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White Cork – The Trials and Tribulations

White Cork – The Trials and Tribulations

White Cork flooring is all the rage and cork is no exception.  Forna has produced 5 different white floors ranging from an ivory “marble” to almost paper-white. Each has its own character.  Each its own role to play in the market. It has taken more than 3 years to finally produce a white that is “good enough” for today’s aesthetics.  Cork is magnificently difficult to produce grays and whites which means we have heard all the comments such as, “That’s not white!  How can you call that white?”, to “The gray looks muddy.  Why can’t you make a better pattern in gray?”

First off we are using “stains” instead of paint which means we have to turn something the colour of a pumpkin into something the colour of white chalk or cement gray.  If you can image applying the thinnest lime whitewash to orange stone and then cartier love bracelet knock off
insisting it become a “perfect” white, you get the idea of how difficult our task has been. white cork the trials and ribulations Now image the same task master saying, “Oh. And I want you to keep the pattern visible.” Covering the orange means we have to use “high solid” stains (very similar to paint) which means the patterns get covered in “white”.  That is to say, the patterns we produce get covered in white paint.  The same is true for gray but much more difficult.

Now that we have a decent array of whites and a few acceptable grays it is now onto the task of keeping these floors looking their best for as long as possible.  Because cork starts out orange and the stain on top determines the final colour it means the colour is only skin deep.  It is possible to scratch past the white or gray to reveal the true nature of the beast below = pumpkin orange.

To say this is disturbing would be an understatement!  The “perfectionist” client who insists on “perfect white floors” is not someone who is going to enjoy the patina of scratches caused by the perfect white fluffy dog named Peaches!  Not on your life!  Which means extra care must be taken when working with white cork (gray as well but the visual isn’t as disturbing as with white). We have begun to highly recommend using Loba 2K Supra AT polyurethane with white cork because of the outstanding anti-scratch properties associated with this finish.  We have also experienced very limited yellowing with this finish.  This fits the bill when it comes to applying a protective finish on cork.  The same cannot be said for other “money saving” finishes available at the corner “Big Box” store.

Many if not all off-the-shelf products can turn white floors a light yellow.  Even the water borne or water based finishes can still cause yellowing.  We know this.  We have experienced the heartache together with several of our clients because of locally available products.  It turns out the concept of saving money on floor finish when working with white flooring is a bad one.  Several of our clients have learned the hardway that white cork is special and it needs special attention and special resources.  It is like a thoroughbred race horse.  It can’t be exposed to the dog and pony show at the local home improvement store before it turns off its feed and stops running.

Site finishing a factory finished floor may sound odd to many but it makes perfect sense with cork.  Cork floors have the ability to be sealed or site finished.  It’s what makes them water proof or water resistant (glue down tiles vs. floating floors respectively).  Its what seperates them from laminate or engineered hardwoods. This same ability to be site finished also makes protecting white cork very simple – stick with the product that has the proven track record.  The problem comes in when our advice to use the high-end, high-priced, appropriate product is ignored in lieu of a cheaper alternative.

The cheaper alternative ultimately costs the homeowner the price of a replacement floor.  Imagine the heartache of coming home to find your white floor had turned yellow because of a product purchased off the shelf.  Now imagine the heartache of being told by us and the “cheap product” producer that there is no compensation other than being reimbursed for the cost of the can of finish. The refund of $60 – $85 isn’t going to come close to the cost of ripping out the floor and purchasing more.

A cork floating floor doesn’t necessarily have to be finished immediately after install.  We know this. At Forna, we try hard not to sell anything other than what is truly needed for your floor.  If we highly recommend your white cork be sealed with a Loba 2K Supra AT, please listen to us.  We’ve seen the circus that ensues when white cork isn’t treated with the respect it deserves.

Seal cork floor, why do I need to?

Seal cork floor, why do I need to?

This is one of the most common questions we run into.  “Why do I need to seal cork floor?  Doesn’t it already have a finish on it?”

Almost all of today’s modern cork floors come with a factory finish.  Forna cork products are no different.  We finish our products with 3 coats of water based polyurethane at the factory.  This is good enough to use a floating floor laid in a bedroom or a living room without doing anything more than moving in and enjoying your new space!  A glue down cork floor is another story.seal cork floor why need

Glue down tiles are not click-together.  They are glued in place in areas that are required to be “water proof” such as bathrooms.  A glue down cork tile floor always requires site finishing.  Always.  The reason being is not for the cork but for the adhesive and the subfloor.  Because the tiles are held in place with adhesive and they sit directly over top of a subfloor the seams of the cork must be made impervious to water.  That means the tiles must be sealed once they have been installed.  Without this site finishing water, dust, dirt, mud, oil, etc. will work its way between the seams to reach the subfloor and adhesive.  The adhesive will then become contaminated and eventually loose adhesion.  That means floor failure.

To avoid floor failure, the solution is perfectly simple: site finish the tiles with 2-3 coats of polyurethane = sealed seams = water proof floor.  The subfloor is protected from water reaching it and the adhesive is protected from dirt and grime contaminating it.  It is a win-win situation.

A floating floor that has been installed in kitchens or entranceways also require 2 coats of water based polyurethane to seal cork floor the seams against surface/standing water (aka: spills). Again, this extra bit of protection protects the middle core from having to deal with water working its way between the seams and damaging the High Density Fibreboard.  This extra protection reduces the likelihood that the flooring will swell or deteriorate after years of exposure to spills…which is common in kitchens.

Another reason seal cork floor is because cork shrinks.  Like any other wood, cork will slowly dry out over time.  This means that a cork floating floor will slowly begin to show gapping at each and every seam.  The locking system is unaffected by this…it is the cork wear surface, or “skin” that is slowly shrinking back from the edge of the plank.  In very dry climates (Okanagan Valley in BC, prairie provinces of Canada or Arizona/California/Nevada in USA) the shrinkage can cause the gaps to open inside of 8 years.  For this very reason we require all Forna cork floors to receive at least 1-2 coats of polyurethane SOMETIME before the floor turns 7 years old.  If you apply polyurethante at the time of install, then you have nothing to worry about.  If you waited or decided not to apply the polyurethane then you are responsible to have the polyurethane applied before gapping occurs.

Once the first coat or two has been applied it comes down to routine maintenance and concerns with wear through of the polyurethane.  The “gapping” issue will have been taken care of with the first application of polyurethane.

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