Natural Home & Garden: Cork and Bamboo

cork and bamboo floor

By: Michelle Graziose Webb, Live Green Online Magazine.

The floors of our homes and offices constitute nearly as much surface area as the walls that surround us. Just as more people are choosing healthy paints and natural materials for their walls, an increasing number of shoppers are choosing natural flooring materials that are environmentally friendly to both our indoor and outdoor environments.

Bamboo and cork have joined wool carpeting as popular, beautiful, affordable — and sustainable — flooring alternatives for families and businesses.

Bamboo is an Asian grass that matures in seven years, making its harvest very sustainable. After milling, drying and finishing, bamboo is harder than teak, according to Jerry Steele, owner of The Carpet Line in Boulder, CO, which sells a full line of ecological flooring.

But cork is Steele’s best-seller right now. “It is super-resilient, waterproof, and maintenance-free,” he explained. Most of the world’s cork comes from Portugal’s cork oak trees. Cork is the tree bark, sustainably harvested about once a decade, and is made into sheets for floor tiles.

Most cork is still harvested for wine and bottle stoppers. The famous monk Dom Perignon, the prestige cuvée of the giant Moët et Chandon Champagne house, first used cork stoppers in champagne bottles in the 17th century.

Cork floors have been popular in Europe for more than 100 years because of their durability and beauty, and can be seen in this country in many prestigious locations, including the Library of Congress. Cork is durable, easy to maintain and fire resistant. It is also well-insulated, antimicrobial and insect repellent.

Not all bamboo flooring is created equal, according to Steele. Typically sold in planks 3 or 6 feet long, the longer planks tend to be made by better manufacturers from more mature bamboo stalks. Also, most bamboo flooring mills only kiln-dry their material down to a 9-10% moisture content,which can make the flooring unreliable for dry climates. However, Natural Cork, Eco-Timber and Hanlite Bamboo (in Denver) kiln-dry down to 6-8%, which is more suitable for a wide range of climates.

Steele asserts that some mills use poor-quality adhesives that may not resist water and may contain high levels of urea-formaldehyde, or volatile organic compounds (VOC’s), which can off-gas. The best manufacturers use low-VOC European adhesives that meet or exceed the strict European E1 standard for indoor air quality.

Both cork and bamboo flooring costs about $ 5-7 per square foot for the materials.

When Sheri Goodman of Lafayette, Colorado was looking for new flooring to replace the unattractive and non-ecological vinyl floor in the kitchen of the home her family had purchased, she knew that she didn’t want ceramic tile because it caused things that fell to shatter.

The Carpet Line had a cork floor installed in their showroom that she and her husband could look at and walk on. She quickly fell in love with cork. Because her family has allergy issues, the fact that it is hypoallergenic, does not off-gas, and is impervious to moisture is what hooked her. It’s also water resistant and water repellant.

And contrary to many people’s concerns about cork, Goodman said that “It doesn’t look like a corkboard on the wall. It is beautiful and goes well with the colors in my kitchen.”

What “closed the sale” for her was that a moped had been ridden across the store’s cork floor to show its strength. Some oil had leaked from the moped onto the cork floor, but it wiped right off and did not stain.

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