All About Cork Flooring and Why It’s Perfect for the Basement

Are you considering cork flooring for your home? We chose cork for our basement and love the results. Cork has a lot of range from traditional to modern, and this natural material can really warm up a room.

Today I’m sharing the pros and cons of cork flooring, why it’s so well suited for basements, and how to install it. Keep reading or jump ahead to any section:

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Pros and Cons of Cork Flooring

Like any flooring choice, cork has benefits and drawbacks. Here are some things to consider.

The Pros

Cork flooring is green. It’s eco-friendly, natural and sustainable…everything us millennials like. Farmers scrape off the cork from the tree bark without having to chop down the trees.

Natural cork has no VOCs or toxic chemicals. Before you buy, just check to make sure the brand is green certified and no chemicals have been added.

Cork is hypoallergenic. It’s naturally antimicrobial, so it resists mold and mildew. And unlike carpet, cork doesn’t hold in allergens. It’s easy to keep those dust mites at bay.

Cork floors are surprisingly durable. Yes, cork is soft and comfy, but it’s also tough. The planks are usually pre-sealed and able to resist quick spills much better than carpet. A long-term spill could be a problem, but that’s true for many floors.

Our cats are extra barf-y, and the basement is their go-to spot. We were worried about what that might do to the cork. So far we’ve had three incidents, and it’s all wiped up clean, no problems.

Charlie cat relaxing on the newly installed cork floor
Little barf machine.

While cork can get scratched, the textured surface tends to hide scratches better than, say, hardwoods.

Cork is a natural insulator for sound and temperature. This is a big one. With more people staying home these days, the noise around the house can get out of control. Cork is an insulator that can absorb some of that noise.

It can hold in the heat, too, which I’m looking forward to this winter.

Cork is fairly affordable. Prices vary, but generally cork prices are mid-range and comparable to the cost of carpet. Cork flooring is typically more expensive than laminate, but cheaper than hardwoods. And it is one of the easier flooring types to install yourself, so you can save money on labor.

Also, most cork comes from Portugal, so it’s like a giant souvenir from one of my favorite places.

The Cons

Unchecked sunlight could fade your floor color. If your room gets a lot of direct sunlight, cork might not be the best choice. It can fade from long-term sun exposure. Some people get around this by keeping the curtains closed or adding UV protection to the windows.

Cork is susceptible to dents. Cork can take on dents from heavy objects. It bounces back better than bamboo or vinyl. But heavy or pointy furniture might leave dents over the long-term.

Using rugs, felt pads or furniture coasters will help. Our liquor cabinet has hairpin legs, so we put it on a thick rug to prevent damage.

Tree-based floors like cork expand and contract with temperature and humidity changes. If the planks are packed in too tightly, they could buckle. You’ll need to leave an expansion gap all around the floor edges so it has room to expand under the baseboards.

These concerns are true for some other types of flooring. You just have to consider what’s best for your situation. For our basement, cork made perfect sense.


Cork Flooring for the Basement

Cork flooring can be glued down or floating tongue and groove like mine. The floating style is recommended for basements, because the dimpled underlayment allows air and moisture to pass through and escape.

Old floor being covered by underlayment
Here’s the underlayment going over our old floor.

Cork’s antimicrobial properties are particularly useful in the basement. You can make the basement less hospitable to mold and mildew, especially compared to something like carpet.

That said, even though cork is water resistant, I wouldn’t use cork in a basement that gets flooded. In that case, tile or concrete might be a better option.

Of course, sunlight exposure is no concern in the basement. And I’m excited about the insulator properties of cork. Basement floors tend to be SO COLD, but not this one!

"Harmony" style cork flooring
We picked the “Harmony” cork from World Floors Direct.

Style wise, I love that cork works with a mid-century modern aesthetic. Even though cork flooring was trendy over the last decade, it was also used in the mid-century and earlier.

We were looking for an attractive flooring choice that felt cohesive with the rest of our house, but we didn’t want to pay the hardwood price tag for a basement. Cork was the answer.


How to Install a Floating Cork Floor

Here’s a high-speed video of our cork flooring installation, to give you an idea of how this floor comes together. You’ll see me crash around 0:51…DIY is hard on the back!

These are the materials we used and how we installed our floor. Make sure to check your brand of cork for specific instructions.

Materials

Instructions

You’ll want to start with a level floor. If it’s not level, you may need to use a leveling compound to smooth out the floor.

Clear the room. Remove baseboards and make sure your floor is bare and clean.

Add underlayment. That’s the dimpled blue plastic that goes under the cork planks to promote air flow.

Underlayment installed in basement

Tape the underlayment pieces together (but not to the floor), leaving a 0.25-inch gap around the edges. See the manufacturer’s underlayment tutorial video for details.

