Bamboo and Cork Flooring Installation Guide

installationThese two flooring materials are often mentioned together because they are the two leading green-friendly products currently popular. Although installation techniques are quite different, the good news is that both are relatively easy to install. If we were to rate the level of expertise a DIY’er needs to install their own bamboo or cork floor, it would rate at 6/10.

Bamboo is installed with the same techniques as solid hardwood flooring and engineered hardwood flooring. The planks can be nailed down or glued. Interlocking bamboo flooring is not available that produces a floating floor

In this guide to Bamboo and Cork flooring, we’ll discuss the installation process and help you decide if installing this type of home flooring is right for you. You can also learn more by reading the detailed buying guide, bamboo and cork floor price guide, or the owners guide to maintenance and care.

Tools and Supplies

  • Power Tools – For bamboo, you’ll need a circular saw or a table saw to cut planks lengthwise. For cross cuts, a table saw or a miter saw works well. A jigsaw or coping saw is best for trimming around obstacles such as floor vents and doorways.
  • Flooring Nailer – If you are nailing the material, an air compressor and nailer save time over hand-nailing. A drill can be handy for creating pilot holes for nailing pieces in tight spots where you can’t get the nailer into position.
  • Basic Hand Tools – A tape measure, pencil and framing square are useful for installation of both bamboo and cork flooring. If you’re gluing cork or bamboo, ask the dealer about the right type of adhesive to use. A glue trowel will allow you to put down the right quantity of glue. For installation over plywood, an orbital sander will be handy. See below.

Prepping the Floor for Installation

For any type of flooring, getting the subflooring very clean and free of debris is essential. Start by removing the baseboard trim from the room. Then, remove carpeting, padding, tack strip and staples if needed. Sand any rough spots, and if it is concrete, fill in any significant cracks. You can glue cork to concrete, wood flooring and wood subfloor.

If the subfloor is plywood, sand it with gritty sandpaper to rough it up just a bit. This will enhance adherence of the glue.

Installation Techniques

You can buy cork flooring that is prefinished or unfinished. Initially, they both install the same way. Here is a step by step guide to cork flooring installation.

Step 1: Start by leveling the subfloor if needed. If you’re installing cork over plywood or OSB, using a skim coat of mortar to all cracks first.

Step 2: Sand the skim coat with fine or medium-grit sandpaper with an orbital sander.

Step 3: Plan to start along the longest exterior wall in the room. Before applying glue, mask finished surfaces adjacent to the floor. Apply the adhesive with a brush or glue trowel. If you prefer, you can use a foam roller for applying adhesive to larger areas.

Most cork flooring adhesive requires 30-60 minutes to set up before the flooring should be placed on it. Read the instructions carefully.

Step 4: Lay the first cork tile or strip along the wall. Butt the tiles/strips as you go, until you complete your first row. If they are strips, say 12”x24”, you may want to consider an alternate approach. Install the first tile lengthwise so that the long side is against the wall. Install the second piece so that the 12” side is against the wall. Complete the first row alternating long and short sides against the wall.

You can practice laying strips before you apply any glue to see which look you prefer.

Step 5: Start the second row with by butting the short end of the strip to the first row. This will produce staggered seams rather than seam that align. That will leave a half-strip gap. Cut a strip in half to fill it. Then, continue with this technique to complete the second row. The end result will be seams that are more random. This is the method that home flooring pros use.

Of course, if you’re using square tiles, then this technique does not apply.

Step 6: For cutting cork flooring, a tough utility knife works very well. You’ll use it for trimming around floor vents and doorways, and for cutting pieces to fit as you approach the opposite side of the room from which you started.

Step 7: If you are finishing the cork flooring yourself, read the directions carefully on the can of urethane. Use a synthetic applicator to apply the finish. Make all your passes in the same direction to avoid streaking. Wait at least 2 hours and apply the second coat. After another 2 hours apply a third coat. Then, after 2 more hours, sand the floor. Finally, apply the finish coat.

Once all the flooring is down and finished, let it dry completely. Then, you can reinstall floor trim and toe-kicks around the room.

Cork and Bamboo Flooring Installation FAQs

Q: Are there other types of cork than glue-down cork flooring?
A: Yes. Some manufacturers make floating cork flooring that is only glued at the perimeter.

Q:  Can cork flooring be installed in a basement?
A: It depends. Cork can swell at the seams and even buckle if it comes into contact with too much moisture. So, installing cork flooring in a basement is only recommended if your basement is completely dry.

Q: Should cork be acclimated before installation?
A: Yes. What this means is that the boxes of cork should be brought into the house and opened 5-7 days before installation. This allows the cork flooring to acclimate or adjust to the humidity and temperature of the home. This will help prevent shrinking or swelling after installation that can cause issues.

Q: Should cork flooring be mixed before installation.
A: It’s not as important as it is with solid wood flooring, engineered wood flooring or even tile flooring, but it won’t hurt. Open 3-4 boxes of the flooring and mix the tiles/strips to blend slightly different shades. Then, when you’ve installed half of the blended material, mix in a few more boxes.

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