Hank Kasindorf, president of Eco Finishes, a distributor of green flooring in Virginia, shares his expertise on the two most popular green flooring materials in his area: bamboo and cork.
“Both products have a unique look. Homeowners choose the style and look first. The fact that is it green is an added bonus,” he says. The Eco Finishes Web site has links to the manufacturers of the products they sell, www.ecofinishes.com.
Bamboo Why is it green? Bamboo is a renewable grass product. The bamboo used to make flooring grows to 12 inches in diameter and 30 feet high. Manufacturers harvest it by cutting it and leaving a 4-foot stump that regenerates in 5 years. “It has a much lower environmental impact than environmentally managed wood forests,” Kasindorf says.
Features. The product comes in tongue and groove boards that can be glued or nailed. It is 30% harder than oak and comparable in price to ¾-inch solid oak flooring. “It has a clean, contemporary look,” Kasindorf says. The natural color of bamboo is light and resembles maple. It also comes in a caramel or carbonized version that is a deeper brown color. Kasindorf says with most stained wood the stain is topical, so the lighter color underneath is exposed when scratched. With the caramel bamboo, the color goes all the way through. It can also be sanded and refinished.
Purchasing. When purchasing bamboo, contractors should ask about adhesives.
The product Kasindorf sells is more expensive than other bamboo because it is made with West German glues and urethane. “Better quality products use West German glues and urethanes. If you get a product with Chinese glue, there are problems with the product de-laminating or the layer on top peels off,” he says. He says in general, if a manufacturer offers a commercial warranty, they are not cutting corners on manufacturing and the product is reliable. Installation. Bamboo can be installed anywhere an engineered wood product can be installed. “It can be used below grade, provided there is not too much moisture from the slab,” Kasindorf says. The most important step when installing bamboo is acclimation. “Bring the product out 48 hours early and let it sit in the environment where it will be installed,” Kasindorf says. This allows the material to adjust to the humidity level in the room so it won't shift after installation. Because the flooring can be glued or nailed, most wood flooring installers will be able to work with it. Check manufacturer Web sites for the proper nails or staples.
Cork Why is it green? Cork comes from the bark of special oak trees in Spain and Portugal. The wood product comes from a renewable process where 6 to 9 inches of bark is cut from the trunk. It takes five to seven years to grow back after harvesting.
Features. Kasindorf describes cork as the “softest hard surface.” He says it is soft, warm, and quiet. It is helpful for a homeowner who has allergies. It comes in almost 10 different patterns that are achieved by different peeling techniques. “Some look like cork stopper, some like a bulletin board or burled wood,” he says. Kasindorf says the most popular finish is natural, which is similar to natural oak. It is also available with different stains including brown, deep reds, and a white-washed tint.
Purchasing. The floating floor planks are made from different qualities of cork. “The thicker the top veneer, the more cushioning and better wear and performance,” Kasin-dorf says. He says the price varies based on the varying density and thickness of the cork veneer and cork padding underlayment. The number of urethane coats on the veneer — between two and five — determines the wear.
Installation. Similar to laminate, the floating floor planks snap together and can be installed over concrete or wood. The planks are about 12-inches wide by 36-inches long. Cork can be installed anywhere wood flooring would be placed, but Kasindorf cautions against using it in high-moisture rooms such as bathrooms.