Canada's Condominium Magazine
Cork isn’t just for wine stoppers or high-end offices. Cork may be the ideal flooring material for condominiums. When neighbours live above you and below you, that layer of sound-deadening material can be liberating. It can also be very beautiful. Some innovative designers have even corked their walls with cork flooring.
Typically, you find cork on the floors of high-end professional offices, such as law firms. Or on space ships — NASA uses it as an insulator. You’ll find it all over the Art Gallery of Ontario, as specified by Architects Frank O.Gehrey & Partners. Other famous buildings using cork flooring include Atlantis Resort, Griffith Park Observatory in L.A., and Pacific Sunwear retail outlets. Often you find cork in clinics and spas (such as Mandara Spa)— due to its antimicrobial quality — or in hotel corridors and around elevators, thanks to the durability and sound-deadening qualities.
High end only? Not really
Typically thought of as high-end designer-material, cork is often found in billionaire mansions and posh Manhattan offices. But, increasingly, condo owners are discovering it is affordable, in large part because of its famous durability. Yes, designer cork will cost more than some other floor choices, but its advantages far outweigh the reasonable escalation in cost. There are reasons it costs more. Cork is always hand harvested sustainably, peeling bark from the tree, so as not to kill trees, then aged for up to six months.
The advantages of cork are extensive, from health to durability:
- Cork resists germs, mould, mildew and even termites. Its anti-microbial nature is one of the reasons you see cork in clinics. Unlike laminate floors, cork emits no noxious odours or gas. Oh, and it’s hypoallergenic.
- Among the top reasons, people decide on cork is a comfort. Unlike wood or laminates, cork will depress slightly, compressing then decompressing, but so subtly you do not feel like you are walking on carpet. It may be the most comfortable flooring material.
- Cork doesn’t wear like normal flooring. The pattern and colour are throughout, so even with wear, it never appears worn. Essentially, it may be the last flooring you need. Even furniture normally won’t indent cork permanently, since cork retains its resiliency even under loads. Cork doesn’t crack or damage easily. It is entirely liquid and gas impermeable.
- Cork will not melt or ignite until extremely high temperatures — the temperature at which you would not be around to observe it combust. Cork doesn’t smoke or emit toxic material — at least not as much as vinyl flooring, and not until it eventually ignites.
- Yes, cork is a premium designer choice and is available in endless styles, tiles, planks, colours, traditional or non-traditional styles. Cork is unique enough that it makes a statement.
- Unlike “regular” woods, harvesting of cork is reasonably sustainable. To be usable, the tree must be a quarter century old at least. Then, only the bark is harvested, and unlike other trees, cork can be re-harvested year after year without killing the trees. The Cork tree lives typically 200 years and can live as long as eight centuries.
Some condo-owners, who still prefer regular wood floors, will lay down cork first, as a sound-barrier. It is one of the most effective available in a condo-apartment environment. However, cork has many designer styles, surfaces and applications; it would be a shame to cover up this beautiful material.
There are a few disadvantages, depending on your lifestyle. Of course, you have to clean it, In addition, the cork should be sealed to avoid staining from spills. Cork, unless specially treated, might be waterproof even though it floats. Cork is permeable unless treated. You can dent cork, so furniture protectors are recommended for the legs of couches.
How to install
Cork is easy to install. For a traditional install, you might be gluing right on concrete or a smooth surface. Allow an 1/8 inch around the perimeter (will be covered by floor trim anyway) for expansion in heat. Allow to dry for 24 hours minimum, preferably 48. Always choose a non-noxious adhesive.
Here’s a video walking through a glue-down installation with Mike Reynolds.
Cork is also available for condos and other applications as a floating floor with tongue and groove — easy-peasy.
Here’s a self-help cork floating floor with tongue and groove that can be installed by almost anyone:
Durable yes, but maintain it
True, cork is among the most durable of materials, but it does require cleaning and vacuuming like any floor to prevent build up of dust and grit that, over the years, could tarnish the look. Generally you dry mop or damp mop, but unless fully sealed avoid the full wet mop.
They do not require wax or oil — check with your manufacturer, but generally not recommended. Most commercially-available cork floors carry multi-year warranties.