Set out several cork planks in advance. There’s a chance colors could be slightly different in each pack of planks. Mixing up the planks throughout the room helps ensure that any variations are evenly distributed. It also makes it easy to start installing in the next step.

Start installing cork planks. Begin in the far corner of the room with the tongue toward the wall. Use spacers to keep an even expansion gap around all the walls. The cork edges shouldn’t be touching any walls, doors, heaters or anything like that.

Measuring a cork flooring plank for cutting

Because the floor is “floating” and not glued down or attached to anything, it may want to move around at first. We used the extra boxes of planks and body weight—in addition to spacers—to help keep the floor from moving around during installation.

Tap the planks together. Lift the new plank slightly and ease it into the previous plank, then use the tapping block to tap it into place. Here’s how this looks. Notice how the seams disappear…that’s what you’re aiming for.

For tricky corners or walls, the pull bar can help you tap a plank into place, when the tapping block won’t fit.

Cut cork planks as needed. At the end of each row, you’ll probably need to cut a plank to fit, always leaving that expansion gap. The track saw is great for those straight cuts. The tape measure and square will also come in handy.

We had to make several weird cuts to fit the cork around our baseboard heaters. Each room is different, and there could be any number of things you encounter, like posts or heaters or door jams. Use an oscillating saw for those tricky little cuts.

Stagger the seams in a new row. With each new row, you’ll need to stagger the seams. If the first row started with a full plank, the second row should start with a smaller cut plank. (You may be able to use the piece you cut to finish the last row as the start to your new row.)

Finish up. Continue tapping in planks until finished. Some brands of cork may need to be sealed, but ours was pre-sealed and ready to go. Replace your baseboards and move back into the room!


Our Cork Flooring

We installed cork in most of our basement, including the family room, hallway, guest room and craft room. Let the record reflect that I’m not the only one who crashed from DIY exhaustion…

Wiped out from installing cork flooring

I used to joke about wanting to fill in this old basement with concrete. But now we are loving it with the new cork!

If you have a difficult room or basement and don’t know what floor to install, cork could be the perfect solution.

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12 thoughts on “All About Cork Flooring and Why It’s Perfect for the Basement”

  1. That was definately a major DIY project you guys did and turned out beautifully. (You said you got exhausted working on it and I see Eric crashed also..I got exhausted reading and figuring it out..lol!!) Kudos to both of you on a job/DIY project well done!! We are amazed at the DIY projects you two have taken on making your midcentury house a wonderful midcentury home!

    Reply
    • Thanks, Judy! Haha, yeah it’s a lot of information about cork but once we got started it was pretty simple to DIY. Just hard on the body. 😀 I am glad it’s all done and we can start setting up the tiki bar!

      Reply
  2. I like that you give all the info step by step on your DIY projects because it makes it easier for people to follow and figure out. (unlike some of the stuff we look up online to figure out and its “yikes”! lol)

    Reply
  3. Wow, the floor turns out great. That was quite the project but the end result is worth it. I don’t think I have seen a house with a cork floor before but it looks beautiful and I bet it feels great to stand on.

    Reply
    • Thanks, Sarah! I’ve only seen a couple houses with cork floors in person, back when we were house shopping. It was hard to picture how it would all turn out, but I’m glad we gave it a chance. Cork does feel really great to stand and walk on, and it makes the basement feel warmer.

      Reply
  4. Tara, the new floor looks awesome. I was exhausted from watching the video, but I noticed you took a nap partway thru, as well. 🙂

    Reply
  5. 2 years ago we installed cork floors from Lowe’s. We want to do the rest of the house but this stopes doesn’t sale it anymore. 😩

    Reply
    • Oh no! I hope they bring it back for you. If not, maybe you can have a different floor type in between, separating two slightly different cork styles. We have a slate floor between our old hardwoods and new hardwoods upstairs.

      Reply
  6. Great instructions.!! Ty….moving to Bangor maine…walkout 1st floor with concrete floor…thinking of cork w/baseboard heat as well… how warm can cork without heating mats really be??? And why didn’t you use cork underlayment??? Ty geri

    Reply
    • Thanks Geraldine, glad to help!

      Our old basement floor was mostly concrete, with thin linoleum tile in some areas, so it was very cold before. Adding cork flooring and dimpled underlayment warmed it up. We recently lost power and the basement was noticeably warmer with cork, compared to previous power outages when we only had the concrete floor. That said, I’m in Portland, Oregon, and we don’t get the extreme cold temps of Maine, so I’m not sure what the experience would be like in the NE.

      We used the dimpled underlayment because moisture can come up through the concrete floor, and the dimpled underlayment is designed to let the moisture escape.

      Reply

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