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Last edited 18 Sep 2020
The term ‘flooring’ refers to the lower enclosing surface of spaces within buildings. This may be part of the floor structure, such as the upper surface of a concrete slab or floor boards, but typically it is a permanent covering laid over the floor. There are many types of flooring materials available.
Resilient flooring is loosely defined as flooring manufactured from elastic materials. Products made out of these materials share certain characteristics - they are durable and firm, but they also offer a degree of 'bounce' or resilience. Cork is one type of resilient flooring. It is also one of the natural components used in linoleum flooring.
 History of cork
The Ancient Greeks and Romans used cork in construction, insulation and other applications that required building materials that were strong, plentiful, water resistant and buoyant. In the 1700s, these properties brought cork to the forefront as the ideal material for wine bottle stoppers.
As flooring, cork was used in Spanish and Portuguese cathedrals built in the 1800s. As some of the primary producers of the world’s cork, these countries had an abundance of the material, which was also used in shipbuilding and in the production of other nautical materials.
 Cork flooring applications
It was re-introduced as a flooring product around 1900, and became one of the most popular resilient flooring options. In North America, it was used in the Library of Congress in Washington, DC (built in the 1890) and the old Toronto Stock Exchange (built in the early 1900s).
Cork was also a frequent choice for Frank Lloyd Wright, including in one of his best-known projects - Fallingwater. Because of their warmth and colour, cork tiles were requested by the wealthy Kaufmann family for both the floors and the walls of the six bathrooms in the house.
Cork flooring also became popular as an everyday flooring in homes built during the 1920s to 1940s. Its characteristics also made it a common choice for restaurants, gymnasiums, libraries or other facilities where resiliency and quiet were important. In addition, cork’s water and mildew resistance made it suitable for spaces such as basements and bathrooms.
In these earlier instances, cork tiles were large and solid. They could be sanded and finished just like hardwood floors and were extremely durable. Over time, manufacturers reduced the thickness of the cork tiles and added decorative veneers, which were not always structurally viable. Sales of cork flooring dropped as a result of this and other issues.
 Cork flooring characteristics
As a sustainable, water resistant, fire resistant and even insect resistant material, cork flooring has regained its popularity through modern reengineering and improved installation methods. Modern cork flooring can be clicked and locked together in the same way as laminates. They can also be glued down.
- Sweeping and vacuuming to prevent the accumulation of debris (which can scratch surfaces).
- Keeping the floor relatively dry (despite its water resistant nature, cork can be damaged by water that is left in puddles). Washing with a damp towel is a preferred method of cleaning.
Other important care considerations:
- Floor mats should be used for water prone areas such as entrances or in front of sinks.
- Window coverings should be used to protect cork from extended exposure to sunlight.
- Furniture pads can be used to protect cork from indentations caused by heavy furniture.
There are long-term measures that can be taken to make cork surfaces more durable. Sealing (often with an invisible ultraviolet protective type of polyurethane) can help protect cork floors from UV degradation, water and other damaging stains. Some floors come prefinished with protective sealant, but may require reapplication on a regular basis (once every year or two).
At the end of its life, cork can be recycled.
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