cork flooring installation

How to Install Cork Flooring

By Fortino Rosas / October 5, 2021 / 0 Comments

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    When considering flooring, one rarely considers using the underdog of materials, cork. Cork flooring has often been relegated to use in offices and light factories, and has generally been viewed as a design ‘no-no’ in the home.

    It is cheap, easy to install, easy to clean, versatile and looks good. Cork enjoyed a stint of residential prominence in the 70’s despite being around for over a century, but then died down. It seems that the various applications for design, as well as its durability and cost effectiveness, are helping cork flooring make a bit of a comeback in recent times.

    More and more home builders, designers and architects are considering and even using cork floors in ever increasing manners, and seem to have no regrets in doing so.

    The primary positive comes in the form of just how easy the installation process is. Usually, when you want something that looks this good, it’s expensive and requires arduous labor. However, the rise of the floating cork tile has seen an end to that dilemma, and now anybody can enjoy beautiful flooring which they’ve installed themselves.

    With the increase in technology, the detriments of many materials have to a large extent been overcome. Cork is one of these materials which has benefited and the reasons for not using cork are slowly but surely being abrogated by disuse.

    If not treated properly though, cork can be damaged by the smallest objects – from thorns caught on ones shoes to toast crumbs which have fallen on the floor. This will obviously alter the look of your flooring over time, but can be avoided with proper treatment.

    Deciding on Cork Flooring

    Cork, despite its definite properties, is versatile in terms of look and can be shifted any which way.

    One cannot be blamed for looking at a cork floor and suspecting that it is something else, such as regular hardwood or laminate, because cork is relatively simple and cheap.

    For these reasons, cork flooring is gaining in popularity especially among those who appreciate good look and design. The versatility lends itself to a wide range of applications in a number of settings.

    Unfortunately, one cannot go on looks alone and so despite the looks being versatile, there is more that most require from flooring than merely look – and it is therefore important to consider more features of cork flooring.

    Because cork is generally recycled and sustainable, the resource isn’t scarce. Taking a key from simply supply and demand economics, this means that cork is one of the most affordable flooring options available.

    One pays for what they get though so while the entry levels of cork flooring should certainly be cheaper than their alternative material counterparts, once one begins considering design, prices can inflate significantly.

    Of course all materials become more expensive with improved design so cork is not unique in that regard. It may well just be that the competitive price for value begins to dissipate as one pursues higher density cork and different designs.

    Whatever the situation, skimping on your flooring is not something one should do so when shopping for your cork flooring. Be certain to check aspects such as density, thickness, and quality of the material before gunning for the cheapest floor you can find.

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    Which Cork Flooring to Use

    Cork flooring can come in many forms, but the most common would be in glue down tiles and floating floors.

    Floating floors are slightly thicker and provide higher resilience. It looks like false laminate wood except it is real wood because it is essentially the bark off of the tree.

    Cork flooring extends its versatility to its installation also. It is therefore easier to install cork flooring as the tiles can either be glued down or clicked together in the same way one would do with laminate tiles.

    We prefer floating floors as the increased resilience of the glue down tiles in marginal and the floating floors are significantly easier to install.

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    How to Install: 4 Steps

    1. Pre-installation & Planning
    2. Accommodate Temperature Changes
    3. Installation Process
    4. Maintenance

    1. Pre-installation and Planning

    No good handy work comes without planning. The better the planning, the better the end product, so invest in some graph paper and plan your design and flooring accordingly. Other items you’ll require are:

    • Rubber mallet
    • Rubber spacers
    • Tape Measure
    • Tapping Block
    • A saw/tile cutter
    • Adhesive (in the case of using the adhesive tiles which remain our second choice)

    Once you have your plan and equipment, it’s important that you smooth out and dry the surface that you will be applying the cork flooring to. Next, lay out the tiles for easy access.

    Take caution that if your house is relatively old, asbestos may have been used in your flooring. This should be checked out before you begin preparing your floors.

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    2. Accommodating Temperature Changes

    Because cork expands and contracts as the temperature changes, you’ll need to make allowance for some extra space around the walls. 1 centimeter should be ample.

    Place rubber spacers along the wall to allow for humidity, temperature and environmental changes once the flooring is installed.

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    3. Installing the Tiles

    Regardless of the type of tiles you purchase, you should begin installing them lengthwise along a wall you’ve selected.

    Floating floors lock together so if you’re using them, place the tongue of the next tile into the grove of the previous one.

    Place the tapping block over the tile you’ve just inserted to protect it then use the mallet to tap the block into place. Continue doing this down the same direction as you began maintaining the space between the wall and a firm attachment of all the tiles.

