Installing Cork Floors

Cork flooring is growing in popularity. People like it because it is durable, soundproof and soft to stand on. It is terrific for anyone who suffers from joint pain.

Not All Cork Floors Are Created Equally

Cork is a popular choice because if coated properly it is fairly resistant to scuffs. If it has a poor finishing, most people will be pretty unhappy because it will scuff easily.

Some kinds of cork are not as strong and long-lasting. Some varieties can be so soft that you can carve your name into the surface. These cork floors will develop many indents overtime.

How Cork Can Be Purchased

If you decide on cork, it is available in unfinished or prefinished. There are three varieties for cork flooring. They come in planks, standard tiles and mosaic tiles.

There are also options for finishes. A cork floor can be finished in acrylic, urethane or wax. These floors can be left in their natural color or they can be stained or even painted. Cork can also be solid or laminate.



Traditional panel cork floors are installed like tongue and groove. They are interlocking boards. However, there are new forms of cork floor that have been designed so they are easy for anyone to install.

Green Building Supply Environmentally Friendly Home Center has UniClick, which is a patented European design. This is a style of floorboards that click together like a gigantic puzzle.

A cork floor can be a floating floor. This is a glueless construction. The floating floor panel is cork. There is a stabilizing core above the floating floor, either made from high density fiberboard (HDF) or medium density fiberboard (MDF). The edges of the panels are milled so that they interlock adjoining pieces.

The cork core is the next layer. This layer varies depending on the manufacturer. Its purpose is to provide impact absorption and insulation.

The cork bark veneer is the top layer of the floor. It is either a veneer from the tree bark or cork that has been processed to get a certain pattern or texture. The wear surface can either have a factory finish or one that the consumer chooses.

Laying Cork Floors

Installing cork floors is similar to installing hardwood floors. Use the manufacturer's guidelines for installing your floor. This will protect you should something go wrong. (Not to say that it will, but you rather be safe than sorry!)

I have read the installation instructions for AmCork (American Cork Products Company). They state that you must adhere your floor tiles using DriTac 6200. They give specific brands of polyurethane as well. These include Traffic by BonaKemi or X-Terra by DuraSeal. If you use either of these polyurethanes, you will be protected under their 25 year warranty.

If you deviate from their product suggestions, you will immediately void your cork floor warranty! There are lots of varnishes on the market that are poor quality. They are not strong enough to hold up, especially some of the residential grade ones. The weaker the varnish, the more likely your cork floor will dent.

Cork On Concrete and Plywood

Cork floors can be installed on concrete. The underlayment should be 1/4". Like any other wood floor, the concrete must be level and smooth. If it is uneven, you will run into problems. The moisture level should not exceed 3 pounds in a 1,000 square foot area.

If you are installing cork overtop plywood, the plywood should be 1/2 and inch thick.

Cork and Radiant Heat

It is best not to install cork floors over a radiant heat system. Cork expands and contracts. In the summer, there will be noticeable gaps in your floor, should you decide to install a cork floor over a radiant heat system.

Making Your Cork Floor Look Unique

When laying cork, you want the pattern to look unique. The best thing to do is open up all of your cartons of cork and lay them side by side from different cartons. The more you mix the tiles, the more variety of colors and patterns you will yield.

You want to leave 1/4" expansion space because cork will expand just like other types of wood flooring. Also, if moisture levels are high, your cork floor should be installed rather tightly. If moisture levels are relatively low, you should lay your cork floor not too snugly. Give your cork floor to have room to expand when the moisture content level rises.

If you do not do a moisture test and you find out the hard way that you have too much moisture, you will have to rip up your floor. If cork is laid on moist or damp concrete, overtime it will create a balloon effect. It will puff up as much as it can.

Engineered Cork

The fancier varieties and the engineered kind of cork have a paper thin wear layer over a cork composite cushion layer. If this layer is very thin, it will more than likely get damaged easily. If you have a dog, it may not even scratch the floor, it may dent the floor!

These types of cork should never be used in high traffic areas. The unique characteristic is that the patterns tend to be so busy that scratches blend in. So if you do have a ding in your floor, you can use some cork filler and polyurethane. Moving furniture, dropping a kitchen pot or wearing high heel shoes is enough to dent your floor.

Life of A Cork Floor

Like hardwood floors, cork is quite durable if maintained. It requires a certain kind of maintenance. Sharp objects will permanently scratch a cork floor. Unlike hardwood floors, cork cannot be sanded down. If the scratches don't blend in, there is nothing you can really do about them. Once you have scratches, they are there to stay!

If you go with cork tiles, they are so flexible that the edges may curl up over time, not the top coat of finish but the cork itself. However, if you have problems with one tile or an area of tiles, they can be broken up and ripped out on their own. Smooth out the underlayment. Install a new tile. You don't need to take up the entire cork floor! It is an easy D.I.Y. job for a weekend.

Cork can be almost as durable as hardwood floors. Use a strong finish and chances are that it won't scratch or dent too quickly. A cork floor can easily be refinished.

A cork floor should last upwards of 30 years if treated properly. In contrast, a hardwood floor will last you between 100 and 300 years if properly maintained. There are both positives and negatives to cork floors.

Your Floor and Your Lifestyle

The most important thing to keep in mind if you are deciding on cork is your lifestyle. If you redecorate a room frequently and move furniture often, cork is not for you. If you plop your furniture down and don't move it around often and you like walking around barefoot, this might be a very appealing floor.