Installing a Cork Tile Floor: Laying the Tiles

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Installing the Cork Tiles

Now that you have prepped and primed the space, it's time to get to work. Gauge the area and use your creativity to determine the most appropriate pattern of tiles. Begin by drawing two lines intersecting at a 90 degree angle near the center of the room. These will be your guidelines for a straight installation for the first rows. For best installation, lay cork tiles with staggered joints. Shuffle the cork tiles for the best visual mix and identify possible manufacturing defects; as cork is a natural product, there will be certain variations that add to the overall aesthetic value of cork flooring. Mix cork tiles from various cartons to maintain a natural color and pattern variation. Allow 1/4" expansion space between the finished floor and all walls, thresholds, water pipes and other vertical surfaces. If moisture levels in the environment seem low, tiles should not be positioned too tightly against one another, and when moisture levels seem high or where humidity levels are elevated, tiles should be installed tightly.

Most water based adhesive associated with cork flooring is formulated to bond to adhesive-backed cork tiles. Pour some adhesive into a clean paint roller tray and, using a short-nap roller, apply a thin coat of adhesive on approximately 50 square feet at a time. A uniform, glossy film indicates a sufficient amount of adhesive. Stay off the adhesive while it is drying. Adhesive will typically dry in 20 to 30 minutes under normal temperature and humidity conditions, but refer to your specific product packaging to verify.

Once adhesive is dry, that section of installation must be completed within one hour. Never lay tiles into wet adhesive. Always test for proper adhesion prior to proceeding with the installation. If the tiles do not seem to adhere properly over a very porous substrate, you will need to apply a second coat of adhesive. When cork tile is properly aligned in place, apply pressure to the entire surface. Pressure will cause the tiles to stick firmly and further movement will not be possible.

Finishing Up

Once your floor has been laid, there are a few steps you need to take to finish up. Roll the surface using a three-part, 100-pound floor roller. Roll the entire floor several times from several directions. The floor should be rolled again after sitting overnight before applying the polyurethane sealer (when necessary). Allow glue to set for at least 24 hours before walking on the floor. After 24 hours, install molding, trim, transition pieces, and/or reducer strips as needed.

If dried adhesive is found on the surface of the floor, it can be removed with a rag dampened with water-diluted mineral spirits. The entire floor must then be cleaned using a hardwood floor cleaner according to manufacturer guidelines. Using too much liquid on your floor could provoke swelling at the joints due to absorption of moisture by the unsealed cork. Moisture penetrating the joints can eventually cause damage to the floor, so consider sealing your floor. This step is highly recommended for kitchens and other at-risk areas. A high quality water base urethane should be applied in accordance with the manufacturer's guidelines.

Now that you have finished your cork floor, its time to enjoy the fruit of your efforts. If handled and cared for properly, your floor will last a lifetime, and with age will gather a certain patina that most find charming. The history of cork floors is rich in culture, and its style endures today in some of the palaces and historic homes throughout the world. Now you can add your home to that list!

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Sean O'Halloran worked for several years as a Tile and General Contractor throughout the tri-state area. After retiring from the industry, he now focuses on his professional writing career.