20 Oct 2023
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Your dream home, by definition, is the best home you can imagine. To qualify for such a title, a home needs to be healthy for you, your loved ones, and the planet. That’s where cork flooring comes in. The beauty of cork as a building material is that it’s beautiful and oh-so-sustainable. 

For the discerning homeowner or designer, though, you’re probably wondering how cork gets from the Oak tree to your floors. Understanding the entire lifecycle of cork will give you peace of mind that your floors will feel great for your feet and for your environmental footprint.

 

Sustainable flooring options: The shift away from tradition

Traditionally, you’d probably find carpet on the bedroom floor and ceramic tiles in the bathroom and kitchen. While these materials are a part of your home, they have little effect on the environment. 

But outside your home is a different story. The waste and energy-heavy processes for making carpet and ceramic tiles are well-documented. As is their inability to break down. This issue highlights the need to consider the entire lifecycle of the products we choose. 

Cork and timber are both sustainable flooring options. Timber’s sustainability depends on where and how it’s sourced. Cork, meanwhile, is naturally eco-friendly. 

 

The lifecycle of sustainable cork flooring

Where does cork come from?

The sustainability of cork flooring starts at the very beginning. Cork comes from the bark of the Cork Oak tree, found primarily in forests in Portugal. Stripping a cork tree of its bark is a regenerative process. That’s part of what makes it sustainable. Once stripped, the tree takes around nine years to grow its bark back completely. 

Since a cork tree can live up to 200 years, the amount of cork harvested from one tree is impressive. And as it regrows its bark, it consumes up to five times more carbon emissions. Which spells sustainability in anyone’s language. 

 

How is cork harvested?

When a cork tree reaches maturity, skilled farmers carefully strip the bark with hand tools, using methods that limit harm to the tree. So the tree doesn’t get cut down or damaged in the process. These tools and methods have remained largely unchanged for centuries, which speaks to the sustainability of this practice. 

 

How is cork made?

Once harvest is over, the strips of bark are kept in piles outside to harden for up to a year. After this period, the farmers take the bark to processing factories, where it’s boiled. This step helps sterilise the bark and makes it flat and loose. 

Then, the cork is sorted into piles depending on quality. At this stage, the priority is cork stoppers. Think wine, though there are many other uses. Once the stoppers have been cut out, what’s left of the bark pieces and the bark deemed unsuitable for stoppers is ground into tiny granules and boiled. With the use of heat, pressure, and natural resins, the granules are bound together to make sheets. This step again highlights the sustainability of cork flooring, as it’s literally built from the off-cuts of wine stoppers. No pieces of bark go to waste.

Finally, the sheets are cut into various sizes and sealed for added water resistance and durability. Now, they’re ready to become a part of your dream home.  

Traditional cork flooring from Market Timbers with matching neutral furnishings in a living area.

 

Is cork recyclable?

Growing and harvesting cork is sustainable. Manufacturing cork is sustainable. But is it sustainable to use cork flooring in your home? The answer—perhaps unsurprisingly—is yes, though in a different way. 

Cork flooring’s sustainability comes from its effect on the rest of your home. As a natural insulator, cork helps keep your home cooler when the weather’s hot and warmer when it’s not. Over time, this translates to cheaper energy bills. Its insulating qualities also extend to sound; the result is less noise pollution from outside your home and between rooms inside your home. 

Cork’s hypoallergenic, antimicrobial qualities make it brilliant for sustaining a healthy home. And with routine care and maintenance, cork flooring lasts for years. 

As for the afterlife of cork flooring? Cork is biodegradable, which means it’ll break down safely over time. It’s also great for recycling and repurposing, both better alternatives to throwing it away. 

 

Make your home a sustainable dream with Market Timbers

At Market Timbers, we enjoy nothing more than showcasing the sustainable brilliance of cork products. From flooring to wall tiles and cladding, there’s really no limit to how you can transform your home when you choose cork. Our friendly, expert team can help with advice and inspiration, from installations to colourways. 

So, if you’re ready to take your building or renovation plans to the next level, get in touch or visit us at our showroom today!

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