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Cork flooring can be installed right over several other flooring types, except carpet and ceramic tile. A carpet sub-floor will be too spongy and ceramic tiles might break under a cork floor and create bumps in the surface. Cork flooring can be installed over hardwood, vinyl, concrete (if it’s not in the basement) or simply a plywood base sub-floor, but each type has its own preparation needs. You would not want to install cork flooring in the basement, because it is too moist and the seams will swell and buckle. If you are concerned about moisture, take the moisture test. Cut a piece of plastic and place it on the floor for 2 days. If moisture is present on the plastic, then this room may not be appropriate for cork flooring. However, cork flooring is pretty easy to install in comparison to some other types of flooring. It is easier than hardwood, because there are no grain patterns to match up.
Cork flooring comes in tiles or planks that can be either glued down, interlocked together or floating. Sub-floor preparation is the most important step to laying cork flooring. It must be clean of all wax, grit or paint. It must be dry and level. If any area is not level up to ¼ inch within a 6 foot area, you can use a leveling compound and allow it to dry completely before beginning your installation. Fill all cracks in the concrete with a latex fill, remembering to prime first. If your sub-floor is a newly poured concrete, it must be completely cured. After the sub-floor has been leveled, it needs to be sanded to provide a rough texture, which will help the adhesives used on the cork material to bond better. This is true whether it is concrete or a vinyl sub-floor. Sub-floors should be free of loose boards. If replacement boards are needed, allow them to cure for one day, before cork installation begins.
If your sub-floor is a hardwood floor, then you must strip it of all varnish or paint and scrub it with tri-sodium phosphate. Make sure, again, that the floor is completely dry from this treatment. Once the sub-floor is ready, you can open the boxes and spread out the cork planks in the room to allow the cork material to adjust or acclimate to the room’s humidity for up to 4 days before installing. While this step is in process, keep the room’s temperature between 60-70 degrees Fahrenheit and humidity low.
Now, you are ready to begin installing. Collect the tools and supplies that you will need. For cork tiles, you will probably need a utility knife with extra blades, a chalk line with chalk (for glue-downs), a tape measure, a paint brush (for glue-downs) and a rubber mallet. For cork planks, you will also need a table saw and safety glasses. Remove any moldings or baseboards before you begin installation. You will not need an underlayment, except possibly a plastic sheet to protect against moisture damage. Follow your manufacturer’s guidelines carefully when it comes to applying adhesives.
Begin by laying out your tiles/panels and chalk the lines. Use a paintbrush to apply the adhesive. If your tiles are interlocking, you will not need to lay out the pattern first. Start from the edge of a room and work across the room. Make sure that seams are closely butted up against each other. To achieve a staggered appearance, on every other row of planks, cut the first one in half with a table saw. That way, the seams won’t line up exactly all the way across the floor. Be sure to wear safety glasses when cutting planks. After the adhesive dries to a clear finish, use your mallet to bond the cork tiles to the sub-floor, being careful not to use so much force as to dent them. Wipe up excess adhesive with a damp cloth as you go. If you need to cut a tile to fit a special section, use the utility knife to do so. If your cork came as un-finished, you can add several coats of urethane as a finish once the installation is complete. Now, you may replace moldings and baseboards, but do not walk on your new cork flooring for at least 24 hours. If your cork flooring is too thick for your doors to close easily, you may need to adjust the door height.