patty_roberts63

Picking the Right Cork Flooring for My Entire House

P Roberts
7 months ago

Hi! I've been researching flooring for a whole house remodel. The house is on a concrete slab which means a hard, cold surface. I was going to go with vinyl plank but decided against it due to environmental concerns.

My priorities are comfort under foot, ease of cleaning and durability (probably in that order). We have two cats, and a 2 y.o. German shepherd that pees when she gets excited (sigh). Scratches and dents I can live with but would our dog's claws create gouges? We keep her nails trimmed but she's 70lbs and will occassionally get what I call "fancy and prancy" and tear around the house.

Our house is in Lexington, KY which can get humid, but not nearly as humid as Maryland where we moved from. I understand from reading SJ's terrific posts we should do a glue-down installation in baths, with the rest of the house floating. Is this appropriate for my situation?

We're going for a modern/ mid-century vibe with lots of windows, open spaces and wood tones for warmth. I understand fading will occur but are there colors or sealants that will help make it less noticeable? Would a stone-look wear better than a wood plank look? Flooring is one of my main concerns and while I am budget conscious elsewhere I'm willing to spend here.

As with anything proper installation is vital. I get the impression that cork flooring is uncommon. Do I need to be concerned about the expertise of my installer?

TIA!

Comments (33)

  • SJ McCarthy
    7 months ago
    last modified: 7 months ago

    Hey Patty. I'm just off to work. I will have another go at your post later on. I really want to help but don't have the time right this minute to give your situation my full attention. Please hang tight. I'll get to this as soon as I can.


    While you wait for me, can you add a little bit more about the home. How old is the house/slab? Have you done any moisture testing on the slab? If it is possible, would you consider a glue down tile (the slab needs to be assessed for that). I agree a floating floor would be your fastest option but sometimes a glue down will work on slab...so long as the conditions are right.

    TTFN

    Stephanie

  • P Roberts
    Original Author
    7 months ago

    Thank you! I value your opinion.

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  • P Roberts
    Original Author
    7 months ago

    Hi Stephanie,

    The house was built in 1979. We haven't done a moisture test yet. I would definitely be fine with glue down tile. Would that be for the whole house?

    We are adding a 12 foot addition. I'm guessing that would also be a slab. I'm not worried about how long it takes. We'll be out of the house during the remodel since we're taking the house down to studs.

    Patty :-)

  • P Roberts
    Original Author
    7 months ago

    Wow, great info all around! we're meeting with our contractor tomorrow for the preliminary CAD drawing so I'm sure I'll have a lot of new questions afterwards.

    One that comes immediately to mind is about cork in the baths. Since you're not recommending the glue down version, should we opt for tile in the baths? I'm fine with tile in the bath if it's the better fit.

    Thanks again Stephanie! I truly appreciate your experience and expertise. :-)

  • SJ McCarthy
    7 months ago

    I would love to see cork glue down tiles in a bath. They work so well. The GC can always deal with the small amount of subfloor in the bathroom. The problem with old slabs is they are NEVER sealed from underneath. That means the moisture in the ground is always moving up and into the home. The bathroom is a small area that can be 'dealt with' so that a cork glue down tile can be used.


    Now the TRICK becomes MATCHING the cork FLOATING FLOOR height in the hallway to the cork GLUE DOWN floor in the bathroom. GC's won't think about this...but flooring professionals will.


    For this reason, I HIGHLY RECOMMEND that you pick your floating floor + underlayment thickness FIRST so that the glue down cork tile can be assessed and the bathroom floor 'deal with' AND raised to the same height as the floating floor.


    It goes something like this:

    1. 1/2" (12mm) cork floating floor from icorkfloor.com

    2. 1/4" (6mm) cork underlayment from icorkfloor.com

    3. Matching 1/4" (6mm) glue down tile from icorkfloor.com


    Please notice the total thickness of the floating floor + underlayment = 3/4" (18mm). That's on par with a solid 3/4" hardwood floor. This is the floor height that needs to be matched.


    The bathroom floor will have a moisture barrier applied (roll on like red guard) to the slab. Then 1/2" (12mm) Cement backer board will be added using and adhesive or thinset. Then the cork tiles will be glued DIRECTLY to the cement board.


    The glue down tile uses a water based contact cement installation. It will be EQUAL in price to a tile install. The preparation for the bathroom cork tiles is very much like that of a tiled floor. The GC has to UNDERSTAND how this works. I would say 99% of them do NOT. You will have to guide them on this one.

  • P Roberts
    Original Author
    7 months ago

    Thank you for the detailed and thoughtful post! I will make sure the GC follows your blueprint, EXACTLY.

