When it comes to flooring, most people are familiar with hardwood floors, but not as many have heard of cork flooring. We tend to think of cork as something only found in a wine bottle, but it is also a great flooring material. How does it compare to hardwoods though? Both have advantages and disadvantages when used as flooring depending on your home’s traffic areas and the type of furniture you own. Here is a comparison to see if hardwood or cork flooring is better suited for your home.
Depends on the type, but overall very durable.
Durable, but prone to punctures and vulnerable to moisture.
Sweep daily, vacuum weekly.
Sweep daily, vacuum weekly.
Depends on the type, but generally $10+ per square foot.
Depends on the type, but generally $8+ per square foot.
With proper maintenance, they can last up to 100 years.
Even with proper maintenance, cork will only last up to 25 years.
Yes but is vulnerable to scratches and spills.
Yes but is vulnerable to scratches and spills.
Some people may find the cost of hardwood flooring a turn off making the cost of cork floors more appealing. The cost of cork flooring runs more in line with other types of flooring which is a bit less than hardwood. In comparison to other flooring options like carpeting, hardwood can cost about three times more which can be a deal breaker to some homeowners. Cork can run $5 or more less per foot than hardwoods, so it is a definite winner in this category.
Durability is a huge factor when choosing flooring. It doesn’t matter how much you love the look of a floor, if it isn’t going to hold up very long, it really isn’t worth putting in. You want the flooring to look the same a year after you have it installed, especially if you’ve paid a lot to have it put in. Whatever you end up choosing, you want to know that it will last a while and that you are getting value out of it.
Both of hardwood and cork floors need regular cleaning, so the finish stays protected. You will also need to have a complete refinishing every one to three years. Similar to cars, flooring needs maintenance or they become damaged.
Typically, hardwoods are damaged less than cork flooring. Keep in mind that it is still easy to scratch a hardwood floor since they are soft. Cork is well-known for its softness, which is great when putting it in a wine bottle, but it can be its weakness when used as flooring. Since it is softer, you can easily pierce through cork floors with high heels or a furniture leg. Debris and dust even have the potential to scratch cork flooring by causing friction if it’s not cleaned regularly.
However, cork does stand up well against moisture, even if it doesn’t do well with high heels. It also has a durability advantage against wine spills, since it's proven its success at sitting in wine all these years. Cork is also more resilient than hardwood retaining the ability to spring back to its original form in most cases of damage. Hardwoods, on the other hand, will not regain its original form and will retain that dent or scratch forever.
Since we all know that cork is soft enough to put in a bottle, cork is also spongy enough to be good on your joints when you walk on it. Although it is hard enough to use as a floor, it is also soft enough to cushion your feet. In comparison, hardwood flooring is harder and not as good for your legs, back, and feet.
Noise and sound insulation are not always something you think of when you talk about floors. In this case, hardwoods will make sound and noise echo and also be cold on your feet in the winter. Cork, on the other hand, is spongy so it will absorb noise and sound as well as cold air that pushes in along your floor. Obviously, you can always use an area rug to help with the warmth factor, but if you have a cork floor, you won’t have to.
If you are into eco-friendly alternatives, cork is a choice that many people have turned to for flooring. Hardwood floors require lots of trees being cut down and then cut up to make a floor. In comparison, cork is a renewable resource where they only have to remove the tree’s bark instead of cutting down an entire tree. The bark grows back over time making it more sustainable than cutting down trees for hardwoods and replanting which can take years for another harvest.
If you have allergies, you are always looking to avoid anything that makes you sneeze. Carpets are something most people with allergies avoid, but not everyone considers if hardwood or cork flooring causes allergies issues as well. In this case, both cork and hardwoods rate about the same. Since they both can be easy to clean with a broom or mop, you can easily get rid of pet dandruff, pollen, and dust.
As far as appearance, hardwood flooring has an edge, since there are a lot of choices. You can choose wood flooring from a wide range of wood species giving you a lot more diversity when it comes to wood selection than you get with cork. Plus, you will get textures that vary a lot from satin finishes that are shiny to hand-scraped finishes. Typically, hardwoods are considered the higher-end choice that is usually considered better looking.
Keep in mind that cork still has options. There might not be a lot of varieties, but you can buy cork in either tiles or planks. You still have a range of colors, sizes, and styles to pick from, and it’s possible to play around with designs and use cork colors that alternate to develop a more modern pattern. Those looking for a trendier look will find cork to be the better-looking choice.
Both cork and wood flooring does not require a ton of maintenance. They are easily taken care of with just a broom and a mop. They both do require vacuuming, sweeping, or mopping at least once a week. This primarily gets all the allergens out of your house and helps your floor last a long time.
