Contributing Monkie Jennifer Buonantony
Published on September 29, 2007
Most of us are familiar with cork. In fact, we put our trust in this product daily when pinning our grocery lists and reminder notes to cork bulletin boards, or when we cork our bottle of wine so that it stays fresh until the next time we get to enjoy it responsibly.
But what if I told you cork was capable of much more? Imagine cork floors keeping you warmer in the winter and muffling the sounds of your noisy neighbor’s summer BBQ. Get ready to rip up those tired carpets, because cork flooring is the newest, most efficient and affordable way to green your home and it’s here to stay.
For years, people have preferred the sleek look and feel of wood flooring to traditional carpets. However, the number of trees cut down to make these stylish options are contributing to the ongoing problem of deforestation. We know that deforestation threatens ecosystems that are vital for survival and contributes to global climate change. According to MBD Floor Covering Inspection Services, many foreign lumber corporations practice illegal logging methods and profit from the destruction of rain forests. The lumber comes from endangered species of trees in foreign countries such as Asia and is then sold as more mainstream species of lumber to the greater market.
The Forest Stewardship Council is an international non-profit organization that promotes responsible forest management and approves most species of lumber that companies use after they meet a 57-point criterion. These criteria include a company’s commitment to protect wildlife, use minimal pesticides, and compliance with a tracking system that allows all products to be traced back to their point of origin. However, even when logging companies receive this approval, the fact remains that hardwood forests take an extremely long time to grow, and the ecosystems that are affected take even longer to rejuvenate.
Suddenly, I’m not so proud of the hardwood floors I’m so often complimented on.
Cork provides the perfect feel-good alternative to traditional wood floors. Wood flooring can also come from the bark of a tree, and cork comes from the bark of oak trees that grow in the forests of most Mediterranean countries – most abundantly in Spain and Portugal. Cork trees are stripped of their bark every 9-14 years, so the trees are never cut down and the ecosystems these forests support are not destroyed. The cork bark is harvested in cycles so that the tree has time to rebuild and remains protected. Cork oak trees have a lifespan that averages 500 years and cork has a number of qualities that make it an excellently “G” choice.
According to Green Building Supply, Cork contains a unique cellular structure, about 30-40 million cells per cubic centimeter, which naturally inhibits the conduction of temperature and sound. Cork is literally warm to the touch, remains stable in various temperatures, and acts as a sound insulator. So, when you’re creeping to the bathroom in the middle of the night, not only will your feet not feel cold on the cork floor, you won’t wake up your neighbors next door.
In addition, though cork is solid and sturdy, it has a cushion feel and is also highly compressible and resilient. Its elastic quality allows it to withstand damage from children, pets, furniture marks, and even dropping items like dishware. Instead of showing damage like most wood flooring, cork literally bounces back and leaves minimal, if any, indentation. Great news for kitchen klutzes like me!
You can also feel good about using your fireplace on chilly nights, because cork bark is naturally fire retardant. It doesn’t spread flames and, unlike most flooring alternatives, it doesn’t release toxic gases during combustion. The natural waxy substance present in cork called suberin also acts as a natural insect repellent. Cork is resistant to an estimated 38 species of insects, including termites, and is antimicrobial – making it highly resistant to mold and mildew.
If that weren’t cool enough, cork does not absorb dust, which makes it perfect for those with allergies and those who are too lazy to vacuum.
Lastly, Suberin acts as a protective coat from both liquids and gases, and is thus the best natural sealant for flooring available. For additional protection, cork can be sealed with several coats of UV-cured acrylic finish, which contains no organic solvents and no VOCs. Design-wise, cork is available in ‘tongue-and-groove planks’ so floor tiles can be snapped into each other and individually replaced, rather than glued down like other wood floor alternatives. It’s like Legos for your living room.
Overall, these super-“G” floors contain fewer chemicals, require less energy and environmental damage to produce and ship, and are highly renewable and sustainable. What’s better than that? How about the fact that cork floors can last for decades and often come with a 15-year warranty…try getting that for any of your other home furnishings! Their cost is comparable to other flooring options and currently ranges from $4-$8 per square foot. Other planet-friendly flooring options and improvements such as natural linolem, low-VOC/color-sealed concrete, recycled glass and ceramic tiling, bamboo, and corn, plant, and wool fiber carpets are also becoming popular. However, these other options lack the same number of benefits and sustainability that cork provides.
So, I propose a toast. Uncork your favorite bottle of champagne and raise your glass to the newest, smartest choice in home flooring. Cork is still the familiar product you’ve been trusting in your home for years – only now it (literally) covers more ground.
Creative Director Note: The G Living studio uses cork, donated by GLOBUS CORK, in our ROOM101 set. We choose cork to cover all the surfaces in the studio to create a soft cozy room to enable us to film focused meaningful conversations. It has become the favorite set within the studio.