Part Three: Cork 2010-Style

Part Three: Cork 2010-Style

Consider origin, construction, chemical emissions, innovation and responsiveness when you choose cork flooring

The call was one no flooring retailer wants.  The customer was furious. Her husband had damaged the cork flooring Cline’s Carpets had just installed in her home outside of West Lafayette, Ind.

“She was really honked off, not at us, but at her husband who had done something that took a divot out of the floor,” owner Cary Cline recalls.

But a strange thing happened when Cline’s installer went out the next day to make a repair. He couldn’t find any damage. “The flooring had healed itself,” Cline says.

Cork flooring, invented more than 100 years ago, is known for its ability to bounce back from abuse. Today’s construction — which includes engineered flooring and an array of stronger finishes — has led to a dramatic increase in sales during the past decade.

With all the brands and styles available, it can be hard to know what to choose. The place to start is with a pattern you like, then consider some key points to guard against problems down the road. (Image courtesy of Wicanders.)

Origin

All of the leading brands discussed here are made of cork harvested in the right place – the Mediterranean region, primarily Spain and Portugal. The climatic conditions there produce the most resilient cork, which comes from the bark of the Cork Oak Tree. Harvested every 9 to 14 years, the bark regrows, and the tree and habitat are not disturbed.  Cork that is made into flooring is known as agglomerated cork.

Construction

Engineered or floating cork floors – coupled with stronger finishes discussed in Part One — have led to a rise in cork sales because they give the floor more protection from moisture, are easier to install and can be installed in basements.  These products have self-locking systems so the panels are clicked together with no need for glue. Solid glue-down tiles also are available from most manufacturers.

The basic floating floor consists of a top veneer, which is the pattern, often laminated over a plain agglomerate layer, which is laminated to a High Density Fiberboard (HDF) core. Another agglomerate layer is added for a backing that provides additional sound and thermal insulation. This also eliminates the need for an underlayment unless the subfloor is concrete, or you’re installing below grade. These installations require a plastic underlayment to serve as a vapor barrier.

In comparing the choices, look for:

—  Tightly compressed cork granules and high density measurements. The manufacturers disagree on whether the highest density is needed on the backing in addition to the top veneer. Expanko, for example, has a density of 35 lbs./ft.3  on the flooring surface and the backing, while USFloors offers a wear layer density of 34 lbs/ft3 and 13 lbs/ft3 on the back. Regardless of the rating, you should not see gaps or voids between the cork granules that make up the agglomerate. (Product backings on WeCork, left, and USFloors pictured.)

—  An HDF core that has been treated to be moisture-resistant. Also, consider the advantages offered by USFloors in treating the edges of their products to help keep moisture out of the seams.

— A demonstration of how the flooring panels click together and how the edges of the panels appear once installed. A square-edged product can create a more seamless look while a beveled edge can offer a distinctive look by defining each panel. But a beveled edge can also mean grooves where dirt collects. So consider your traffic patterns and cleaning habits carefully.

Indoor Air Quality

With a top reason for seeking “green” interior products being healthful indoor air, suppliers who do not give full attention to the chemical emissions of their products are missing the mark.

Cork flooring products are manufactured with glue – a traditional source of formaldehyde and other irritants. USFloors, partly owned by Amorim, and Wicanders, also owned by Amorim, use Acrodur – a BASF product that is free of formaldehyde and also free of isocyanates, which can be harmful to manufacturing workers.

“No added urea formaldehyde” appears on Expanko Cork products and should be visible on the websites or packaging of any product you choose.

As mentioned in Part One, Qu-Cork has GREENGUARD Children & Schools Certification – which sets the most stringent limits for chemical emissions. All USFloors cork with the Endura AR finish also has this certification. The rest of its line has GREENGUARD Indoor Air Quality Certification as do all of the cork lines offered by Wicanders.

Innovation

Tried, true and reliable are good traits. But seeing the same thing day after day gets boring and makes me wonder about a manufacturer’s longevity.

Qu-Cork has kept consumer attention with several new color introductions and by introducing Microban technology to make its products mold-resistant, discussed in Part Two.

Wicanders has teamed up with WarmUp – an underfloor heating system – so you won’t have to research what radiant heat system is best to use with its flooring.

But the continuing stream of innovation from USFloors might get the most attention.  The company’s new Almada collection has all the warmth and resilience of cork, but it looks like hardwood. (Almada image courtesy of USFloors.)

Responsiveness

When the customer at the start of this blog found the divot in her new cork floor, she wanted immediate action. She got that from the retailer, Cline’s Carpets & Blinds, who installed it, even though the area that had been compressed rose back up to correct the problem.

Had the problem resulted from a defect in the product, Cline’s would have turned to the manufacturer, or the manufacturer’s distributor, for assistance with a claim involving more material to replace the area with the defect. If the manufacturer did not respond with assistance, Cline’s would have had to fix the problem and eat the cost or refuse to make the repair.

What kind of service can you expect? How well has the manufacturer explained pertinent information about its products to its own reps, its distributor reps and the retailers who sell its products?

Your retailer should know these answers. Ask before you buy.

–By Nancy Kibbee, editor at naturalinteriors.com

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