Natural Properties of Cork

Photo 1 024Cork as a construction material has been around for centuries, and has been used by some of the most notable architects in the world, including Frank Lloyd Wright. You’ll find cork floors in his iconic Falling Waters house in Pennsylvania, as well as his personal home and studio. Cork floors also grace the halls of numerous public institutions, such as the National Archives, Mayo Clinic, many federal court buildings, and numerous libraries and churches.

Cork might be selected for any one of its outstanding properties, such as resilience or acoustic properties, but it also adds character and function to these spaces in many other ways. A properly cared for cork floor can last upwards of 30 years, even in high traffic areas and public spaces. This is not your typical crumbly bulletin board cork, but a far more dense, resilient, beautiful cork, made as a by-product of the cork stopper industry in Europe. It exhibits many features that make it a superior flooring and building material:

The variable nature of cork cells creates a beautiful product that is utterly unique from piece to piece. Colors vary some based on the tree they were harvested from and heat exposure during the production process. Cork floors appear like a quality traditional wood floor at first glance, and only reveal their interesting details on closer look. Minor dirt is largely hidden in the color patterns, resulting in a lasting, beautiful presentation.

No matter how much foot traffic, or furniture weight, or high-heel steps it endures, cork retains its elasticity and shape. It is flexible, and easily contours to uneven surfaces. This is largely due to the countless small pockets of air that are encapsulated in the cork cells that make up each granule.

Cork floors have been used in public spaces for over 100 years, including federal court buildings, libraries and churches. It is not uncommon for a well cared for cork floor to last more than 30 years. Shoe-free households will appreciate cork the most.

Cork compresses 15-20% under direct pressure, creating a surface that is safe and comfortable to walk on, lay on, or fall onto. It provides welcome relief for those who stand for long periods of time.

Heat Management
Cork is an exceptional insulator, even in thin sheets, and provides protection against both heat and cold. It has been used in the production of refrigerators and freezers for decades. Cork floors maintain a comfortably warm feel, reflecting body heat after just a few seconds of contact, regardless of the ambient temperature. Exposed to sunlight, cork absorbs only a small fraction of the heat absorbed by most other materials, making it considerably more comfortable for bare feet. Technical details »

Sound Abatement
Cork has excellent acoustic properties, and absorbs ambient sound waves. Foot traffic is nearly silent, and formerly loud rooms become blissfully quiet. It also functions as an excellent sound barrier for those below or in the next room. Technical details »

Non Slip
Particularly important on boats, and in tubs and showers, cork’s natural non-slip properties are exceptional. Even (or especially) when wet, cork provides a solid, secure footing that is unrivaled by any natural floor surface, and without the abrasive nature of most non-slip after market applications. Technical details »

Largely Stain Resistant
Cork contains Lignin and Ceroides, a naturally occurring waxy substance that repels liquids of all kinds, helping it stay naturally stain resistant. Nearly anything wipes up with ease. This is improved further by the additional application of CorkCoat.

Fire Resistant
Cork bark is a fire adaption strategy for the tree, and as such, resists fire very effectively. The waxy substances in cork are primarily responsible for this characteristic. A blow torch concentrated on cork for a minute or more will indeed create a burn spot, but it quickly self-extinguishes when the flame is removed, and the burn scar only penetrates a few millimeters at most.

Mold and Mildew Resistant
The Ceroides in cork cells resists water intrusion, and has anti-microbial properties, so cork resists the cultivation of mildew, mold, fungus and bacteria.

Insect Resistant
Termites, ants, dust mites and other pests do not find cork attractive as food or nesting material. Again, Suberin is the primary reason.

So what do all these features mean to the builder, boatyard craftsman, or weekend do-it-yourselfer?

Environmentally Friendly/Sustainable

granulatedcorkCork flooring is actually made from the cultivated waste of the cork wine-stopper manufacturing process, so it is a recycled product. Cork harvesting does not harm the trees, and is a highly regulated process to ensure sustainability. Bottle stopper “corks” are punched from the best material in the harvested cork bark slabs. The remaining material is then ground into smaller granules, mixed with a non-toxic resin binder, molded into large blocks and baked in specialized ovens – making use of every scrap of cork bark. There is practically no waste from the harvesting of the raw material to the manufacturing of flooring.

Easy to Install

There is no need for expensive power saws, routers, etc. when installing a Seacork floor. A sharp utility knife, pen and straight edge are about all you will need. A Dremel tool and some power sanding tools might be helpful, depending on your desired finished product. After creating proper templates for your pieces, it’s simply a matter of cutting, light sanding, cleaning of the surface, and gluing in place. This site has helpful step-by-step instructions for various kinds of projects, so you know what to expect and can avoid any issues. These projects are easily handled by a moderately skilled Do-It-Yourselfer.

Easy to Maintain

The key to lasting durability of a cork floor is dirt management. Shoe-free households and boaters will always appreciate cork the most. If you regularly sweep or vacuum your cork floor, and put out floor rugs near entryways to prevent tracked-in dirt, your cork floor will require very little additional maintenance. The regimen will depend largely on the installation and finish you choose. At one end of the spectrum is an unfinished cork area on the transom of a boat. Regular scrubbing with sea water, every week or so, will result in a very clean and tidy appearance, although the cork will fade toward a natural gray color, just like teak. At the other end of the spectrum is a cork shower floor installation, which because of constant rinsing, will likely never need any additional maintenance.

Easy to Repair

“There are very few problems with a cork floor that you cannot sand your way out of.” Words to live by. In the unlikely case your cork floor experiences some significant damage, you can simply cut out the problem section, and cut a new piece to fit. With properly done seams, it will all but disappear into the original floor surrounding it.

More Information About The Cork Industry and Products »