We need flooring. We are finishing a part of the basement, and it’s time to decide what to do about the floors. My fears about flooring, carpet especially, all stem from the mold and chemical sensitivities of my husband and son. Of course, I worry about dust and other allergens, toxic glues, dyes, fabrics, and mold, but add to that the idea of putting it in the basement, and I become totally overwhelmed. Mostly, I worry about mold down there, because it is darker, danker and usually quite a bit colder than the rest of our home. I don’t have to contend with it much now, because it is unfinished space, and we just store things down there, but once it is finished, the kids will want to be down there, and I want it to be safe, usable space.
Because we haven’t decided exactly how to condition the space, I started to really look into flooring materials and options that can withstand humidity, and will not be cesspools for mold. That is when I discovered cork flooring.
Now before you write me off, please hear me out. I may enlighten you about ole’ cork: Cork is inherently antimicrobial, and mold and mildew resistant, due to the presence of suberin. Suberin is a naturally occurring substance that gives cork its waxy barrier. It repels dust, mold, bacteria, insects and even fire. If the surface that you are laying the floor on is even, cork flooring does not require a subfloor or any glue, which eliminates moisture seeping into the subfloor material and the potential toxic off-gassing of many flooring glues and adhesives. And, if you are a DIY family, like us, manufacturers now offer easy-to-install cork flooring in panels that snap together without glue or nails. If an area of the floor becomes stained or damaged, it can easily be cut out, and replaced. Variations in color or texture with the cork panels or tiles, just add to its character.
Suberin also makes cork relatively impermeable to moisture. If something spills on it, it can easily be wiped away. Any kind of soil is easily cleaned off as well. Now, as with any natural material, submerged or flooded cork floors would need to be dried out. Also, if your floors are in standing water for any prolonged amount of time, you need to treat them for mold, and you probably have a bigger problem that needs handling ASAP.
Unlike carpet, cork does not shed any irritating fibers and will not aggravate allergies. It has natural insulating properties and natural cushioning, so it is very quiet, and warm underfoot. In terms of sound, cork is oftentimes installed as wall and ceiling material in recording studio to absorb sound—no bouncing around, total sound absorption. So when my kids are playing and screaming, the sound won’t drive me crazy. One of its only drawbacks is its susceptibility to fading when placed in direct sunlight. Since it would be going in our basement, it is not a concern for us, but I wanted to mention it.
I could not believe that I had never heard of all of the positive aspects of cork. I don’t know that many people even consider it. It’s funny what having a husband who is vulnerable to mold and a chemically sensitive child will do for you on that front. Did you know that the floors in the Library of Congress are made of cork and are over 100 years old—I should say that they can hold up! Architect Frank Lloyd Wright was such a huge fan of cork that he used it on the walls and floors of the bathrooms in his famous Fallingwater home in PA . The home was built in the 1930s, and the bathrooms still have no odor or visible evidence of mold or mildew.
If you are wondering about cork maintenance and cleaning, it is easy: Use your broom, vacuum and/or Swiffer to remove the dust and dirt. Use warm water and a small amount of dish soap and dampen a sponge mop to surface clean. Use a clean, dry cloth to dry them, and allow to air dry the rest of the way. I would even squirt the floors with the EC3 Mold Solution Spray, and allow it to air dry. Then, they would be clean and mold free. We actually have friends with what they call the “rustic look” cork tiles in their kitchen. They claim that the cork hides stains too well sometimes. They have also used a Sharpie marker, on occasion, to cover a scratch. The variations in textures and colors of cork lend themselves to something in the same category as hotel room carpet, in the sense that stains tend to blend, for better or worse. I vote better when I’m the one maintaining it.
With prices ranging from $2 to $7 a square foot, and cheaper when on sale, I think that cork’s ability to last and withstand the elements makes it an economical option. Since it would be going in our basement, we would choose the traditional flecked variety at $3 per foot. When I priced out other flooring options, the only ones that were lower were vinyl and ceramic tile, both at 75 cents and up per square foot. Neither would be options for us in the basement, though—too cold! Carpet could be cheaper, with starting prices at $2 per foot, but I’m against having it in our basement, because of moisture and humidity concerns.
Armed with my new information and excitement, I’m set to convince my husband, and to begin cork flooring shopping. Stay tuned….