When the topic of sustainable flooring comes up, there are two types that dominate the discussion: bamboo and cork.
Both flooring types are made from renewable resources, are attractive, and at the same time, durable, low-maintenance, and even cost-effective. If you are aiming for a LEED-certified home renovation, bamboo and cork may qualify for credits.
Bamboo and cork floors are very flexible in terms of which rooms you can install them in: they can withstand the moisture issues in the kitchen and bath, and look warm and inviting in your living spaces. They also have similar price tags, at an average of about $6 to $8 per square foot. If you like variety, both types deliver, as they are available in a wide range of tones from light honey all the way to dark ebony.
What Bamboo Flooring Is
A very rapidly renewable resource, bamboo grows much faster than hardwood trees and can be harvested after about five years. Stalks of bamboo—which is technically a grass—are split and reformed into planks, and their natural striations create a beautiful texture. You may choose between a horizontal or vertical grain, depending on your aesthetic preferences.
Bamboo flooring is a popular choice for many homeowners because it is durable, sustainable, and attractive. Bamboo is also very hard, making it suitable for use in high-traffic areas like kitchens and hallways. Bamboo's hardness makes it a good choice for homes with pets.
Bamboo flooring comes pre-finished in a variety of styles and colors. Bamboo flooring is installed by gluing or nailing it to a subfloor.
Despite all the praise for bamboo, not all planks are created equal. Many manufacturers harvest the stalks before they are fully mature, resulting in a weaker product. Additionally, some use filler between the bamboo strips to cut costs and use binders that can emit toxic chemicals over time.
Bamboo Flooring Pros and Cons
- Extremely strong and durable material that's resistant to wear and tear
- Environmentally friendly and highly renewable
- Attractive, with a unique, natural look
- Easy to maintain with regular sweeping and damp mopping
- More expensive than many other types of residential floor coverings
- More difficult for do-it-yourselfers to install because it must be nailed or glued down
- Sensitive to changes in moisture and humidity
What Cork Flooring Is
Cork is not just for plugging bottles; it also makes for attractive flooring material. Cork is highly sustainable and it is likely the only type of floor where the tree does not need to be cut down in the harvesting process.
The bark is simply stripped from Mediterranean cork oak trees and regenerates within a few years without damaging the tree. The manufacturing process is low waste: some cork flooring is actually made from the scraps from bottle stopper production. The cork is ground into small particles, which are then mixed with a binding agent and pressed into planks or tiles. The planks or tiles are finished with a protective top layer.
Cork flooring is known for its durability, versatility, and sustainability. Cork flooring is a popular choice because it is soft, cushioned, and comfortable to walk on. Cork is naturally resistant to mold, mildew, and insects.
Cork flooring material has experienced a resurgence in popularity in recent years, but some may view it as looking dated. However, manufacturers provide a wide variety of textures and surface patterns, many of which look very modern, aside from the traditional grain. Plus, if you opt for tiles, you can arrange them in endless configurations.
Cork Flooring Pros and Cons
- Soft, cushiony, and comfortable for standing on for long periods of time.
- Resists wear and tear with proper maintenance
- More sustainable and renewable than even bamboo
- Absorbs sound
- Naturally resists water—after all, cork does float on water
- Can be more difficult to install than other types of flooring as it is a unique product
- Sensitive to moisture
- Sealed cork resists staining but it can still be susceptible to staining if it is not properly sealed
The Bottom Line
Ultimately, your flooring decision comes down to personal taste or lifestyle. If you prefer a material similar to traditional wood flooring, bamboo might be right for you. If comfort is your priority, nothing beats cork.
Both bamboo and cork are praise-worthy flooring choices for many reasons beyond their eco-friendly statuses.