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Green Flooring: Consider Cork and Linoleum

Key topics for facility professionals. Keywords for this topic: green products, flooring, cork

Compiled by FacilitiesNet Staff

From VCT to carpet tile to laminates or rubber, facility managers who are thinking about new flooring have a dizzying array of choices. But what about the facility manager who wants to install green flooring? For green flooring, linoleum and cork are two options worth considering.

Linoleum flooring is a common choice for hard-surface flooring in green designs because it is a natural product and can help a project qualify for points under the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) rating system. Linoleum tile and sheet flooring are tough and durable products that managers can use in almost any traffic area.

One thing to be aware of: The word linoleum does not mean sheet vinyl, which often is called linoleum incorrectly. What’s the difference? Real, natural linoleum is made from natural ingredients, including linseed oil, pine rosin, ground cork, wood flour, and a jute backing. Linoleum does not contain vinyl.

Maintaining linoleum is different than maintaining vinyl. For example, some manufacturers apply a coating to linoleum products during production, while others do not. So cleaning crews need to follow manufacturer guidelines.

It also is important to stay away from high-pH strippers and cleaners because frequent use can damage linoleum flooring. Linoleum maintenance is not difficult. It’s just different.

Cork: Another Green Flooring Option

Cork is another resilient flooring option that is becoming more popular because of its green benefits, softness, sound and heat-insulating characteristics, and unique look. Although classified as resilient flooring, cork floors have many of the same characteristics as wood flooring with regard to handling, installation and finishing.

Managers are most commonly specifying several cork flooring products.

A cork floor features a vinyl backing and a vinyl wear layer, which is maintained more like a vinyl floor. [Is there a word missing here? “A ___ cork floor”? I’m not sure how “cork floor” differs from the other cork floors that follow.]

Traditional, natural-cork tile and cork floating floors are handled and maintained like wood. Contractors sometimes install unfinished cork and stain or finish it on site. But most cork floors receive a factory finish of urethane, acrylic or wax. Urethane and acrylic finishes are maintained similar to wood: Damp mop with not too much water.

Waxed cork needs a great deal of work to maintain, and few housekeeping crews know how to use real paste wax.

Regardless of the finish used on these floors, cleaning crews must follow the manufacturer’s maintenance guidelines. They should avoid applying standard, liquid floor finishes on cork because floors require occasional stripping, but the chemicals involved could damage the cork.

A screen-and-recoat procedure similar to that used on a wood floor is more advisable because it will prevent the factory coating from wearing off. If the factory coating does wear off, homogeneous cork has color all the way through, so crews can sand and refinish it similar to wood floors.

Veneer-cork products have a thin layer that provides their unique visuals, but cleaning crews cannot sand them. So if the factory coating on a veneer wears off, the floor is ruined. Homogeneous cork floor tiles are the more durable option for managers who have a choice when selecting cork for high-traffic areas.

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