Is Cork Flooring Waterproof?

When you think of cork, you probably picture the soft stopper that comes in wine bottles. Many people assume that cork flooring isn’t a good match for water because of its flexibility. But that cork protects and preserves liquids in wine bottles, and it also has water-resistant properties when it’s used on floors.

Understanding Cork

Cork is a type of wood that comes from cork oak trees. These plants are native to the Mediterranean region and have special adaptations for using water efficiently. In areas where this tree grows naturally, winters are wet and summers are dry. The plant’s outermost layer of bark grows as a grayish, nubbly surface. It develops over time and keeps the tree hydrated during the dry season.

This is the portion of the tree that is harvested for cork flooring. Its sponge-like structure contains air pockets that create a bouncy, pliable feel. But although cork has a spongy texture, it doesn’t soak up water. This flooring material contains suberin, a waxy substance that resists moisture.

Water Absorption of Cork vs Hardwood

Hardwoods seem like they would be relatively impenetrable by water. Those that fall at the high end of the Janka hardness scale are more water resistant than softer woods. However, wood is largely porous. The open cells in hardwood soak up moisture. You can prevent this by sealing the wood appropriately. But in its natural form, hardwood is not the best flooring option for extremely damp areas, such as basements and bathrooms.

Although more than 50% of cork is air, the material doesn’t absorb water like hardwood does. The suberin that coats the honeycomb-like walls prevents liquids from entering the open areas. This substance makes the cork hydrophobic, which means that it repels water.

In contrast, hardwood is hygroscopic, which means that it absorbs moisture from the air. The more humidity that there is in the environment, the more the hardwood soaks it in.

If you soaked a cork block in water for 48 hours, its mass would increase by 3%. That’s because it’s not completely waterproof. It does have hygroscopic properties, but those are moderated by the hydrophobic qualities.

If you soaked a block of hardwood in water for 48 hours, its mass and weight would increase by much more than that. Some types of wood can absorb more than their weight in water.

Is Cork Flooring Good for Bathrooms and Kitchens?

Cork is an excellent material for kitchen and bathroom floors. It can be used as a surface layer or as an underlayment.

Cork’s limited water absorbency makes it a deterrent to mold and mildew. It isn’t susceptible to rot, making it ideal for areas that are prone to pest infestations and flooding. Another reason that cork flooring is practical in kitchens and bathrooms is that it has a naturally non-slip surface. It’s an ideal option for indoor/outdoor rooms and sunrooms.

You should avoid using flooring in rooms that are always damp, such as saunas and pool rooms. Prolonged contact with moisture will eventually cause the cork to swell.

The type of cork flooring that you use influences its susceptibility to moisture damage, though. Cork tiles, planks, rolls and sheets are made by grinding the wood into small particles. Then, the manufacturer binds those granules together with an adhesive. Some manufacturers create pure agglomerated cork, which involves pressing pieces of the material into a mold and activating the natural resins under high heat.

Many cork tiles and planks have several layers. Although the top layer may be made of agglomerated cork, the other layers often contain medium or high-density fiberboard. This material is similar to the substrate on laminate flooring. It’s more absorbent than cork and may be susceptible to water damage.

The process that the cork undergoes affects its water resistance. Check with the manufacturer to determine if a particular product is appropriate for use in a damp environment. The most waterproof kinds of cork flooring are made with non-absorbent materials and techniques.

Can You Waterproof a Cork Floor by Sealing It?

Cork flooring is usually factory finished with a water-resistant coating. Some manufacturers recommend re-sealing the material every so often.

If your floors have a polyurethane sealant, you should reapply it every five to seven years. Cork floors with natural wax sealant should be refinished every 6 to 12 months. Acrylic and oil-based urethane sealants are much more popular than wax nowadays. They last longer and require less upkeep. Therefore, some homeowners strip the wax from existing cork floors and apply a polyurethane top coat.

Applying the top coat over seams in the flooring prevents moisture from seeping into the gaps. It also protects the floor from wear and tear by preventing dirt particles from settling into the spaces. Your flooring will stay waterproof much longer if you avoid grinding abrasive grains, such as sand, into the material.

Protecting the Surface

Even though cork is naturally water resistant, it gets some support from the top coat. Enhance the waterproof nature of your cork floors by treating them gently.

Some tips for reducing wear and tear on cork flooring include the following:

  • Replace casters on furniture with wide, rubber ones.
  • Place breathable rugs or mats at sinks and entryways.
  • Avoid using rubber-based rug pads.
  • Sweep abrasive particles off of the flooring regularly.
  • Inspect the floor for gouges that penetrate the finish or top layer.
  • Clean up liquids immediately.
  • Avoid dragging heavy items, including chairs, across the floor.
  • Wear soft-soled shoes.
  • Keep indoor temperatures and humidity levels steady.

Factoring in the Installation Method

The installation method also makes a difference in the water resistance of a cork floor. If you use adhesive tiles, make sure that you use the right type of adhesives. Solvent-based glues will dissolve water-based binders. Add a moisture barrier beneath cork flooring in moisture-prone areas, such as basements and sunrooms.

In some cases, you can lay down a subfloor that includes adequate moisture protection. Glue cork tiles directly to this material. You can also install a floating floor with a moisture barrier over concrete slabs.

A reputable professional will install your cork flooring using the most effective methods. Let them know if the flooring will be exposed to high humidity. They will help you select the best products and techniques to prioritize the waterproof qualities of your new floors.

