As eco-friendly design gains in popularity, the selection of "green" flooring materials continues to increase and become more stylish. When it comes to choosing a kitchen floor, many homeowners are investing in cork, a unique and eco-conscious material that lends a warm and unique look equally suited to modern or traditional spaces.
Made from the naturally shed bark of cork oak, leaving the trees in tact, cork is a highly renewable resource. Not only is it good for the ecosystem at large, cork is great for a home's environment as well. It is resistant to mold and mildew, making it one of the most hypoallergenic flooring options available.
Cork is filled with air cells that make it naturally spongy and soft underfoot. Whether used as a subfloor under hardwood or carpet, or as a standalone floor, cork provides a comfortable surface in rooms where you'll do a lot of standing, like the kitchen. As a bonus, dropped glasses or dishes are less likely to break than on hardwood or tile. The cellular quality of cork also provides warmth and sound insulation.
Cork floors cost more than linoleum and carpeting but are on par with many hardwood floors. Now available in a full range of colors and patterns, cork comes in both tiles and planks. Glue-down tiles, which come finished or unfinished, are best for above-grade applications, while the click-in-place planks create a floating floor that is suitable for any part of the home. To be certain the floor won't irritate allergies, it's best to choose unfinished cork and have your installer use low-VOC adhesives and finishes (installation of cork can be tricky and is best left to a professional or very experienced DIYers).
Although cork flooring is as durable as hardwood floors, it can still be damaged. Heavy objects placed or dropped on the floor can leave an indentation, and sliding an appliance across the floor can tear the surface. Coasters should be used under appliances to displace the weight if they will sit on top of the cork floor. Like hardwood floors, cork can discolor over time if it will receive direct sun exposure.
While cork floors are not waterproof, they are water resistant -- perfect for a kitchen. A polyurethane topcoat will protect the floors from minor spills that are cleaned wiped up. It's best to use a mat or area rug near the sink, however, to protect the floors from potentially damaging amounts of water. Regular sweeping and dry mopping can help protect the finish, which typically needs to be reapplied every 5 to 10 years.