Commercial Cork Flooring Options and Considerations

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Cork flooring has a long history of use in commercial applications, including offices, retail stores, restaurants, museums, gyms, and schools. Due to the springiness of cork, it is particularly favored for environments where people might stand for long periods of time. While commercial cork flooring of decades past were quite thick and were often refinished multiple times, as with hardwood flooring, today's cork flooring products are equally suitable for the commercial environment and are now available in click-together planks as well as traditional glue-down tiles.

Commercial-Grade Cork Planks

Cork plank flooring, sometimes called cork laminate, consists of click-together planks designed for "floating floor" installation that does not use adhesive or fasteners. Each plank has a think cork backing topped with a fiberboard core. The core is topped with a 3 mm cork veneer surface, which gets coated in a UV-cured polyurethane wear layer. The core layer has a tongue-and-groove edges that allow the planks to lock together during installation.

The advantage of these floors is that the wear layer will not scratch or stain, making this material very resilient. Installing the flooring is quick and easy, and the thick planks are relatively forgiving of minor imperfections in the subfloor surface. The click-together construction also makes it relatively easy to remove and replace a damaged section of the floor.

The primary disadvantage of cork planks in a commercial environment is that the wear layer will erode over time, and once it is gone the floor will quickly degrade. There are also some concerns about using a floating floor in a public location, as it will not be directly adhered to the subfloor, and may shift slightly when stepped upon.

Solid Cork Tile

Solid cork tiles are self-adhesive or glue-down squares of solid cork that are typically adhered directly to a subfloor. After the flooring is installed, the tiles and seams are treated with a barrier sealer to protect the floor from scratches and moisture penetration.

The problem with solid cork is that the surface treatment usually is not as resilient as the wear layer on cork planks, making it more susceptible to scratches and wear. On the flip side, solid tiles can be refinished multiple times, allowing you to sand out scratches and scuff marks and then varnish the floor to make it look like new. In high-traffic locations, a thicker material should be used so that repeated refinishing is possible.

Cork Tile Adhesive

Cork tile does not need a flexible adhesive because the material itself can stand the strains of stretching when it expands. However, it does require a very quick-drying adhesive. That is because the moisture in the mix can seep out into the cork and cause it to plump if it does not set and dry quickly enough. Generally, the best practice is to use a water-based contact cement applied to both the tile and the subfloor.

Cork Tile Finish

A sealing agent must be applied to protect the surface of solid-cork flooring. This is especially important in relatively high-traffic public locations. A standard treatment for commercial floors includes three coats of a tough water-based polyurethane finish applied after installation. Thereafter, the finish must be recoated as needed to maintain a proper seal and an attractive appearance.

Commercial Cork Wax Finish

Waxing a cork floor is generally not recommended because it requires regular maintenance using large, expensive equipment. But in some commercial applications, a wax finish can be used if the facility has access to a buffing machine and someone trained in its use.

Wax can create a nearly impervious coating over the cork and will slowly mar and scratch as time goes by. Periodic treatment with a buffer touches up the surface and makes it look like new. One important drawback of waxing is that once wax has been applied, the floor can no longer be refinished with polyurethane because the finish will not adhere properly.