals,” says Rob McKee of Zandur. “They are organically grown and are not damaged by the harvesting process.” Cork is considered to be an extremely sustainable material as it comes from a rapidly renewable resource and its production process leaves trees left unharmed and able to regenerate. Since bark naturally grows back every nine years, a single crop of cork oaks can continue to deliver for decades on end.
Composition and Characteristics
The substance suberin is a major constituent of cork, and it has an elastic, closed-cell structure that makes it naturally resistant to water, mold, mildew, and fire. “Cork is comprised of a unique cellular structure consisting predominately of air which provides cushion as well as acoustic and thermal insulation,” says McKee. Combined with its thermal and sound absorbing qualities, cork’s inherent durability makes it well suited for resilient flooring products. “Modern cork flooring was one of the first sustainable materials introduced as an alternative to traditional hard surfaces,” says Minite. “Functionally, cork is a great flooring option due to its resiliency and warmth as well as it’s natural resistance to water and hypoallergenic properties.”
Added advantages of cork include its elasticity, compressive strength, and ability to endure over time. “The natural resilience, acoustics, and high durability of cork flooring made it a perfect fit for large commercial applications such as courtrooms, churches, and government buildings,” says McKee. “As a testament to its durability, many installations from the early 1900s are still in use today, including the US Department of Commerce building in Washington, DC.” In addition to a long lifespan, cork’s other compelling characteristics include minimal maintenance and easy-to-manage upkeep. “Maintenance of cork requires only sweeping or damp mopping on a regular basis,” says McKee. “Long term maintenance requires re-coating with a water-based finish on an as needed basis, which is typically five to ten years.” Careful consideration of cork finishes is also required when specifying suitable options for high-traffic areas. “The durability of cork is a result of its resilience and the type of finishes applied to the surface,” says McKee. “It is important to consider that low cost cork floors tend to use low-end finishes that will not hold up well to traffic.”
Sourced from the environment itself, cork has a natural appeal with an assembly of texture, grain, and color finishes. It also comes in different varieties, such unprocessed or granulated. With a speckled look and subtly dappled texture, cork can be adapted into many aesthetics, and it can be dyed or painted. “Patterns are developed using cork granules that were left over after wine bottle corks are cut from the cork oak bark and then compressed together to create beautiful designs with natural variation in pattern in color,” says Minite. “As with wood floors, stains and finishes can be added to create different colors and styles or to enhance the natural beauty of cork.”