Green Flooring–The Benefits of Cork

April 20, 2009 by  
Filed under Interior Decoration

Green building options are gentle to the environment and consumer health, in manufacturing practices, materials, and durability. Green flooring is definitely possible, but there aren’t very many options that are both eco-friendly and attractive. Cork flooring is an exception. It is durable, healthy, inviting, and environmentally friendly.

Traditional flooring products can be hazardous for our health as well as the environment. Consider the environmental disadvantages of the following materials that might be contaminating your home:

• Nylon carpet, which covers a majority of floors in the U.S., wears badly while giving off hazardous volatile organic compounds. When nylon carpet is replaced, it can’t be recycled, and ends up in landfills, even though it is not biodegradable.

• Synthetic laminate wood flooring, although composed of recycled lumber waste, contains formaldehyde which is needed to make up the fiber board.

• Vinyl flooring, common to kitchen and bathrooms, also has environmental and safety hazards. The material has been known to contain pthalates, which can effect normal child development.

• Hardwood floors, though natural and healthier, are often not produced sustainably. The finishes used on many of them are damaging to air quality because they are petroleum based.

In contrast to these materials, cork flooring is sustainable, durable, and long lasting. It is harvested by hand from Mediterranean cork oak bark about once every decade. It is completely renewable because the cork grows back and the tree is not harmed. Mediterranean cork oak trees can last for more than 200 years. All of this makes cork a significantly green material. Excess is even used to make bottled corks and there is no waste. The cork can be treated to have different textures and colors to go with any home décor.

Because it is hypo-allergenic, cork makes a great material for kids’ bedrooms and playrooms, as well as the homes of allergy sufferers. It has insulating properties for both sound and heat. Cork makes for a gentle walking surface that is beneficial to your knees, back, and feet. It is also naturally resistant to moisture, fire, and insect damage.

If you’re going to invest in cork flooring, there are just a few things to keep in mind. Pay attention to installation methods. Some finishes contain VOCs, which can be an environmental hazard similar to petroleum based materials. Wax is a nontoxic finish, but not as durable. The recommended eco-friendly installation for cork is a tongue and groove pattern without glue.

Also, remember that cork is not meant to be permanent flooring. It requires replacing about every ten years. It is vulnerable to scratching, and will wear faster in high traffic areas. Resealing a cork floor can make it last longer, and a floor that is well sealed can be cleaned or mopped with a gentle cleanser that is non-abrasive.

Though you need to keep the installation methods in mind and minimize wear and tear, cork is still an environmentally friendly option for green flooring that is renewable and sustainable. It is much safer and greener than traditional flooring materials and can make an attractive addition to your home.