    Am I to understand that lighter more neutral stains would fade less? I thought I read in one of your posts to someone else that the dark stains will eventually fade to a color much different. Would a floor dealer be able to show me what a faded piece of cork will look like?

    Please reply at your leisure. I have a good month before I have to make a hard decision on flooring.

    And thank you again. I was really unsure about cork but now I'm excited about it!

  • SJ McCarthy
    7 months ago

    I used to fade my own tiles in my office. it takes about 6 months of exposure to show the 'terminal' colour of cork (that's the colour it ends up being). Most flooring companies do not have the time, money nor inclination to do anything like that. At Cancork and iCork Floor we did this for our own understanding of the product. We had the time and the resources to do that. It helped us direct our customers to the product that was right for THEM.


    By dark, I mean almost black. Icork's walnut burl: https://www.icorkfloor.com/store/cork-floor-planks-walnut-burlwood-12mm/ is one I've personally seen fade. It is quite stable in colour. The DARK stain is STABLE. Which means it does not fade. The cork underneath is unstable and fades heavily. That means the cork will stay DARK but it will not keep the beautiful amber chunks seen in the sample or the room photos.


    By 'light' I mean white. As in WHITE...not just pale...WHITE. White is a beautiful look, but as soon as the finish is pierced you get a dark orange stripe showing raw cork underneath. This can be reduced by using 2 coats of Loba 2K Supra AT...but even then it is still possible to damage the finish to the point of revealing the orange cork underneath. An orange stripe across a white floor looks REALLY bad.


    A medium stain like Tasmanian Burl 6mm tiles https://www.icorkfloor.com/store/colored-cork-flooring-tasmanian-burl-6mm/ is another one I've personally faded out. It loses 90% of the stain colour. That is VERY distressing. Even though some would call this a dark colour, it is ranked as medium stain. This type of stain has TWO issues: 1. The cork is unstable (it bleaches quickly) and 2. the STAIN is unstable (it bleaches out almost as fast as the cork). That means the TWO things giving the floor it's colour and texture are unstable in sunlight. And that's where you get into trouble.


    For these reasons I prefer natural coloured cork. One of my favourites is Silver Birch. https://www.icorkfloor.com/store/sisal-12mm-cork-floating-flooring/ It has plenty of variation to keep it interesting. It is striated to give an impression of wood (of some sort). And when it fades out the difference of colour between bright/bleached vs. dark hallway is hard to see. The striations hide the point of delineations. Another one that hides this fading well is Leather. Although it isn't as good at it as Silver Birch. Leather starts out very peachy pink and then fades to a sallow yellow. The Silver Birch starst in the strong yellow/oranges and then fades down to the soft yellows.


    I recommend you start ordering samples quickly. You will need to see them for yourself. Feel the finish. All of that stuff takes time. And if you want to see one fade out, you can cover half the sample with a black bag and put it in your SUNNIEST window. Leave it there for as long as you can. When it comes time to make your decision, you can unwrap the protected side to see how far the colour has changed and if you are OK with it.


    For most people the most difficult part of cork is the HEAVY fading. You must be OK with that or you won't like your floors.

  • P Roberts
    Original Author
    7 months ago

    I'll be ordering those samples right away!

  • P Roberts
    Original Author
    7 months ago

    Hi Stephanie,

    A few questions have come to mind...

    How long can small puddles of water lay on a cork floor without it becoming an issue? My dog cannot drink without leaving a watery trail in her wake. The water bowl will be relegated to the mudroom, where I might not get to it for a number of hours. I'd be fine with tile in the mudroom if it's better suited to water puddles (not to mention mud).

    I haven't talked to my GC yet about flooring. Should I be looking at samples through a floor retailer? The GC estimate only included a price per foot for floors. Can I look at and order samples online?

    I'm concerned about blond floors showing dirt and pet hair. I want to keep the sweeping to once a day if possible. Do the various colors come from the stain and not the cork itself? Are there some types of cork flooring that more closely resemble traditional wood? (Hope that last question didn't offend you! :-))

    Thanks!

  • SJ McCarthy
    7 months ago
    last modified: 7 months ago

    Ok...so here we go. These are VERY valid questions. No offense taken (on any of them =;)

    Cork is impervious to water. It doesn't care. That's why it is used as a bottle stopper since the ancient Greeks! Wine stoppers are made out of cork...because it is water proof.

    So the question becomes what needs to be done to make sure the SEAMS of a click together flooring is as safe as possible from water drops? This is super simple. You have one of two options for click together flooring.

