Cork is made from ground up outer bark of the Cork Oak. It is considered an environmentally friendly product. Cork Oak has two layers of bark, the 2nd outer layer is for protection and can be removed without harming the tree. The inside layer becomes the outer layer and is then removed in the next harvest. Many other trees will die if their bark is removed. The Cork Oak should not be confused with the “cork trees“. The Cork Oak is the only one used for the production of cork.
Cork is made of tiny cells that are full of air. Over 50% of the volume of cork is air. This cell structure is responsible for some of the unique and useful properties of cork. Cork is lightweight, porous, buoyant, absorbs sound, is a good insulator, highly compressible, resistant to moisture, a low thermal conductor, stable and resilient.
In addition to the above mentioned benefits it is also chemically inert and reasonably priced. Using high heat and great pressure cork shavings are able to be fused together into tiles with no binders or chemicals whatsoever. It is often sold as is and is then finished with a protective coating by the installer.
Uses for Cork
There are many uses for cork. Two of the obvious uses that one thinks of is of course corkboards and wine stoppers.
Commercial and residential flooring are two more popular uses for cork. It is also suitable for wall finishing. Classrooms, libraries, museums, auditoriums, hospitals and anywhere else where cork’s ability to absorb sound, it’s durability and the ease of it’s maintenance is beneficial.
When intended as flooring, cork is usually treated with several coats of polyurethane. This can be done prior to installation or afterwards. It is usually applied by the installers or it can be purchased from the manufacturer pre-treated.
Cork tile for flooring and walls comes in many vibrant colors and shades. It can be glued over concrete, wood and many other existing floors. It is also available with an interlocking system that can be installed without adhesive.
Properly treated and installed cork tiles will last for many years. Wear and tear from normal use can be maintained by screening and reapplying the polyurethane coating. This should be done by professionals to insure satisfactory results. Make sure that whoever you hire is experienced with cork tile re-finishing.
Cork is also used as a tile adhesive and rubber cork underlay. It can be used to reduce sound from traveling to lower levels of property. Cork tiles are often installed as insulation. Cork’s buoyancy makes it an ideal material for life preservers, fishing rod handles and floating boat key chains.
Possible Problems in Use of Cork
Due to cork being a natural wood product, shades of individual tiles are naturally varied. Exposure to sunlight and UV rays over time will cause fading. In addition the cork will become brittle and frail. Prolonged or excessive exposure to moisture can cause the binder to deteriorate and eventually break down and crumble. This is more common when a wax-based binder is used.
In high traffic areas, abrasion will occur over time. This is especially true when the protective polyurethane coating has worn off. Dirt and grime left on the floor increases this abrasiveness. The porous property of cork makes it naturally prone to staining.
Spills should be cleaned up immediately with water and mild soap. The use of certain cleaners will contribute to the further deterioration of cork tile flooring. Ammonia and hydroxide-based cleaners will damage cork. Solvents, abrasive and caustic cleaners should never be used.
Prevention of Damage
Casters and gliders should be used under furniture, felt and rubber pads are recommended. Although cork flooring is kinder to our feet and posture for long periods of standing, high heels will dent cork and really should be avoided for any extended length of time.
Photo by Dominic Alves, Creative Commons Attribution License