Trained Eye

 
 
 

Cork Floor in Kitchen

Question:

Dear Sir:     

I am about to redo my kitchen floor.   I was told that cork flooring is rated pretty highly.  I would like to know more about it. How does it wear in a heavy traffic area like my kitchen?  Where is it made?  Can it be purchased from the manufacturers to avoid the high cost of shipping and other costs I was informed about?  Is there a special place one can purchase this flooring?  I would appreciate any information that you can tell me.

Thanking you in advance.

Answer:

It is interesting to me how certain products and building materials go in and out of style over many decades. Cork flooring is one of these products that appear to be quite trendy at the moment. I will offer some guidance on its use in kitchen flooring, but will not be much help in recommending a supplier or installer.

I currently live in a custom built, late fifties home which had several rooms with cork flooring originally installed. One bedroom still has the original flooring exposed, as I removed the deteriorated carpeting and underpad upon moving in. It is in reasonably good condition, with the original finish, despite years of exposure, followed by decades of being covered with carpeting. A few tiles had to be re-secured and others have some moisture stains, but overall it looks quite good and is comfortable to walk on. I am sure that refinishing would improve the appearance even more, but it is not in the plans right now. Other areas in the back hallway and closets had vinyl flooring or nothing over the old tiles, and I removed these due to damage and age and replaced the flooring with other materials.

The point of offering my personal experience with this type of flooring is to illustrate one major point. As with most floor coverings, a combination of initial installation methods and long term care will determine the durability of the flooring. In the areas like my back hall and linen closet there was considerable damage to the old cork flooring due to excessive traffic. Much of this traffic was from wet shoes and boots and a rolling laundry basket. The metal wheels of this rolling basket had even worn right through the thin cork in one area. Also, evidence of moisture stains was seen in some areas where plants had obviously been kept in pots, which brings me to my next point.

Cork is a natural wood product and must be properly sealed to prevent moisture damage, especially in high moisture areas like your kitchen. Any wood-based flooring installed in a kitchen should have a lovely initial appearance, but it must be covered with several coats of high-quality finish to prevent damage from water, grease, & traffic. Many cork floor tiles will come pre-finished from the factory, but others may require finishing after installation. Also, ensuring that spills are immediately wiped up will prevent seepage of the water into the joints/seams between the tiles, which can cause damage or lifting of individual units.

As previously stated, proper preparation of the subflooring and installation methods are critical to performance of your new cork floor. If you have older vinyl or other flooring currently installed, it may have to be removed or covered with new subflooring to ensure proper adhesion of the cork tiles. This may require stripping more than one layer of old material, so that the original floor sheathing is exposed. This is important if there area any loose or squeaky boards or plywood, which may be properly secured before proceeding with the installation of the new subfloor and flooring.

I am afraid that I cannot offer any suggestions for direct manufacturers that you may purchase the material from, as little may be manufactured in our country. To my knowledge, much of this material is milled and manufactured in areas that have large, tropical forests. There may be some Canadian or U. S. manufacturers that further process and finish the cork flooring, but none that I know of locally. I suggest exploring the Internet for Flooring Manufacturers Association websites that may help in locating these facilities.

One of the biggest benefits of cork flooring is the comfort level when walking or standing on the surface. The surface is fairly rigid and smooth, ensuring suitability for your kitchen, but offers a slightly flexible material that is nice to walk on. Unlike hardwood flooring or ceramic tile, cork may help prevent discomfort or fatigue that is often associated with standing on a hard surface with bare feet. This may be one of the main reasons that cork flooring is regaining its cache’ with homeowners.

High quality flooring like hardwood or cork is something that should be installed by professional flooring contractors. With the relatively high cost, as you alluded to in your question, it does not make sense to risk damage from improper, amateurish installation. There are numerous local flooring companies and building centres that carry cork flooring products and I would recommend visiting several for information on pricing and availability before going forward with your new kitchen floor.

 

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