Archive for the ‘cork’ Tag

Two Years After Installing Flooring   1 comment

Two years ago we installed new flooring before moving into our house. I blogged about our three choices, carpet, Marmoleum, and cork back then. At the time we left one room undone, the nursery. It was convenient, as it gave us an extra place to pile stuff while the flooring was being installed in the rest of the house so that we could overlapping the cleaning/prepping phase and the moving phase. It was also convenient to put off paying for the flooring and installation in a room that wouldn’t be used for a while. Fast forward to today, when we need the nursery carpeted. This got me thinking that this would be a good time to write about our experience with our flooring choices.

I’ll actually start with the one choice that we didn’t make: tile. About a third of the house (kitchen/dining room/entry, and both bathrooms) was already tiled, and we didn’t left it in place. The tile in the bathrooms is just fine; except that the grout wasn’t sealed. It’s easy to care for, and would really be perfect, except that the grout isn’t sealed so it doesn’t get clean. The rest of the tile was really nice, and really poorly installed. It is the kind of tile that is meant to be installed edge to edge without grout spacing between; instead there’s variable spacing between tiles and they aren’t flat.  It makes cleaning difficult since the edges scrape stuff off the mop or broom and into the crevasse between tiles. Plus, the tile wasn’t sealed. Break a bottle of margarita mix on the floor? The spill will be visible forever, or at least until we get around to refinishing and sealing the tile. But for all the problems cleaning it and the weird feeling of the edges underfoot, in summer the cool tile is really nice in a place like Sacramento. Our first winter here I was afraid that our heating bill was going to be crazy since a third of the house is tile, but the tile didn’t seem to act as a heat sink. Maybe when we eventually seal the tile and have the cracks filled in I’ll really like it.

Our favorite of the flooring choices we made is definitely the carpet. It is an undyed wool carpet with cotton/hemp, jute, and rubber backing. Since there are no adhesives or synthetic materials, there’s no offgassing to create “new carpet” smell or cause headaches. Why do we love it? Well for starters it is sooooo soft! There’s a good thick wool carpet pad underneath, so it feels so comforting underfoot. It also feel soft against skin, not scratchy. The color is a beautiful mottled dark brown (wool from a black sheep) that does a good job of hiding any debris between vacuuming. The only drawback is in the care. The beater brush of the vacuum shouldn’t be used on wool carpet. Something about the fibers being shorter than synthetic fibers. We’re not really consistent about using/not using the beater brush, partly because vacuum cleaners just don’t seem to work very well without it. As a result I can tell the difference in the surface where there’s more traffic and vacuuming relative to areas that are rarely vacuumed. But overall, I give wool carpeting two thumbs up. It’s awesome!

We also like the Marmoleum that was installed in the outer part of the master bathroom. Marmoleum is a brand of true linoleum (made from linseed oil instead of the modern vinyl stuff). It’s easy to clean and hides dirt well. The pattern may actually be too good at hiding things, since water drops visually disappear immediately. Unfortunately it’s a little slippery when wet, or when the foot stepping on it is wet. But otherwise, again, I give true linoleum two thumbs up!

