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Cork flooring holds up well

Cork flooring can be installed on stairs and reinforced on top with wood. It can also be used in other rooms in your home.

TIM CARTER | Special to the Times

Cork flooring can be installed on stairs and reinforced on top with wood. It can also be used in other rooms in your home.

Q: I'm interested in cork flooring planks and wonder if it's really as good as the salesmen tell me. Because money is very tight, I'm looking for a discount cork floor. A local carpet store is having a cork flooring sale soon, so now's the time to make a decision. Do you have experience with this material? If so, would you install it again in a home you'd build? Is it as durable as they say? How do you protect it? Is it easy to clean?

A: I understand your doubts about whether cork flooring is really a suitable material to walk on day in and day out. After all, when you hold a cork from a wine bottle in your hand, you can see it's somewhat friable. In comparison, a piece of oak seems impossible to break apart or chip.

I had my doubts, too, until I saw a cork floor. About 35 years ago my father-in-law took me along for a ride to visit a business partner. When we walked into the kitchen, I saw the strangest floor.

It was cork kitchen flooring, resembling the deck of a ship, with planks that were very long and about 8 inches wide. When I asked what kept it from disintegrating, the man said, "Son, you don't have to ever worry about this floor wearing out."

I later discovered that cork flooring was used in many commercial and institutional buildings that receive heavy foot traffic. You don't have to worry about durability if you purchase a high-quality cork floor.

To give you another example of its toughness, I installed cork plank flooring tiles on the steps that lead to my basement. Steps are a great place to test flooring as your foot typically slides on the tread surface as you climb.

My basement steps got heavy traffic because our home office was downstairs. Countless trips were made up and down these steps, which were not vacuumed that often, adding grit to the equation.

Just yesterday I cleaned these steps, getting them ready for an open house. They looked the same as the day I installed them 10 years ago. I owe much of this to the toughness of the cork, but also to the fact that I coated it with five coats of high-quality urethane.

Another thing that helped the cork on my steps was the custom oak nosing I installed. Because I knew shoes would be sliding onto each tread, I had the top piece of oak milled so that it was 1/64th of an inch thicker than the thickness of the cork planks that were glued to the steps. This prevented the shoes from wearing away the front edge of the cork on each tread.

I used clear water-based urethane on the cork on the steps and on the floor in the entire basement. It was easy to apply and is easy to clean. I just use regular liquid dish soap and water to clean up spills. For regular mopping, I add 8 ounces of white vinegar to 2 gallons of warm water.

All of Tim's past columns and videos are available at


Cork flooring

Quality matters when it comes to cork flooring. The material comes in different densities. The best way to determine what's good and what's not is to go look at the most expensive cork flooring you can find. Talk to the manufacturer and ask why it's so expensive while others are not. You'll quickly discover that the low-cost flooring often contains cork that might be rejected by other manufacturers.

If you're still in doubt as to how well cork flooring wears, make up a test panel. Attach pieces of cork to a thin piece of plywood and coat the cork with three coats of clear urethane. Set this panel in a place in your home that gets heavy traffic. Monitor how it looks after three or four months.

Tim Carter, special to the Times

Cork flooring holds up well 03/19/10 [Last modified: Friday, March 19, 2010 4:31am]
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