    If you are using glue down tiles, follow the same procedure as above only using the proper adhesive to secure the tiles in place. Remember to ensure spacing between the tiles and the wall and limit pockets of air between the tiles themselves.

    In either instance, you will come to a point where there is an obstruction or another wall. In this instance, use the tape measure to determine the length of tile to complete the row and cut one of the tiles accordingly.

    To avoid visible marks, mark the measurement on the underside of the tile. Be certain to be as accurate as possible as an inaccurate job makes for shoddy workmanship.

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    4. Maintenance

    Cork is incredibly resilient until you penetrate it deeply. Think of is as your own skin; a bruise can heal (in the corks case, it the sponge qualities press it back into place) but a deep enough scratch is likely to leave a mark. Without proper maintenance, the flooring can easily be seriously damaged with negligible ease.

    An excellent idea to overcome this deficiency of cork flooring is to place felt pads or small carpets under heavier pieces of furniture whether wheeled or not.

    It’s also a great idea to place breathable mats, drainage saucers or anything to avoid long term exposure to moisture near anything related to water, be it pot plants or a sink. The reason for this would be to avoid discoloration of your cork floors in instances where water gets trapped or settles.

    Sunlight also has damaging properties and while this is certainly a far more long term issue than water damage, one may want to consider taking steps to avoid exposure to direct sunlight which may lead to discoloration.

    Cork is often also treated with sealant which will wear off over time. It is important to reapply sealant every so often.  Polyurethane lasts a home some 5 to 10 years while waxes are less durable and last only up to 2 years.

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    What goes under cork flooring?

    One advantage of laying cork flooring is you can do it without using underlayment; however, laying plastic or polyethylene sheeting on the subfloor before installing cork floating floors will provide extra moisture protection. Glue-down cork floor tiles must be adhered directly to the subfloor.

    How expensive is cork flooring?

    Cork flooring is one of the more cost-effective floor cover options. Being recyclable and sustainable, cork is an affordable material. Entry-level cork flooring is cheaper, but if you’re looking for special designs or features, expect to pay more since higher density cork and different designs do inflate the price of cork flooring.

    Can cork flooring be installed below grade?

    Manufacturers of cork flooring recommend not using the traditional glue-down method for below grade installation. Glue-down cork tiles need to be adhered directly to the basement’s subfloor, which means there’s no moisture barrier such as plastic sheeting to protect the flooring. 

    Cork floating floors may be installed below grade as long as there’s a moisture barrier layer and cork flooring underlayment.

    How much does cork flooring cost?

    Cork flooring can cost anywhere from $3 to $12 per square foot, depending on the quality and thickness of the floor tiles or planks. You can estimate an average cost of $7 to $8 per square foot for DIY projects, with an additional $1 to $2 per square foot for professional installation.

    Can you install cork flooring over tile?

    Cork flooring can be installed over tiles, making it a versatile solution to changing floor covers without having to remove the tiles. Ensure there are no cracks in the tiles and that the flooring is stable and level before laying the cork tiles or planks to your tiled subfloor.

    What We Think

    Floating floors are the easiest to install. They require no adhesive and usually come with a protective layer underneath that should protect against the elements.

    Given the choice, we’d opt for cork flooring but given the further choice we’d opt for a floating floor before going to adhesive tiles.

    There seems to be no discernible detriment when picking the one over the other, so why not opt for the easiest and cleanest to install?

    One can complete an entire room on a Saturday and have their friends over to marvel at their hard work that same evening.

    If you are able to harness your puzzle building skills from your three year old self, when puzzles where nothing complex, you’d have no trouble installing these floors yourself.

    Cheap, easy to install, versatile and really good looking, it is no wonder why more people are turning to DIY cork flooring. You now have the option of avoiding expensive tillers invading your home and doing a fun, relatively simple, relatively quick project on your own and for your own benefit.

    The old days of looking down on cork flooring are behind us and as more people are becoming amenable to placing this underrated substance in their homes, it’s becoming more and more common to find cork flooring. There is a reason for this; with the convince, versatility and cost-effectiveness cork flooring offers, one would be remiss not to at least consider it and all things considered, one would probably end up using it. has a number of splendid ideas and concepts for use of cork flooring.

    Have you installed cork flooring? Let us know your experiences.

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    About Fortino Rosas

    Chief Floor Critic, 32 years of experience in flooring installation and sales

    Fortino Rosas is an independent flooring contractor with 32 years of experience in residential and commercial flooring installation and sales. He joined the Floor Critics team to share his expertise with our readers. Fortino has acquired vast knowledge and skills in the areas of product selection, space planning, and installation. He has installed flooring in residential, government, and commercial office projects in the Midwest. Visit Website.

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