For decades flooring choices in the UK have been dictated by price, often resulting in a poorly performing product which not only has a short lifespan but also a total disregard towards the environment and the sustainability of the product.
Fortunately trends are changing, companies are becoming increasingly aware that there are real alternatives for both domestic and commercial applications and there is only one material which is sustainable, renewable, recyclable and naturally regenerates every 9 years – cork!
What is cork?
Cork is the outer bark of the cork oak tree (Quercus suber L.) and is a 100% natural, reusable and recyclable material.
Cork consists of suberin cells in the shape of tiny pentagonal or hexagonal honeycombs which are filled with an air-like gas, which makes up 90% of its volume. It possesses an average density of around 200 kg/m3 and has a naturally low thermal conductivity.
Where is cork from?
Cork trees are grown throughout the Western Mediterranean basin with Portugal being is the largest producer, yielding around 65% of the world’s supply in 2020.
The unique harvesting process, is carried out by highly skilled professionals, doesn’t damage or even require the trees to be felled. Instead, the harvesting process, which is known as stripping, is done by hand using specialist axes to peel the cork from the trunk.
On average it takes 25 years for a cork tree to establish itself before it can be harvested for the first time, and thereafter the tree is stripped of its bark every 9 years with an expected lifespan around 200 years – giving around 18 harvests per tree.
The first two harvests yield lower grade material known as virgin cork and secundeira cork. This material isn’t wasted, instead it is used as a raw material for insulation, flooring as well as construction and aerospace projects.
As the tree ages the cork bark regenerates, acquiring a smoother texture after every harvest. It is only after the third harvest when the tree is approximately 40 – 45 years old that the cork can be used for prestige wine stoppers and long-term ageing – this cork is known as amadia.
Cork oak trees have a unique ability to absorb CO2 from the atmosphere – a greenhouse gas that causes global warming and climate change.
The unique 9-year cork harvesting process enables cork trees to absorb up to five times more CO2 than non-harvested trees, thus helping to reduce the Global Warming Potential (GWP).
On average, for every tonne of cork produced the cork forest can capture a staggering 73 tonnes of CO2.
What’s more, cork continues to retain its CO2 even after it has been manufactured into cork flooring!
Benefits of Cork Flooring
Cork flooring is not just about the incredible environmental or sustainability benefits, but also the unique honeycomb cellular structure of cork which provides unprecedented natural comfort and insulation and has yet to be replicated by any other material.
With the growing trend for open plan areas, sound insulation is becoming an even more important factor in all projects, particularly with the popularity for exposed hard surfaces which often reverberate sound back into the room.
Cork floors actively absorb and breakdown the sound waves within the cell walls, thereby reducing reverberation and making it the perfect choice for offices, bars, restaurants or even children’s bedrooms.
On average cork floors are 53% quieter to walk on than other hard floor coverings and can absorb around 40% of the sound generated by the human voice.
Cork flooring is not only a good acoustic insulator but is also one of the world’s oldest thermal insulators with over 40 million cells per cubic centimetre creating a very low thermal conductivity material, this is perfect for retaining heat and minimising heat loss.
Not only do cork floors never feel cold to the touch but specifying a cork floor can also offer significant savings when paired with a compatible heating system, due to the minimal heat loss through to the subfloor.
Antistatic and Hypoallergenic
Cork floors are the perfect choice for any asthma or allergy sufferers as the closed cell structure of the cork does not absorb dust or dust mites. This ensures that cork floors are an extremely hygienic option which ensures excellent indoor air quality.
Cork is also naturally antistatic which makes it suited to static sensitive environments.
Cork is an especially elastic and resistant material thanks to its highly flexible cells, making it very elastic and compressible. This elasticity in a floorcovering decreases the pressure on the feet, legs, joints and back helping to minimise shocks as well as reducing fatigue – particularly important for those standing for long periods.
Cork is a naturally waterproof material due to the inherent suberin with the cork cells which makes it a perfect option for use in kitchens, bathrooms and areas requiring regular cleaning.
Cork flooring is no longer restricted to the traditional square tile format, with a highly polished finish and the rich golden-brown tiles we all remember from our childhood.
Cork floors are now available in a wide range of designs giving subtle aesthetic nuances from traditional natural veneers, through to minimalist linear and fashionable designs that replicate the look of polished concrete.
Colour is just as important with cork floors as any other floorcovering, with a complete colour spectrum available from ice whites, soft greys, warm browns right through to striking midnight blacks.
Plank formats now dominate the cork flooring market offering an uncluttered and contemporary style perfect for renovation projects, whilst the traditional square format tiles are still manufactured for heritage projects and for those wanting a retro vibe.
Striking designs can be produced from the combination of multiple tile sizes and colours integrated into a single floor or even traditional wood floor patterns such as herringbone or basket weave can be laid, to offer a twist on a traditional floor.
Cork flooring doesn’t even need to look like cork either, with a wide variety of stone and wood visuals to rival any LVT or SPC flooring range too, you can have all the benefits of cork whilst retaining the visual of oak, walnut, limestone or marble.
Decades of Research and Development has introduced a completely new range of engineered multi-layered cork flooring, which enables an effortless installation process, with all the benefits of a click jointing system.
Glue-less installations are possible with the advent of rigid core technology offering unprecedented stability within cork tiles which are just 7mm thick – an idea which was believed impossible just 3 years ago.
Although recommended to be fitted by a professional installer, the new multi-layer cork floors are the quickest and easiest to fit ever.
Sustainability is one of the founding principles of Puretree Cork and whether you are specifying a cork floor for a domestic or commercial application, we can offer a diverse range of eco-friendly designs to suit all interiors and budgets.
Our flagship Inspire range is available with both cork and wood visuals, encompassing decades of research and development, to create a 100% waterproof floor, which is easy to install as well as being carbon negative – with every square metre retaining a huge 101Kg of CO₂.
We believe that cork flooring isn’t just about making an environmental statement, it is all about utilising an incredible natural material which will improve your wellbeing through its unique acoustic, thermal and shock absorption properties whilst its closed cell structure ensures a hypoallergenic surface, at the same time as helping to improving indoor air quality.
We have a clear focus on manufacturing and supplying ecological products that meet the demands of the current climate, which is why we are the only cork company in the UK to be certified by the Forest Stewardship Council® – FSC®. This gives us the unique ability to supply FSC® certified cork products with full traceability – an absolute must for many high street retailers and government projects.