Cork flooring for thermal and acoustic insulation

Cork flooring is a natural and eco-friendly product, with moderate prices and an excellent thermal and acoustic insulation.

New cork comes in a wide and appealing range of colors and is more resistant to fade and to wear than older products.

Cork tile

Cork Flooring & Insulation and Energy Performance
Because it doesn't store heat and it doesn't affect the thermal lag, cork flooring…
» … is unsuitable for passive heating strategies.
» » … can reduce energy requirements in winter, in homes with poor solar heat gains (by providing comfort at floor level); its insulation value reduces heat transfer to the floor.
» Embodied energy
(energy required to produce cork): very low - an advantage from an energy efficiency standpoint
» Sustainability: high.

The advantages of cork flooring includes Natural thermal and accoustic insulation

Cork is a natural and renewable product, and undoubtedly one of the most eco-friendly flooring materials available (look for FSC certification). The bark of the cork tree is stripped every 10 years or so, without damaging the tree.

Cork is naturally water resistant, and also antimicrobial and fire-retardant.  Cork doesn’t mold and it is biodegradable at the end of its liftetime.

Cork flooring is also extremely easy to install and provides natural insulation - thermal and acoustic.

Thermal insulation (R-value) of cork flooring

Cork flooring miminizes conductive heat loss and gain, which can be an important advantage in some heating and cooling strategies. Cork is a natural insulator that prevents heat loss in the winter - and obviously heat gains (through the floor) during the summer.

Obviously, this advantage is not significant in insulated floors, and can be counterproductive in some heating and cooling strategies: in passive heating strategies, in cold and moderate climates, where the floor is used to store solar heat gains (the floor absorbs solar heat gains during the hotter parts of the day and releases them later, as temperatures fall and the heat is most needed); and also in passive cooling strategies, in hot climates, where the floor/slab is used to transfer heat to the ground (see Thermal Mass Walls and Floors).

Besides, we should also take into account the relatively low insulation value (R-value) of cork flooring: cork tile 1/4": R-0.28; Cork 1/2": R-1.18.

The low thickness of the floor covering doesn't make it an alternative to under-floor insulation. Uninsulated slabs are a common cause of energy waste, but cork flooring can't replace under-floor insulation. The function of cork flooring is basically to minimize heat transfer and make floors more comfortable to go barefoot or to walk on.

Acoustic insulation with cork flooring

Cork flooring can also be an appropriate choice to reduce noise, especially in rooms where noise control is an important issue.

Cork can reduce the sound level of percussion noises coming from people movement, dragging furniture, falling objects and so on - an important issue in appartments and lighter construction. For some purposes cork boards are installed between the floor covering and the slab. 

The thermal and acoustic insulation advantages of cork flooring should not Lead us to forget its possible disadvantages

The advantages of cork flooring - including its thermal and acoustic advantages - should not lead us to forget possible downsides.

New treatments and finishes make new cork flooring more resistant and durable, but do not expect miracles. Its properties and low density - given by millions of air-filled cells - can make cork flooring an advantageous option for thermal insulation or for acoustic purposes but it also makes cork flooring prone to scratching, indentation, yellowing, water problems and wear. Cork flooring requires careful maintenance and proper use. Cork is... the bark of the cork oak, a very common tree in countries like Spain, Portugal or Morocco. When its outer layer is removed, the bark regenerates and the tree can be harvested again in about nine years.

Spills should be wiped up quickly with a soft cloth, and you should sweep or vacuum the floor frequently, to avoid the buildup of damaging particles. Use also proper and large protectors under your furniture legs and chairs.

Manufacturers say that a well maintained cork floor can last decades, but they also warn for the need of regular maintenance (finishes should be reapplied periodically, say each 5-7 years). Whenever the floor starts to show signs of wear, you should re-coat it.

Manufacturers & Brands

The world's greatest manufacturer (Amorim group) stresses the insulation properties of cork. Cork flooring provides an inexpensive thermal insulation and acoustic option: prices are moderate, typically in the range $3-$7 per square feet.

Duo-design, Expand, Eco Floors, Glob us, Mill stead, Nova and Incandesce are well known brands.

Installation is also easy and inexpensive. Cork flooring is installed over smooth plywood surfaces, or glued directly over moisture-free concrete floor. Do not install the cork flooring directly over planks or over old vinyl or linoleum coverings. Flooring suppliers and manufacturers provide you with tips on cork flooring installation... A proper installation is important for insulation purposes.




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