Old House Journal|May 2020
These floors continue to evolve, adapting recycled and natural materials for flooring that looks better and lasts longer.
Mary Ellen Polson

Resilient floors—tiles or sheets of linoleum, cork, vinyl, rubber, or laminate—have a long history in American homes. Promoted as “miracle” surfaces in the early 20th century, this class of durable, nonabsorbent flooring is easy to clean, forgiving of wear and tear, and soft underfoot, able to bounce back from scuffs and abrasions with ease.

For decades, resilient flooring made from polyvinyl chloride (vinyl, for short) dominated the residential market. Vinyl is still with us, but that’s changing as manufacturers introduce a class of materials that are PVC- free. Called bio-flooring, the newer materials are made mostly from natural, sustainable products. Bio-tiles and -floors are intended as a more environmentally friendly alternative to luxury vinyl and plastic composite tile. Cork and linoleum arguably are, of course, the original bio-flooring materials.

Cork is renewable in that it’s harvested from the bark of living trees, every nine years or so. Most of today’s cork flooring is made from waste cork from wine stoppers, so it’s a recycled material, too. It’s available as tile or sheet flooring in a variety of textures, dozens of colors, and a multitude of sizes and shapes for creative pattern design; there are even ready-to-install cork inlays. The honeycombed cork tissue is airy and lightweight.

Although cork floating floors contain some fiberboard, glue-down cork tiles are usually 100% pure cork. When installed with a water-based contact adhesive, the tiles produce no VOCs and no off-gassing. Cork is comfortable to walk on, reduces sound and vibration, reduces heat loss, is anti-allergenic, and is insect- and fire-resistant. Inevitably, cork is making its way into new flooring products, too: Jelinek Cork, for instance, offers anti-slip floors made of recycled cork and rubber granules, as well as luxury vinyl floating floors with a cork underlayment.


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May 2020