Installing a floating cork or Marmoleum® floor is an eco-friendly way to refresh a room (or, in our case every room in the home) with economical, durable, hypoallergenic, renewable building materials that are also uniquely beautiful. This post highlights some of the benefits of cork and Marmoleum®, and lists top tips accumulated from my experience installing 10 rooms of cork flooring and 3 rooms of Marmoleum®. It also includes a quick slide presentation illustrating a range of DIY floor installations using these green building materials, and a video that follows the process step-by-step as good friends and I installed two floors at their home in Madison, Wisconsin on Super Bowl weekend (yes, we finished both floors in a weekend and still made it to a Super Bowl party).
Floating cork and Marmoleum® planks have many special attributes that make them a great choice for a flooring upgrade.
Renewability – Cork is a renewable resource that can be harvested once every nine years from the bark of cork oak trees found in the Mediterranean region. Marmoleum® is a natural linoleum made primarily from linseed oil extracted from the abundant flax plant, which is then mixed with pine rosins and wood flour obtained through controlled forestry. The visible surface of a cork plank differs in construction and appearance from that of a Marmoleum® plank. However, the remaining structure of the plank for both products consists of a renewable cork core and underlayer, between which is sandwiched a stabilizing core consisting of high density fiber (HDF).
Durability. Cork planks are, perhaps counter-intuitively, very durable and resilient flooring materials. Marmoleum®, with its rosin-bound surface, is even more durable than cork. Three years ago, when we moved into our 1952-built house, we discovered that it had original cork flooring under very worn carpet that we planned to replace. We were excited at first by the prospect of removing the carpet and restoring the original cork. This would have been quite feasible were it not for a few permanent stains from liquid spills on the carpet that had damaged the cork in prominent areas, and the removal and replacement of carpet tack strips over time which had pulled up and broken cork tiles of a vintage that could no longer be replaced. So, we did the next best thing…removed the carpet and placed a new floating cork floor over the original cork. This floor now shows some scratches where our border collie rounds the corner into the kitchen at a high rate of speed to head outside, and there is a small dent where something heavy was dropped in the dining room – typical wear and tear that would also show up on wood floors under similar circumstances. However, we have been so impressed with the overall value and durability of cork that we recently installed it throughout one of our rental properties, albeit a brand with a thicker profile and more coats of finish than that installed in our own home (Eco-Cork “Verde” by Natural Cork in our home, Provincial Cork Collection “Labrador” by Westhollow Cork Flooring in our rental property).
Affordability. Prices for cork planks typically range from $3.00 to over $7.00 per square foot, depending upon manufacturer, style and source. Marmoleum® ranges from $4.00 to $6.00 depending primarily on who you purchase it from. These prices are comparable to mid-grade carpeting on the low end, and more premium ceramic tile or wood floors at the higher end of the range. We sourced our Eco-Cork “Verde” style from a Natural Cork distributor in Fort Collins for $5.00 a square foot, which is very close to what our friends in Madison paid for the same brand/style of cork from a flooring store in Madison. We sourced the Westhollow “Labrador” cork for $3.49 per square foot from www.ifloor.com. Our friends in Madison obtained their Marmoleum® for $3.99 per square foot from Green Building Supply, free shipping included. Google is your friend in terms of finding good deals. Ultimately, the best decision on how to purchase will come down balancing the size of your project, material pricing, freight costs, and the benefits of buying from a local outlet verses the additional cost of doing so (if any).
Hypoallergenic, non-toxic. Cork contains the natural compound suberin, which repels mites and other insects, and also guards again rotting, mold and mildew. It comes pre-finished with an acrylic coating, so there is no need to worry about VOC’s that could be associated with sealing it in your home after installation. As discussed above, much of the Marmoleum® plank cross section consists of cork, and the veneer surface is a natural linoleum, so it is similarly hypoallergenic. Neither cork or Marmoleum® trap dust and dirt, and both are extremely easy to clean, furthering their allergy-resistant nature. Also, there are no toxic adhesives involved with installation.
