Part One: A Focus on the Finish
By Nancy Kibbee
You might not see it. But when you inspect the most popular cork floors, you’ll feel the difference.
Only the leaders have obtained “green” certifications that prove their products don’t release harmful levels of chemicals. And there is a little debate over whether some of the harder finishes chosen for durability belong on a softer floor like cork.
In many cases, traditional water-based polyurethane finishes have been replaced or fortified with components that include aluminum oxide, ceramics or acrylics. This means that you should consider what surface will be best for your daily routines. How much traffic will the floor need to withstand? Will you be sitting on the floor? Will your children be crawling on the floor? Do you want a floor that can be recoated like hardwood? And how careful are you about maintaining healthful indoor-air quality?
“The Wicanders has a dull, milky look and is rough in comparison to the Eco Cork from US Floors,” Chuck Smith, vice president at Brothers Floor Covering in Indianapolis, notices as he places samples side-by-side.
Wicanders (www.wicanders.com) — one of the most recognized names in cork flooring — has a somewhat coarse finish for a good reason, says Theresa Cesario, executive assistant for Wicanders. The company’s WRT (Wear Resistant Technology) ceramic finish stands up to tough traffic, she says.
“With this finish, you don’t see your wear patterns …,” she says. “It’s been used in daycare centers and yoga studios. If it was too rough, these installations would not be as successful as they have been.”
The Wicanders WRT finish consists of six coats of water-based polyurethane, with the top two layers containing ceramic beads. Unlike most cork manufacturers who recommend periodic recoating of the floor for maintenance, Cesario says Wicanders floors are not designed to be recoated.
Wicanders has GREENGUARD Environmental Institute Indoor-Air Quality Certification (www.greenguard.org). The company also has a high performance commercial finish that includes a layer of vinyl and a coat of microscopic nano beads.
Nano scratch- and scuff-resistant finish has been standard on all Qu-Cork (www.qucork.com) prefinished cork products for a few years.
The nano particles used to coat the floor are 100,000 times smaller in diameter than a human hair. This ensures that every surface on the floor is coated for maximum protection of the floor in addition to providing a smooth, natural-appearing surface. In addition, nano finish is particularly flexible or elastic, which is important because cork moves and compresses.
“Children can crawl and play on it without getting floor burn,” says R. Lanny Trottman, president of Global Market Partners, Inc., which supplies Qu-Cork.
Qu-Cork can be easily recoated, and an extra coat of Qu-Cork Commercial Finish after installation is recommended for commercial installations. Qu-Cork also has GREENGUARD Children & Schools Indoor Air Quality Certification, the toughest standard set by this third-party certifier. (Image “Midnight Slate,” Qu-Cork.)
The Natural Cork (www.usfloorsllc.com) collection, which includes EcoCork, features US Floors’ Endura and Endura AR finishes – both water-based, proprietary finishes containing aluminum oxide, acrylic and ceramics. These finishes are specially formulated to provide the best balance of scratch- and scuff-resistant technology and a natural cork appearance in addition to accommodating the natural movement, or resiliency, of cork.
“Our finish is formulated to take that into consideration,” says Gary Keeble, Jr., marketing manager for USFloors.
The Natural Cork collection can be recoated, and US Floors recommends one or two more coats of Rigostep C-800 after installation for commercial installations. USFloors also has GREENGUARD Children & Schools Indoor Air Quality Certification.
This company’s prefinished line uses three coats of water-based polyurethane, which provides a relatively smooth, natural appearing surface. Recommendations from Expanko (www.expanko.com) differ from manufacturers who do not recommend extra coats of finish for a typical residential installation.
“Additional coats of finish (Bona Kemi Traffic) are recommended to seal all joints in the floor,” says Randy Gillespie, company spokesman. “This prevents the penetration of moisture into the system. All cork flooring should be addressed with an after-installation coat of finish.”
While Expanko has received FloorScore indoor-air quality certification for its XCR4 Cork Rubber flooring, it has not submitted its cork flooring for testing, Gillespie says, because the cork is a natural material and its factory finish is low-emitting, so the company does not feel that this certification is necessary. (Image “Pacific Origins,” Expanko cork.)
We Cork’s, (www.wecork.com), prefinished flooring uses three coats of Greenshield – a water-based polyurethane finish with aluminum oxide. The product does not have GREENGUARD or FloorScore indoor air quality certification. The company did not respond to a phone message and an email asking for additional information.
According to its website, APC Cork’s (www.apccork.com) prefinished flooring uses three coats of acrylic varnish, and additional coats are recommended as needed. APC does not have GREENGUARD or FloorScore certification. The company did not respond to a phone message and an email asking for additional information.
This company is most known for its color selection with the Duro Design (www.durodesign.com) cork line offering 54 colors. The floor is prefinished with Duro Design’s MP 765 water-based polyurethane, which the company says is formulated for superior durability, abrasion resistance, clarity and resilience.
Duro Design’s floors can be recoated. The company does not have GREENGUARD or FloorScore indoor-air quality certification.
Nancy Kibbee is the editor and producer at naturalinteriors.com and Natural Interiors® TV. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The products listed in this blog may contribute to the following LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) credits: MR 2.2, Low-emitting materials for homes; MR 4.1, Recycled Content; MR 4.2, Recycled Content; MR 6, Rapidly Renewable Resource; EQ 4.3, Low-emitting materials, flooring systems (GREENGUARD Children & Schools).