Aug. 17/24; Volume 30/Number 5
By Nadia Ramlakhan
Although cork floors have gained popularity in the U.S. over the last 100 years, they have actually been in use for well over 300 years in Europe, where the product first originated. In fact, despite cork’s rocky start and reduced usage in the U.S., some cork floors installed in high-traffic areas like government buildings, banks and churches are still in service today, proving its ability to withstand scratches, dents and wear over time.
“The scratch and dent resistance of these floors is evidenced by many buildings from the early 20th century that still have cork floors in excellent condition in spite of their age and high volume of foot traffic,” said Deborah Hardin, chief customer officer, USFloors. “While no floor is bulletproof, cork floors are very durable and will continue to perform for many years after installation.”
While cork is known best for its sustainable and green attributes as well as sound abatement, comfort and warmth underfoot, most people—salespeople, dealers and consumers alike—don’t know that cork’s durability, impact resistance and resilience are key advantages of the category. “When people think about cork they just remember the bulletin boards, but there is an incredible number of solutions with different applications,” said Patrícia Fernandes, public relations and online marketing, corporate marketing department, Amorim Revestimentos.
One cause of this common misconception of cork is lack of education and awareness on both the sales and consumer fronts. Most people have not been exposed to modern cork and are unaware of the options that come with a cork floor. Since there have been countless advances in technology in recent years, cork floors offer a variety of finishes, veneers, colors, decors and visuals—all exceedingly durable.
“A majority of the public doesn’t know cork can even be used as a floor unless they are watching HGTV or other similar programming,” said Ann Wicander, president of WE Cork. “It’s not something that crosses the radar very often. It always goes back to education. If a salesperson is nervous about something or doesn’t know too much about a product, he will tend to shy away from it.”
USFloors’ retail training includes a program called “Bustin’ Myths and Takin’ Orders,” which highlights some popular misconceptions of cork and explains in detail the truth behind them. For example, cork’s durability is complemented by its water resistance as the raw material is naturally impermeable, a feature not known to many shoppers.
“USFloors has been on a campaign for the last year to make a concerted effort to educate retail salespeople of the features and benefits of cork so that they will sell this [viable] flooring option with confidence,” Hardin said. “Cork naturally repels water. Think about some of the most common uses for cork: wine bottle stoppers and fishing floats. Both of these applications require that cork will not allow liquid to be absorbed.”
Cork’s durability comes from a combination of natural, inherent attributes with advanced technology. “One of the characteristics of cork is that it has an elastic ‘memory’ and therefore recovers well from compression, very much like how a wine cork stopper being pulled out of a bottle expands,” said Mário Pinho, vice president of sales for North America, Amorim. “Due to its resilient qualities, cork flooring has the ability to bounce back from hard impacts. A durable surface finish further protects the cork and allows for easy maintenance.”
A number of highly durable, scratch-resistant floor covering options available in the hard surface market today are rough on the feet. Not only are cork floors soft underfoot, they are also recommended for people with joint pains or arthritis, without compromising its durability.
Amorim, a pioneer in offering cork-based floors suitable for both residential and commercial high traffic applications with 145 years of experience, recently launched Hydrocork by Wicanders, which offers maximum durability by combining LVT with a cork core. “It also has the unique PressFit vertical installation system that takes full advantage of cork’s inherent properties—flexibility, elasticity and compressibility—functioning exactly like a cork stopper,” Pinho explained. “It is the perfect product for heavy traffic commercial jobs and also for DIY residential applications.”
WE Cork also uses technology to enhance the durability of its cork floors. Its most recent launch, the Serenity collection, is available in both glue down and floating formats and features a high density and new generation of finish technology while retaining cork’s natural cell structure (closed air cells allow for thermal and acoustic insulation). The trifecta results in an AC rating of 5, which surpasses the performance of LVT.
“With this we can offer custom visuals and 10-year warranties with no fading,” Wicander noted. “At the same time it’s still green, comfortable, quiet and extremely dent resistant.”
USFloors’ Endura AR high performance UV-cured aluminum oxide finish provides advanced abrasion resistance for the company’s cork floors. Endura AR protects these floors from everyday wear, making sure they look new after many years of use. “State-of-the-art finishes like Endura AR protect the floor and make it as durable as any prefinished or site-finished hardwood floor,” Hardin said.
While cork does not lose its strength over time, reasonable care needs to be taken regarding furniture and heel protection to ensure that the floor is not damaged, as with all hard surface flooring. Pinho noted that most cork floors are prefinished, meaning they can offer long wear warranties without the need of applying any additional coats on site.