Look for a licensed and insured installer, and learn about their guarantees. The manufacturer will also offer guidelines for proper installation and maintenance of cork flooring.

What You Need to Know About Carpet Tiles for Basements

Having a basement as part of your property can mean one of two things. Either it’s a storage area for the junk you’ve accumulated over the years, or it’s an opportunity to take advantage of a potential extra room. Whether you’re building a man cave or making a serviceable utility area, it’s important to make sure you choose the right flooring.   

Carpet tiles for basement flooring are increasingly popular. They’re versatile, cost effective, and have insulating properties. In the current market, there is also a growing range of styles and materials available.

So what do you need to consider when deciding whether carpet tiles are the right choice for your basement project? We’re going to give you an overview of the key areas for focus, along with some practical guidance on their effective use. 

What Are the Different Types of Carpet Tile?

When it comes to aesthetics, your design options can stretch beyond monochromatic or checkerboard patterns that were popular in the past. These modular panels come in triangular, diamond, rhomboid, and even herringbone shapes, among others — allowing you to be more creative in the patterns you can arrange them in.  

One of the key choices you’ll also need to make is about the backing. While this is not the visible part of the carpet tiles that you’ll see every day, it certainly makes a difference to their feel and performance. In most instances, you’ll need to decide between three options:

Hard Backed Tile

In this instance, the carpet fibers are attached directly to a thin base of PVC. One one hand, this can make for a sensation of stability and security underfoot, and tends to be the lower-priced option. However, these are not always the most suitable choice for basements as there is no insulating layer to protect against the cold, or against rising moisture.

Closed Cell Cushion Tile

This option has a similar PVC backing to the hard backed variety, but is separated from the carpet fibers by a layer of compressed foam. This adds some insulating properties to the carpet tile, and the potential for shock-absorption extends the lifespan of the carpet. 

Open Cell Cushion Tile

Like the closed version, this type also has a foam layer sandwiched between the carpet fibers and the PVC backing. The key difference in this case is that the cells in the foam cushioning are not as densely packed. The core’s ability to inflate after being compressed underfoot means that it is a more comfortable, durable, and insulating carpet tile for basement floors. 

How Much do Carpet Tiles Cost? 

The cost of carpet tiles for basement floors generally comes down to these factors:

Cushioning

The more comfortable and insulated the tiles are, the higher the price tends to be. Hardback tiles can cost as low as $0.94 per square foot, while the open cell variety averages at around $3.20 per square foot.    

Locking

For additional stability, there is also the option for tiles that interlock. Some of these have a visible “jigsaw” appearance, others lock beneath the surface. These come in at around $2.80 per square foot

Sealant

When installing carpet tiles for basement refurbishment projects, it’s important to bear in mind that these rooms can be subject to greater degrees of cold and damp than other areas of your home. As such, it’s advisable to seal the floor with an epoxy concrete sealant before laying the tiles. A gallon of this can add around $26 to your budget. 

Adhesive

Many carpet tiles come with peel-and-stick adhesives already applied to the back, but this isn’t always the case. In fact, if your basement is particularly susceptible to damp climate or moisture, it’s important to apply your tiles using a moisture resistant adhesive. A gallon comes in at around $17.

Assuming that you have various accessories such as carpet knives, tape measures, trowels, and paint rollers already to hand, the average cost of carpet tiles for basement projects measuring 100 square feet is around $300. 

How to Install Carpet Tiles 

Basements can be notoriously tricky to remodel, but the good news is that carpet tiles are one of the more simple options when it comes to installation. Depending on the condition and shape of your basement, there can be some preparation involved, and if you have ambitious pattern plans it is essential to plan ahead.

For the most part, though, you’ll find installing carpet tiles for basement floors runs as follows: 

  • Remove Old Flooring — if you previously had full carpets, ceramic tiles, or vinyl you’ll need to remove this first. Use a scraper or pry bar to pull up all pieces of glued down materials. 
  • Make Repairs — assess the state of your basement floor; are there any cracks, holes, or dips? If so this could affect both the finish and safety of your carpet tiles. Use concrete filler or floor leveller to create a smooth, stable surface. 
  • Sweep and Clean — make sure that the area is free of dirt and dust that could interfere with the solid bonding or curing of your sealants and adhesives. Make sure the cleaning surfaces are entirely dry before beginning your installation. 
  • Apply Sealant — follow the manufacturer’s instructions, but this is usually applied by using a paint roller to spread evenly about the surface. Avoid walking on the wet sealant, and make certain the room is well ventilated while you’re occupying the space. 
  • Test Your Placement — if you’re using a complex pattern, it’s helpful to place the tiles as intended before committing to gluing them down. This way you can assess where adjustments need to be made. 
  • Install the Tiles — it’s advisable to start from the center point of the room and work your way out toward the edges. Work patiently, applying adhesive to one tile at a time, and press the tile firmly in place on the floor. Remember that until the adhesive has cured, the tile can still be subject to shifting, so be careful as you place the other tiles that you’re not inadvertently nudging others out of position.

Conclusion – Why Carpet Tiles?

The reason to choose carpet tiles for basement flooring is more than a simple budget-friendly consideration. Today, cushioned cores can help create a cosy underfoot feel, as well as insulate from cold and damp conditions. They’re easy to install, which makes them not only ideal for DIY enthusiasts, but also cuts down on labor costs. The variety of designs available means that you don’t just have to settle for drab squares, you can make your floor a key feature in your creative remodeling plans.