Cork Works: Installing Cork Flooring

When Natural Home’s editor needed soft, durable flooring to replace her carpet, cork came naturally.

| May/June 2010

  • Cork’s unique prism-shape cell structure makes it a super-efficient thermal and acoustic insulator and gives it a comfortable elasticity underfoot. Robyn chose Honey Rivers cork planks for her basement.
    Photo By Michael Shopenn
  • Because cork planks click together without glue or nails, they’re an easy DIY or reasonably priced professional installation. (Robyn hired James Hull, who installed her floor in two afternoons.)
    Photo By Michael Shopenn

The first big change I made after moving into my townhouse a few years ago was to rip out the carpet in my basement family room and bedrooms. I’ve never been a fan of carpet for health reasons; even after all the chemicals used to manufacture and install it have outgassed, carpet is a noxious sink. All the dust, dirt, chemicals and other toxins that come into my home eventually settle in there, and it’s impossible to keep wall-to-wall carpet truly clean.

Carpet does have benefits. It’s cheap, it muffles noise, and it’s soft and warm underfoot—and that matters in my basement, where teenagers live. When I replaced my old carpet, I wanted to keep all those attributes—but in a nontoxic, natural flooring. I sought flooring that would make my kids’ spaces feel cozy and nurturing (even in a basement), but durable enough that the dog would always be welcome.
I called Melissa Clements, a mother of three who owns Eco-Friendly Flooring in Madison, Wisconsin. Clements steered me toward cork, a product she’s tested and loved in her own basement. Cork is as durable as hardwood but softer and more forgiving. “I have multiple chemical sensitivities and allergies, two dogs, a child with autism and asthma, and three kids under age six, so we’re on the floor a lot,” she says. “The cork floor provides a safe, useable space in our basement that will last forever. It’s kid-friendly, animal-friendly and keeps the house free of VOCs, dander and dust. Plus, it’s very warm, visually and texturally.”

Cork is great for basements, Clements told me, because it insulates cold concrete floors. For my floor, she recommended cork planks, which click together to create a “floating floor” with a 1⁄2-inch gap between the cork and the concrete that prevents moisture buildup (which could lead to mold). Made from formaldehyde-free, waterproof fiberboard covered with a layer of high-density cork and treated with acrylic finish, the interlocking planks don’t require glue or nails, making them an easy DIY install (although I hired someone).

Based on Clements’ recommendation, I chose Honey Rivers cork planks for my basement. The floors have brought a rich, golden glow to spaces that don’t get enough daylight, and our once-dismal basement is now where everyone gathers. My family room is a boisterous place full of noise, spilled sodas and all other shocks that teenagers can deliver—and the cork floors resiliently absorb it all. 

Quirky cork

• Cork comes from cork oak bark, which can be harvested every nine to twelve years without harming the tree. Most cork flooring is made from the waste generated in making wine stoppers—meaning it’s a post-industrial product made from a natural material.

7/14/2014 5:06:46 AM

I like that cork is durable as hardwood, that`s why I have chosen to install cork flooring from in the basement. My wife loved the idea and she came with a couple of interesting ideas about how to remodel the basement, now the basement has an unique design and everybody likes it.

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