Keep in mind that both floors, but cork especially, can be worn down by debris and dust. You also will need to refinish both floors more often if you aren’t keeping up with regular maintenance.
Refinishing will also need to be done occasionally, even if you keep up with weekly cleaning. Think of the finish like the wax that is on a car that needs to be kept up regularly. The wax protects the appearance but will wear off. Depending on which floor you have and how much traffic you have in your home, how often you have to refinish your floor will vary, but it’s pretty common to have to do it at least every three years.
If you live in certain areas of the country, you know how much damage can be caused by termites. Termites love destroying homes, and, if you have had termites before, you know there isn’t anything they won’t eat. This includes your flooring. It is always a good idea to be proactive and choose flooring that termites aren’t interested in.
Fortunately, both hardwood and cork aren’t high up on a termite’s preference list. Since cork is usually covered with a coating like wax, it has a natural repellent to termites. Since hardwood is wood, termites may still find it appealing, however, they can be turned off by its hardness. Termites have a preference for softwood, so hardwood flooring can still be a safe choice.
Pros and Cons of Cork
- Cork is very comfortable to walk on. When you walk on really hard floors, there is a vibration in your tendons and muscles that hurt your upper and lower back as well as your legs and feet and create tension. Cork flooring has a natural flexibility that feels great on our bodies when we walk on them.
- Cork also has a good lifespan since they have a liquid-resistant property that makes it less inclined to rot. This makes it a great choice for outdoor areas, bathrooms, and kitchens. It also features a honeycomb structure that makes it shock-absorbent and perfect for areas with high traffic. Cork also naturally repels insects and small vermin. Containing a waxy substance called suberin, it is resistant to the colonization and grown of organisms and can create a healthy environment.
- Installing cork flooring is also a good way to reduce noise. Cork acts as a natural sound absorber effectively cutting noise in your home. If you are looking for a way to install a natural noise buffer between each floor, cork flooring is your answer.
- Cork flooring also stays nice and warm, all year long. You won’t need rugs to keep your feet warm since cork can retain heat. Plus, it will help reduce allergies since it doesn’t absorb mites or dust and is easy to clean with a damp mop or regular vacuuming with a hardwood vacuum.
- Cork is also easy to install. Since the tiles often come with a self-adhesive back, it’s basically a peel and stick installation. Once installed, you just need to apply a couple of layers of sealer. Plus, when a tile is damaged, you can easily lift it up and replace it.
- While a cork floor has a long lifespan, there are few examples of it lasting more than 50 years without a problem. Most manufacturers will only guarantee it for about 15 years.
- Installation can also be a problem. If your subfloor isn’t properly prepared, you can have problems in the future. The subfloor should always be level, dry, and clean before cork flooring is laid.
- Since it is a pretty soft wood, cork can get scratched or fade in sunlight, but that’s the same with any type of wood floor. On the plus side, it can be refinished if necessary.
Pros & Cons of Hardwood Floors
- Durability is one of the main advantages of hardwood floors. They are known to stand the test of time since you can find 100-year-old homes that still have their original flooring. It just needs the right care including vacuuming, sweeping, and periodic cleaning with a wood floor cleaner.
- They also bring value to any home since a buyer will pay more for a home that comes with hardwood floors. Plus, they help homes sell faster than homes that have carpeting. Hardwood floors are considered an upgrade by builders, carpet isn’t.
- Hardwoods also go with any type of décor from modern to traditional. Since you can get it in many different types of woods, you can have it stained to your taste. Plus, if you decide to change your home’s décor, you can change your hardwood floors to match.
- Hardwood floors are an expensive choice for flooring. With materials that run $3 per square foot at a big box store for unfinished oak planks on the cheap end, you can spend up to $12 a square foot for wood that’s more exotic. Plus, installation can be a bigger job than you anticipate since it has to be installed over sub-flooring which can add to the labor costs.
- Scratches and scuffs are also pretty common, requiring refinishing periodically. Remember, the softer that the wood is, the easier it can be scratched. If you have hardwood floors in a high traffic area, you will see more damage. Refinishing hardwood floors can run between $1.25 and $4.00 or even more, depending on the floor type, per square foot.
- Noise is another factor, especially if you live in an apartment or condo complex. Using rugs over the floor can help to reduce the sound while adding warmth to a room. Rugs can also help if you have children which will help cushion any potential falls.
There are advantages for both cork and hardwood floors, but which is the best for your house? If you have heavy furniture and want a luxurious and elegant look, hardwoods are a better choice. But, if you want something with good insulation from noise and weather as well as enjoy a comfortable floor to walk on, cork can be a great flooring choice. Plus, since it is rarely seen, it tends to stand out more.