Why You Should Use Cork Flooring for Basements

Learn why cork is a great flooring option for your basement.

A basement with cork flooring

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Installing a new floor in the basement is a great DIY project that can improve the look of your home and make the floor more comfortable to walk on. Cork is a good choice for a basement floor for many reasons, including a relatively low cost. Additionally, cork is a renewable, naturally occurring, and easy to replenish material that is harvested from the bark of cork oak trees. The living trees don't need to be cut down to harvest the cork, so you don't need to worry about the environmental implications as much as you would with materials that are harvested from rainforests or old-growth forests.

Cork can be installed anywhere in the home, but due to drawbacks, like a vulnerability to dents, scratches, and fading, cork flooring is best for the basement where there is typically less foot traffic and harmful UV radiation from direct sunlight. Find out more about why you should use cork flooring for basements and if this material is right for your home.

Pros and Cons of Cork Flooring in Basements

Before deciding to install a cork floor in the basement, it's necessary to consider the pros and cons of this material to figure out if this is the right choice or if you should be looking for a different flooring material.

Pro
  • Eco-friendly, renewable material

  • Hypoallergenic and antimicrobial

  • Natural insulator

  • Affordable and easy to install

Con
  • Low durability material can be dented or scratched

  • Heat expansion can buckle the planks

  • Fades in direct sunlight

  • Vulnerable to high humidity and moisture

Cork flooring has many environmental benefits over hardwood, vinyl, or laminate because it is harvested from living trees without lasting environmental damage. It's also a hypoallergenic material with antimicrobial properties, reducing the risk of mold and mildew growth.

However, cork is highly vulnerable to humidity and moisture. If the cork flooring is exposed to high levels of humidity or water, it will absorb the moisture, causing the flooring to swell and become permanently misshapen. Similarly, heat can cause the cork floor to expand and buckle, so you need to ensure there is an expansion gap around the border of the flooring to avoid this problem.

Once installed, cork flooring is a great insulator for both sound and temperature. It's also one of the more affordable flooring options available. Just keep in mind that cork flooring will fade over time if it's exposed to sunlight, though this isn't as much of an issue for a basement floor. Additionally, cork is a softer flooring material that is great to walk on, but it's relatively easy to dent or scratch with heavy furniture, so it's important to protect the floor with rugs, furniture pads, and other surface protectors.

Types of Cork Flooring

There are two main types of cork flooring. Click-and-lock floating planks are the best option for DIY installations and glue-down tiles, which are better for professionals.

Click-and-Lock

If you plan to handle the bulk of the work on your own, then it's recommended to invest in click-and-lock cork flooring. This type of cork floor is similar to laminate or vinyl flooring, in that the planks are designed to click together and this material can be installed over an existing floor or subfloor. Use a layer of foam underlayment between the cork click-and-lock flooring and the subfloor to soften any imperfections.

Glue-Down

As the name implies, glue-down cork flooring needs to be glued directly to the subfloor, which means that if the subfloor has dips or bumps, these imperfections will be visible through the cork. Additionally, glue-down cork flooring comes in a wide range of colors and shapes, including triangles, stars, and diamonds. This flexible design makes glue-down cork flooring a great choice for creating mosaics and detailed showpiece patterns, but this material is more difficult to install than click-and-lock. For the best results, it's recommended to hire a professional cork floor installer if you are working with glue-down cork flooring.

Cork Flooring Styles

Cork flooring can be found in several styles, including dramatic veining, staggered stripes, faux stone, classic cork, versatile shade, tile effect, and faux wood.

  • Dramatic veining is a cork flooring style with a marble pattern. It uses a darker color for the base and highlights the marble pattern with lighter tones that stand out from the background.
  • Staggered stripe flooring looks exactly as it sounds. The cork features straight, horizontal stripes that are staggered with dark, mid, and light tones.
  • Faux stone cork is designed to mimic the appearance of stone tiles. It has the same texture as standard cork flooring, but subtle changes in color give the impression that the faux stone isn't completely smooth.
  • Classic cork flooring has been used for decades. It has a neutral wood tone and the natural dark spots and imperfections of the cork bark used to make the flooring material.
  • Faux tile cork flooring is similar to many vinyl flooring products that look like marble. granite, or slate tiles.
  • Faux wood is a great option if you want to use a renewable resource to update your home without sacrificing the appearance of hardwood. This style of cork flooring mimics the natural wood grain of fine hardwood floors.

Cost of Cork Flooring

When it comes to cost, cork flooring is a good option if you are looking to save on the price of a basement floor installation. Typically, prices for cork flooring ranges from about $2 to $12 per square foot based on the style, type, and thickness of the material. Even professional installation is relatively inexpensive, adding about $2 per square foot to the price. On average, you can expect to pay about $900 to $1,000 for a 100 square foot room, though experienced DIYers can save on installation costs by tackling this job without hiring a pro.

Tip

Proper substrate preparation such as fixing cracks or un-level areas will aid in a great start to your flooring installation.

Maintaining Cork Floors

As mentioned above, cork flooring isn't the most durable option. It's vulnerable to moisture, dents, and scratches, so proper maintenance is important. Simply sweeping or vacuuming the floor on a regular basis can remove a lot of dirt and debris, like small stones, that may otherwise get ground into the floor.

You can also help to protect the floor by using area rugs and furniture pads to prevent sharp or heavy objects from denting or scratching the cork. If the floor does get damaged, you can use wood filler or putty that matches the color of the cork to fix any divots. Even more serious damage to the floor can be repaired by sanding and refinishing the cork floor, similar to sanding and refinishing a hardwood floor. Just make sure to apply a finish sealer to help protect the cork from spills and staining.