    A finish that allows the cork to be 'sealed' is the ideal. That means companies that make cork with a polyurethane finish is what you are looking for. This is easy to find if you know where to look. You will need to do this through an on-line company. Adding polyurethane to a factory finished floor adds durability and ADDS to the water proof natural of a cork floor.


    Or a seam sealer used (like glue on the tongue/groove of each plank) used in the 'drip zones'. This is quick and cheap...but doesn't add durability to the floor. That will still need to be addressed at a later date.


    Remember: cork doesn't care about water but the FIBRE BOARD it sits on does. So you need to protect the fibre board from water...not the cork itself.


    Personally I've seen a WELL installed cork floor handle 36 hours of water before the puddle reached the fibre board. The cork finish is always 2.5 - 4mm thick. It takes MANY HOURS for water to slip down 3mm of cork before it hits the fibre board. And it has to be a BIG puddle (like a gallon of milk) sitting on the floor to do this. The puddle has to be so big it doesn't have time to evaporate off before the moisture pushes past 3mm of cork. That's why I say it takes between 36hrs and 48 hours for a LARGE puddle (gallon of water) do reach the fibre board. Drips from dog's mouth will evaporate WELL before 36 hours has passed. See where I'm going with this?


    The brick-and-mortar stores know less than nothing about cork. Which means they will be of zero help...in fact the advice they give you could harm your floors (sigh...how many times I've had to help 'fix' someone's floor because they listened to a 'sales guy' who has zero interest in floors...he just sells them).

    I would order samples on line. Your GC (new build or renovation?) will order what you want. What's the cost you've been given for material per square foot?

    As for floors that look like wood, I like the 'striated' pattern (striped pattern) or the 'block' pattern.

    I've used both to mimic wood. The striped pattern looks like narrow-plank hardwood. The block pattern looks like A) short ends hardwood or B) travertine/limestone tile.

    The blond colour is super easy to take care off. It still has some colour. It still has pattern or TEXTURE. It is the pattern that hides the look of dust/dirt/hair not the colour. Cork is one of the most forgiving products (in the natural colour) when it comes to keeping the floors looking good.

    Let it fade from the original colour. Let it be cork. Yes you can use the striated or block patterns to give you a 'look'. That's not a problem. But let it be cork. Cork is a LUXURY finish. It ranks the same as marble for adding value to a home.

    I HIGHLY recommend you use on-line shopping to find some samples. It is next to impossible to find cork flooring in a retail setting. It is literally worth 1% of their business. And cork is so specialized it takes YEARS of working with it to get the 'hang' of it. That means a SINGLE sales person needs to work with it everyday for 3 years before they understand it. This is highly inefficient for a business owner. Why would you spend 90% of your salary budget to service 1% of your clients? It doesn't work.

    So here are some links to help you out:

    www.icorkfloor.com (former colleagues of mine)

    https://wicanders.com/en/ The ROYAL FAMILY of cork flooring specialists (big price tags)

    https://torlys.com/ Canadian Cork Royalty - more big price tags

    Start with these guys while you find out how much per square foot (materials) you have been given to play with. I'll let you know what that buys you.

  • P Roberts
    Original Author
    7 months ago

    Thank you, thank you, thank you!

    The more you talk about cork, the more I know I want it!

  • P Roberts
    Original Author
    7 months ago

    The GC quoted $5 per foot. Don't know how realistic this is. Flooring is not an area where I want to cut corners.

  • SJ McCarthy
    7 months ago

    That will get you:


    iCork: anything on the menu

    Wicanders: nothing

    Torlys: entry level (possibly discontinued)

  • rayb1
    12 days ago

    SJ McCarthy, will the natural color cork that you suggested make decorating with white walls and white trims not look good...will it boss the white paint color around? thanks

  • SJ McCarthy
    12 days ago

    I LOVE the look of the natural gold tones of cork. In fact I prefer the strong orange/browns of Chinese cork (Quercus veriabilus). I LOVE strong tones. I LOVE hickory and walnut and Brazilian Cherry (Jatoba). I have no problems with the strong oranges of Fir or Pine.


    For me, cork = wood tones. That's it. If you have seen a Maple floor (that turned strong yellow) then you have seen the colours of cork. If you have seen a Birch or Beech coloured wood floor you have seen the colours of cork.


    Remember: Cork FADES. It does it happily and quickly (1 year in full sunlight). It can start out as a strong gold and end up as "Platinum Bottle Blonde" (think Marilyn Munroe or Gwen Stefani). Yep. It gets very pale. European cork turns a bit silver/gray as it gets even older.


