Bamboo and Cork: The Alternative Wood Flooring Products

When most people think of wood flooring, the old tried-and-true standbys like oak, maple and cherry usually come to mind. But bamboo and cork floors are getting a lot of attention nowadays because of their environmentally friendly qualities.

They both come from quick-growing sustainable resources and are available in a variety of colors and patterns. Unlike traditional wood flooring, both products are grown and harvested abroad—Asia for bamboo and Mediterranean countries for cork. The need to transport them long distances add to their overall carbon footprint, but they have other attributes that outweigh their transportation and make them eco-friendly flooring choices.

Bamboo

Bamboo is not actually wood—it’s a grass that reaches maturity in about six years. There are three types of bamboo flooring: vertical grain, horizontal grain and woven. Each provides a distinctive look that ranges from a traditional-looking wood floor to one that displays distinctive bamboo-type markings, such as the knuckles, or growth rings, of the bamboo stalks. Other characteristics include:

  •  Bamboo is stronger than most woods. It is 25 percent harder than oak.
  • While it’s suitable for high-traffic areas, it is not a good choice for moisture-prone spaces, like the bathroom or basement.
  • When purchasing, look for products certified to have low chemical emissions.
  • Bamboo is a sustainable resource, but over-harvesting is a possibility in some areas. Look for bamboo that carries the Forest Stewardship Council label (FSC). FSC is an international organization that monitors and certifies that wood products are harvested using sustainable methods.
  • It is available in plank form. Both glue-down and floating floor click-and- lock application methods are available.
  • Follow the manufacturer’s installation directions, but generally, bamboo can be installed over concrete, wood and vinyl tiles.

Cork

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Cork flooring absorbs sound and is warm to the touch underfoot.

Cork comes from a species of oak that after it grows for about 25 years. Its bark is carefully removed without hurting the tree. New bark is harvested every nine years after that. The cork used in flooring is waste from the cork stopper industry. The product is not only sustainably harvested, but it is a recycled material as well.

Although it may seem like cork flooring is a new product, it has been around since the end of the nineteenth century. Natural cork has a distinctive look that is different from those found on wood flooring. Some products are digitally altered to give the appearance of stone, similar to the technique used on laminate flooring. Other characteristics include:

  • Cork floors have some “give” to them, making them comfortable to stand and walk on. The material is composed of cells that spring back after impact.
  • The material can be used throughout the house, but kitchens are the most popular applications. Avoid wet areas.
  • Cork flooring absorbs sound and resists mildew. It is warmer to the touch than other flooring products.
  • When purchasing, look for products certified to have low chemical emissions.
  • The flooring is available in both tiles—12 and 24-inch squares—and planks.
  • Both glue-down and floating floor click-and-lock applications are available.
  • Follow the manufacturer’s directions, but, generally, cork flooring can be installed over concrete, wood subfloors and tile.

When it comes time for new flooring, both bamboo and cork flooring are good eco-friendly options.

Fran Donegan is a longtime DIY author who also writes for The Home Depot. He covers a variety of topics, including the best eco-friendly hardwood flooring options and how to build a home with sustainable materials. To see more ideas on green hardwood options, click here.

44 comments

Lisa M
Lisa M4 months ago

Noted.

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Lisa M
Lisa M4 months ago

Noted.

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Bill Eagle
Bill Eagle5 months ago

Cool floors.

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Glennis W
Glennis W5 months ago

Would be nice and cool in the summer months Different Thank you for caring and sharing

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Glennis W
Glennis W5 months ago

Great information and advice Thank you for caring and sharing

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Glennis W
Glennis W5 months ago

Very interesting article Thank you for caring and sharing

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Camilla V
Camilla Vaga5 months ago

noted

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heather g
heather g5 months ago

I hardly think cork is comparable to bamboo. The latter grows almost like a weed. Cork Oaks do not.

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Danuta W
Danuta W5 months ago

Thanks for sharing

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Margie F
Margie FOURIE5 months ago

If/when I need to replace the floors, it would be with bamboo. A cork bedroom floor would be heavenly.

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