Reusability. A great benefit of a floating, snap-fit, tongue-and-groove flooring is that it can easily be disassembled in the future, moved to another location, and re-installed. Try doing that with a wood floor or ceramic tile! This aspect had special appeal for us when we were investigation flooring to replace the worn carpet in our home. We have a long term plan to do a significant renovation in the future, and rental properties to which we could transfer any of our cork and Marmoleum® that might be replaced when that plan comes to fruition.
Style. A quick browse through the slide presentation, or the Natural Cork or Marmoleum® websites will give you a sense for the variety of looks you can achieve with cork and Marmoleum®. The sky is truly the limit.
Comfort. The cellular nature of cork, which contains a significant amount of trapped air, provides unique benefits that make it a very comfortable flooring surface. Specifically, cork insulates and feels warm and soft underfoot. It also deadens sound, making rooms less noisy than they would be with wood or tile floors. Marmoleum® shares these properties due to its cork content, although the surface itself is harder than a cork surface.
Low-maintenance. Manufacturers and retailers of these floor types have a variety of recommended cleaning and maintenance procedures and products. We have found that our cork and Marmoleum® floors are easily cared for by vacuuming with a brush attachment and damp mopping from time to time (Swiffer or similar).
You don’t have to be a skilled tradesperson to lay these floors and have them turn out great – I’m proof of that. For the most part, following the manufacturers instructions, watching the video and others like it available on You Tube, and applying some common sense will get you through the project trauma-free. So rather than bore you with a step-by-step laundry list, I’ll give you a few hot tips that will make your installation go more smoothly than my first few did.
Roto-ZipTM It. If you will be working up to existing trim and doorways, a Roto-ZipTM tool with X-Shield attachment and circular blade for wood cutting is a sweet tool to add to your collection. You can buy a bundled version with everything you need at a wide variety of retail or e-tail outlets for $150, and it will have many other great uses for future home projects. Even if you remove base trim (be sure to remember to number or letter pieces to make replacement easier), the Roto-ZipTM will help you get clean fits around doorways and transitions.
Get a Simple SolutionsTM Kit. Absolutely, positively spend $15 to get the floor tapping kit from Simple SolutionsTM. The tapping block is much better than those available for purchase from the flooring manufacturers, the plastic shims are a great deal easier to work with than typical wood shims, and the “S-Tool” makes the otherwise difficult task of connecting edge and final corner pieces a breeze. You can find this kit at Home Depot, Sam’s Club and the like.
Common Sense Floor Prep. Manufacturers and retailers will specify a variety of subfloor preparation measures and underlayment products. Use your good judgment here. One of the floors we laid in Madison, where the summer climate is quite humid, was going down on backer board over slab-on-grade concrete, so we placed 4 mil polyethylene sheeting between the backer board and the Marmoleum®. In Fort Collins’ high desert climate, I have laid several floors in slab-on-grade environments with no moisture barrier and they are performing very well. When in doubt, err on the side of caution and use underlayment. Also, if you can make the grades work out, and you aren’t replacing carpeting, laying directly over the old flooring is a great way to keep stuff out of the landfill.
Plan it Twice, Lay it Once. Just like a tile job, you will need to carefully plan your starting point and determine how your resulting edges and edge cuts will turn out. I suggest doing this using math and measurement, and then double-checking by connecting pieces from edge to edge of the room to verify your math.
Watch Your Tongue…and groove condition closely. Any pieces of debris on the tongue or within the groove will keep the planks from fitting together tightly and leave visible cracks in your floor, so make sure joining edges are debris-free before tapping. It is also easy as the job wears on to space out a bit and tap with the wrong side of the tapping tool, which will break down the tongue or groove and have a similar effect to debris. When (not if) this happens to you, simply take a box cutter or similarly sharp tool, restore the tongue and groove to a clean edge, and remove any fragments from within the groove.
Have Fun! Working with my good friends Steve and Jana on the floors in their home, and enjoying a couple of fine Mai Bock beers from Madison’s Capital Brewery along the way definitely made floor installation enjoyable. So pick up your favorite local brew (ideally from a sustainability-minded brewery like Odell Brewing Company or New Belgium Brewing Company here in Fort Collins) and get corkin’.