    What I'm saying is, the strong tones of natural cork colours will tone down MUCH sooner than you think. Go ahead and paint what you want how you want and where you want. The floor will be 'oak gold' (cork is called European Cork Oak...because it is an oak). But it will lighten up very quickly.


    That's another reason to leave the area rugs OFF the floor for 8-12 months. Let the floor lose as much colour as possible before you cover it up with area rugs. You will be very happy you did.


    What floor did you choose? If you send me the link I'll tell you the colour it turns after 1 year.

  • rayb1
    12 days ago

    For glue down since new construction: “Silver Birch Floating Cork Flooring 1/2″ Thick x 11 13/16 in. W x 35-7/16 in. L (17.44 sq. ft. / case). Thanks

  • P Roberts
    Original Author
    11 days ago

    Thank you rayb1 for reactivating this thread. You asked a question that I (the original poster) was wondering about.

    We put our project on hold due to all the uncertainty over the covid virus. I don't want to move during all this craziness and we'll have to be out of our house for 6 mos. I have a question, though...

    We ordered several cork floor samples and I was surprised by how hard they were. will there be more "give" to the actual floor once it's laid?

  • rayb1
    11 days ago
    last modified: 11 days ago

    I just ordered samples recently. What other companies did you order from? thanks

  • SJ McCarthy
    11 days ago

    @ rayb1 - A floating floor such as the 1/2" plank from iCork Floor LLC should not be glued down. iCork offers 6mm glue down Silver Birch.


    A floating cork floor costs, roughly, the same to install (labour) as a laminate floor. The average cost to install increases by about $0.50/sf because cork takes a gentle touch. A floating cork floor (such as the plank you described) should cost $2.50 - $4.00/sf for labour. The range is because certain areas (like NYC) have SUPER high labour rates whereas other areas have very depressed economic status and labour rates are very low.


    If you want a GUE DOWN tile, then costs just got MUCH higher. The 'total' cost to install a glue down cork tile should be EQUAL TO installing a porcelain tile floor = $12 - $15/sf labour + cost of cork. Yes. Glue down costs are very high. It is a magnificent floor that should outlast your home. I would expect the house to be torn down in 50-80 years with the cork glue down tiles still intact. That is normal for permanent cork flooring. That type of permanence/performance comes with a cost = identical to cost of porcelain tile (when all the bills are paid).


    The colour itself is equal to a traditional 'honey oak' floor when it is installed. This will turn a very very very pale blonde colour inside of 1 year. The orange tones become 'soft yellows' over time. Cork fades...it does not get darker.


    @ Patty Roberts - different cork floors carry a different 'hardness'. The construction of the item (like Amorims water proof cork = vinyl sitting on cork siting on vinyl) dictates how rigid/hard they feel.


    If you think of cork as a shock absorber (like rigid foam) instead of 'carpet' you will get a better understanding of what to expect. Unlike carpet, your foot will NOT cause an indent. Cork is rigid enough to withstand HEAVY compression but it is spongy enough to 'pop back'. It is Nature's memory foam. It is still wood...it just has LOTS of air in it. Lots and lots and lots and lots of air.


    The 'comfort' comes from the shock absorption when you walk, drop a glass, drop a bowling ball from the top of the stairs, etc. Cork will absorb the foot step. The 'jolting' sensation you get from walking on a hard surface is taken away. That means your feet do not hurt from standing/walking on it. Your knees and hips do not work so hard to absorb the shock. Your lower back stops working so hard to absorb the 'jolt' normally felt with every foot step. Your upper back relaxes, your neck muscles relax and your head muscles are allowed to relax because they are not having to compensate for every foot step. This is how cork works.


    It absorbs energy instead of bouncing it back up into your body. It also is a wonderful insulator. It keeps cool rooms cool and warm rooms warm. Every step you take will feel 'neutral'. That is to say it will not feel hot like carpet but it will not feel cold like stone. If you stand barefoot in one spot for a few seconds your feet will begin to feel warm. The body heat is reflected back into the foot = feels warm.


    That's how cork works.

  • P Roberts
    Original Author
    11 days ago

    Thank you. SJ! So glad to hear your excellent description. (Are you by chance a writer? ;)) It totally allays my concerns.

  • P Roberts
    Original Author
    11 days ago

    rayb1,

    I ordered my samples from www.ghsproducts.com. They're out of Seattle, WA. They only carry Wicanders. I ordered samples from them mainly because I couldn't find many, or any that carried either Wicanders or iCork. I mainly wanted to see how soft it was and the various colors/ patterns. I like the look of natural cork, although I wish I could see it in a whole house as I wonder if it can look busy.

