When the topic of sustainable flooring comes up, there are two types that dominate the discussion: bamboo and cork. Both flooring types are made from renewable resources, are attractive, and at the same time durable, low-maintenance and even cost-effective. If you are aiming for a LEED certified home renovation, bamboo and cork may qualify for credits.
Bamboo and cork floors are very flexible in terms of which rooms you can install them in: they can withstand the moisture issues in the kitchen and bath, and look warm and inviting in your living spaces. They also have similar price tags, at an average of about $6 to $8 per square foot. If you like variety, both types deliver, as they are available in a wide range of tones from light honey all the way to dark ebony.
But how do they stand up against one another?
A very rapidly renewable resource, bamboo grows much faster than hardwood trees and can be harvested after about five years. Stalks of bamboo—which is technically a grass—are split and reformed into planks, and their natural striations create a beautiful texture. You may choose between a horizontal or vertical grain, depending on your aesthetic preferences.
Despite all the praise for bamboo, not all planks are created equal. Many manufacturers harvest the stalks before they are fully mature, resulting in a weaker product. Additionally, some use filler between the bamboo strips to cut costs and use binders that can emit toxic chemicals over time.
- Relatively durable and moisture-resistant
- Easy to maintain
- Quick and straightforward installation
- Widely available
- Manufacturer's standards vary dramatically
- Dents under heavy pressure
- Adhesives may contain formaldehyde
- Stains easily
Cork is not just for plugging bottles; it also makes for an attractive flooring material. No trees are cut down in the harvesting process. Bark is simply stripped from Mediterranean cork oak trees and regenerates within a few years without damaging the tree. The manufacturing process is very low waste: cork flooring is actually made from the scraps from bottle stopper production!
Although cork is most common in tile form, it is also available in panels. This flooring material has experienced a resurgence in popularity in recent years, but some may view it as looking dated. However, manufacturers provide a wide variety of textures and surface patterns, many of which look very modern, aside from the traditional grain. Plus, if you opt for tiles, you can arrange them in endless configurations.
- Resilient and cushy underfoot
- Improves room acoustics
- Good thermal properties
- Must be sealed to protect from moisture and damage
- Binder chemicals may not be eco-friendly
- Challenging to install and difficult to repair
- Susceptible to scratches
Ultimately, your flooring decision comes down to personal taste or lifestyle. If you prefer a material similar to traditional wood flooring, bamboo might be right for you. Or if comfort is your priority, nothing beats cork. Both bamboo and cork are praise-worthy flooring choices for many reasons beyond their eco-friendly statuses.