Cork floors are easy on the feet, but can be more susceptible to damage

Cork isn't just useful for wine bottles and bulletin boards. The material has become an increasingly popular choice for flooring as well.

This use of cork has actually been around for quite some time. Doug Bonderud, writing for Angie's List, says cork floors first appeared in the late 19th century. As flooring choices have expanded in recent years, cork has seen renewed interest as an environmentally friendly material with some clear benefits.

Cork is harvested from the bark of living trees that are primarily found in southern Europe. Marie Proeller Hueston, writing for the home improvement professional Bob Vila, says this is a sustainable resource since the bark will grow back and can be harvested every nine years. Cork floor tiles can be made from ground-up and compressed cork bark as well as recycled materials like old wine stoppers.

The air-filled chambers that make up cork account for most of its beneficial properties. Joseph Lewitin, writing for the home design site The Spruce, says the material has a yielding, cushiony feel. Lindsey Mather, writing for Architectural Digest, says the softer floor will put less stress on your feet, legs, and back, making it a comfortable choice for rooms where you'll spend a lot of time.

This quality can be beneficial for other reasons as well. According to Realtor.com, cork floors provide some shock absorption and reduce the chances that a dropped object such as a glass or dish will break. The material can also cut down on the chance of injury if someone falls on it.

The air pockets in cork make it a terrific insulator. Lewitin says the material helps dampen the transmission of sound, so footsteps and other noise won't be audible on the floor below. This insulating quality also preserves heat during the winter and blocks heat from entering the room during the summer. In addition, Mather says the floors can maintain an optimal temperature so they won't feel too cold in the winter.

Like hardwood floors, cork floors have the benefit of being hypoallergenic. Lewitin says the material repels allergens like pet dander and dust. In addition, cork has a waxy substance called suberin which helps keep away insects and vermin.

Maintenance of cork floors is fairly easy. Sweeping or vacuuming will remove dirt and debris, and the appearance of the floor can be revived through by refinishing.

Homeowners looking to install cork flooring in their home can choose from a variety of visual looks. Hueston says the tiles can be used to make several different patterns, and the cork itself can even be modified to resemble stone or other materials.

The floors are durable, making them a good choice for high-traffic areas. Small dents will eventually repair themselves, and the cork's texture also helps mask small scratches and other minor damage.

Unfortunately, the greater chance of damage is one of the main disadvantages of cork flooring. Bonderud says spilled liquids can cause permanent discoloration if not quickly cleaned up. Harsh cleaning products can also leave irreparable damage, and sunlight will cause the cork's color to fade over time. Realtor.com says pets' claws can rip pieces out of the floor, as can sharp objects that are accidentally dropped.

Heavy furniture or appliances can cause permanent indentations in the floor. However, this problem can usually be mitigated if furniture pads are used to distribute the weight of the object.

Cork floors may not last as long as other materials. Mather says most companies only guarantee the product for about 15 years.

When installing cork floors, it helps to decide whether it will be appropriate for a room. For example, it can do wonders in a music room due to its insulating properties. Realtor.com says it's also a good choice for places where comfort and insulation are key, but less fitting for areas where it will be exposed to too much sunlight.

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