    There is a flooring store in town that carries cork flooring and we're near enough to Cincinnati to go there. I just haven't moved forward with it yet.

  • rayb1
    11 days ago

    If money is not a major issue here, is the glued down better everywhere or glued in bathrooms & floating everywhere els? thank you again

  • SJ McCarthy
    10 days ago

    If money isn't a major issue then a glue down cork tile throughout is the Gold Standard. But most people cannot handle the cost of $20/sf for installed glue down cork tiles. It is one of the most expensive floors we have in the industry. I kid you not.


    I like a floating floor throughout the living spaces (cheap, fast, easy, can be finished with polyurethane to add to the toughness of the finish). The glue down tiles can be used in bathrooms. You can decide on kitchen flooring....depending on budget.


    A cork floating floor in a kitchen can be site-finished to seal the seams against standing water entering the seams and damaging the planks. Of course iCork always recommends 2 finishing coats of Loba 2K Supra AT over the entire floor (glue down or floating = doesn't matter).


    I like getting the total thickness of the floating floor figured out first. Then I like to get the bathrooms installed to an EQUAL HEIGHT using cement backer board as the 'floor raise'.


    And remember: floating cork floors (like all fibreboard products) require T-moldings through all doorways and the maximum run of the floor = 30 linear feet. Expansion gaps at the walls must EQUAL the thickness of the plank (1/2" Silver Birch requires 1/2" expansion gap at the walls).


    Make sure your baseboard trim can handle that sort of gap. You may have to 'flesh out' your baseboards so you don't have to use quarter round/shoe mold to cover up the last of the gap.

  • rayb1
    10 days ago

    6 or 8 mm glued down? Difficult or not to remove in the future? Thank you so much.

  • SJ McCarthy
    9 days ago

    Any cork glue down tile is difficult to remove. So much so that most people leave it in place and then use it as a 'cushion' for their next floor.


    The thickness will depend on what the floors will be that butt against it. If you are floating a 12mm cork floating floor (1/2") over 3mm cork underlay (1/8") you will have a total floor thickness of 15mm. You might find the availability of cement backer board is easier to match to a 6mm cork tile or you might find the 8mm cork tile offers the best chance of a floor height match.


    The cork tile thickness is dependent on many things. For me, the easiest one to 'match up' with other items in the house is the one I like to work with.

  • rayb1
    7 days ago

    How does this work with ADA accessible shower? Would the cork get wet at the transition to the tiles since there will be no step? Thank.

  • rayb1
    7 days ago



  • SJ McCarthy
    6 days ago

    A schluter edge can be used at the transition. You will also use caulking AFTER the cork tiles receive their two coats of finish. Cork doesn't care about water. The subfloor of the bathroom floor does. You will use caulking to fill any gaps...just like you would tiles (caulking is always used AFTER the floor has been finished...anywhere you feel the subfloor/drywall needs protection.

  • rayb1
    6 days ago

    Thanks

  • Silverlined
    6 days ago
    last modified: 6 days ago

    @P Roberts I just wanted to say, as someone whose renovation was in progress when the pandemic hit the USA, that you were wise to postpone. Even now, the building industry is still experiencing the impact of supply shortages caused from reduced staffing worldwide due to the pandemic. Prices of wood have definitely risen, and some species are harder to get. I don't know how the cork suppliers have been affected. We have personally had a cabinetry order delayed 5 times and are not sure how much this is due to pandemic delays. It is no fun to have a renovation that should have been completed in a few months stretched out to nearly a year. I realize that people in non-pandemic times have also experienced delays like this, but renovating right now makes shortages and delays almost inevitable. The situation is improving, but I'm not sure how long it will take the building industry in the USA to catch up in all categories.

  • P Roberts
    Original Author
    4 days ago

    @Silverlined,

    Thank you so much for your comment. I'd been second-guessing my decision but I felt from the beginning that the pandemic was going to be an ongoing issue until after a vaccine is available worldwide.

    It's a terrible time for so many people...having to put up with our house as is is an inconvenience but thankfully, not a problem.

  • Silverlined
    4 days ago

    @P Roberts You might want to re-assess by this upcoming January. I think there is a chance we'll be seeing somewhat of a return to normality within the supply chain by then. That gives you a little more time to investigate all your options. However, if you find a good product with decent pricing now and are assured that your labor contacts will come through on a time schedule, then it might be fine to proceed. I just know that with many of the products I have tried to order that supplies are low and shipping has been delayed for months in some cases, and that's even within the last few weeks of trying to pull together some of the final details of my kitchen renovation.