Sustainable Flooring

Sustainable Flooring

Sustainable Flooring

Bamboo and cork floors are a great option for any hospitality venue. They are sustainable, durable, and beautiful.

So you’re going to replace your flooring with something new. You are taking an environmental approach, but don’t know which sustainable product, that which doesn’t deplete natural resources when it’s harvested, to select. You think your final choices are between bamboo and cork, but you aren’t sure. Before we analyze the differences between the products, let’s review their backgrounds.

First, traditional wood flooring isn’t sustainable, taking 30-100 years to grow a tree that can be used for flooring. Bamboo is a grass that grows to floor quality in 5-7 years, with the next batch of bamboo growing from the same roots — just like the grass in a lawn. Cork, the bark of the cork oak tree, can be harvested, or peeled away, after the tree is 25 years old and then every 9-12 years, without killing the tree.

Bamboo resembles wood when made into flooring. It has a hard finish and is of rigid construction. Bamboo planks are nailed to or floated on your subfloor. It comes in two construction styles and in two shades. You can select either horizontal grain, the width of the bamboo stalk, or vertical grain, a cross-section of the stalk, grain. The horizontal grain is made by gluing strips of bamboo side by side, and then layering the strips on top of each other to make a board. The vertical grain is made of thin strips laminated side-by-side to create a board. The color choices are natural and caramelized, or carbonized, a color that happens when the bamboo is heat treated. The natural colored horizontal grain flooring is the hardest of your bamboo options.

Cork flooring doesn’t look like anything you’ve ever seen. It somewhat resembles burled wood, burls being made by a spherical growth of a tree trunk and looking swirly when cut into planks. It’s cushiony and pliable, yet durable and resilient. There are 100+ year old cork floors in public buildings in the U.S. that are still going strong, so you could do well by one too. A cork flooring piece comes in either 12″x12″ or 12″x24″ tiles to glue to your subfloor, or in 1’x3′ engineered planks for floating on your subfloor. The natural color of cork is a pale brown or tan with dark tones swirling throughout. Cork hardness isn’t measured the same fashion wood is, making it hard to compare the products in that way.

Now we have the basics down, how are you going to choose between them? Cork cushions your walk and mutes sounds, making it a wonderful flooring for busy and/or noisy rooms. It looks elegant because of its unusual patterns. Because of the thin design veneer on the tile or plank, combined with the softness of the product, I feel that «varnishing» the surface is important to protect it. You can get cork in pre-finished product, but the finish isn’t durable enough and needs more protection.

Bamboo is harder so won’t cushion your walk and will reflect noise, much like wood floors do. The joins of the bamboo sections create an intriguing pattern that adds interest to any room. But since bamboo is more durable than pre- or un-finished cork, if you buy a pre-finished product you don’t have to do anything further after installation to protect the flooring.

Sustainable Flooring

Your choice comes down to your noise sensibilities, desire for a soft walk, and how much you want to do to the surface after installation. Bamboo is a much more recent flooring material than cork, but it is sustainable, beautiful, and as a good a choice as cork, depending on the situation.

To learn more on these flooring products, check out bamboo and cork information.

To learn more about various flooring options in general, see

Posted by Kit Cassingham

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