Now we come to our problem child: the cork. We installed a floating cork floor in the living room, hallway, and office. It is has a layer of cork under a paperboard core, with a layer of cork on top and then a decorative cork veneer on top. There are what I see as “design flaws” that are compounded by less-than-ideal conditions. The veneer is really really really thin, and the edges crumble, so a portion of every box cannot be used. The veneer is also easily damaged, say, by the feet of a sofa, leaving black scars in the floor. The edges of the tiles are unfinished, and have to be perfectly snug against the adjacent tile. Since I helped install it I know that we made sure that there were absolutely no gaps between tiles, but a year down the line and there are very small but visible gaps between the edges. Unfortunately if water gets between the tiles the paperboard can expand and cause the boards to deform. That’s probably also why the instructions say to put down a moisture barrier when installing on slab-on-grade concrete. Neither of the contractors that we got quotes from included moisture barrier in the quotes, and when I asked our contractor I was told that he’d never done it before and never had a problem. Well, we have had major problems with buckling and cupping of the individual tiles. Unfortunately, I mopped the floor for the first month or so, so I can’t pin the blame solely on the installer. Before choosing this flooring we didn’t do our full due diligence and read the care instructions, which say no wet mopping or damp mopping. After almost two years of dry mopping only, I so desperately want to damp mop to get rid of the buildup and smudges. We’re working with the contractor finally, after way too long procrastinating, to figure out what can be done. This brand of cork was expensive, so replacing it is not an option. Final verdict: pretty and feels good underfoot, but be careful about how it is installed and how to maintain. I’d recommend something with beveled edges, not straight edges. Glued-down might be a better choice than floating planks, and be careful about veneers. If you don’t keep your house at a constant temperature, don’t even bother with cork. This is definitely the one flooring choice that has been a disappointment (and a learning experience).

Posted July 25, 2012 by mayakey in home

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Flooring Choice #2: Cork   3 comments

Our second decision in the replacing-the-flooring journey was a little bit more of a challenge. What would be the best option for the living room and hallway? Because of the proximity to the front entrance and the traffic patterns in the house, carpet is not an option for the living room or the hallway. But to accommodate the various activities in the living room, we want something soft and padded, and something that would be an acoustic dampener. Also, the existing tile in the adjacent entry and dining room is fairly elegant looking, and we want to have something complementary and similarly elegant in the living room in hopes that it will boost our resale value when we sell the house down the road.

More tile? Not soft or sound dampening; plus we would never be able to match the existing tile. Wood or bamboo? Again, not soft or sound dampening. Conventional laminate? Not soft or sound dampening, plus there’s an issue with offgassing of formaldehyde and VOCs. Vinyl? Not on your (my) life. Natural linoleum? Not the elegant look we are going for.

What’s left? Cork! I discovered cork as a viable flooring option years ago when I realized that the floor of Stanford’s Memorial Church was cork. Until then I couldn’t figure out how cork could be used as a floor because I imagined a bulletin board lying on the ground and could not figure out how to keep it clean or how it would not fall apart quickly. My husband had the same thought before we actually looked at cork flooring samples. Cork flooring is actually ground up cork bark mixed with adhesives and compressed into sheets (so it is technically a laminate flooring). Patterns and stains can be added on the top layer, which means there are some gorgeous cork floors out there. The cork tiles still have the springy-nature of the cork bark, so it is a good compromise between hard and soft flooring options. It is also a good compromise for acoustic dampening (maybe that’s why they use cork tiles in Memorial Church). As a plus, cork is a thermal insulator like carpet. I bounced around online for a while reading reviews of cork floors and it seemed like I mostly found rave reviews with a handful of lukewarm ones. I found very few negative reviews.

As far as environmental benefits, cork can be used for LEED credits for sustainable materials and recycled materials. It is considered a sustainable material because cork is the bark of the tree and the tree doesn’t need to be cut down for the harvest. Cork flooring is made from the waste material left after making bottle corks, which sort-of makes it a recycled product. (It can also be made from recycled cork stoppers, but I don’t know how common that is.) Since it is a laminate material there is some risk of off-gassing due to the adhesives, but the floor that we are buying is GreenGuard Indoor Air Quality Certified, so it is low-emitting for volatile organic compounds, formaldehyde, and phthalates. Not perfect, but pretty good.

So a floating cork floor it is! Think conventional laminate floor with the tongue-in-groove joints, only it’s a fiberboard sandwiched between two layers of cork. Theoretically I can DIY this, but I don’t think I could manage doorways and the bay window in the living room. Instead, I talked to the contractor that is going to install all the flooring about letting me help.

Posted July 23, 2010 by mayakey in environment, home, shopping

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