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"Cork floor tiles are beautiful and durable, provide warmth"

Click here to see a descriptive illustration of many designs and styles of cork flooring.

Dear Jim: Our carpeting is worn, so I thought about installing decorative cork tiles instead of hardwood to alleviate our kids' allergies. Is cork a natural product and is it durable and comfortable to walk on? - Sandi G.

A: The answers to your questions is "Yes." Cork is an excellent flooring material for homes and is a good alternative to hardwood for a unique appearance. It has been used in high traffic areas such as museums, libraries, etc. for many decades and is becoming more popular for homes.

There is a tremendous array of colors and patterns available in cork flooring. It feels hard to the touch, similar to vinyl or linoleum, but it actually is resilient and extremely comfortable to walk on. It is as durable as hardwood, but you can drop a glass on it without breaking.

Cork is a naturally porous material with millions of tiny air cells per square inch. This makes it an excellent insulator (R-2.8 per inch) to improve the efficiency of your floors. This also makes it ideal for kitchens or bathrooms where you often walk on it in your bare feet.

Cork also is one of the best natural sound-absorbing materials available. You will notice the reduction in the noise level in a room full of playing children, even more so than with wall-to-wall carpeting. The type of finish (natural wax, matte or gloss) does not affect its sound properties.

For environmentally conscious homeowners like myself, cork is the perfect material. The bark of cork oak trees is peeled off every nine years and the trees heal themselves and grow stronger. They can live to be 150 years old.

The natural colors of cork can range from almost white to deep, dark browns. A thickness in the 3/16-inch range is typical for the one-foot-square tiles. The darkness of the earthtones is controlled by how long the cork is baked. The longer it is baked, the darker brown it becomes.

Other colors, such as reds, greens and blues, are also available with varying grain definition. These colorful cork tiles are usually made using a stained cork veneer cork layer over a natural-colored cork base. These have the same comfortable resilient feeling as solid (massive) cork tiles.

Massive cork tiles are the same thickness, but are not layered. Fewer colors are available because they are not stained. An advantage is they are all natural and they can be sanded and refinished just like solid hardwood.

Another attractive and easy-to-install option is a cork panel floor. The panels are one foot by three feet and they snap together similarly to laminate flooring. They look similar to hardwood planks when finished.

Instant Download Update Bulletin No. 482 - buyer's guide of nine cork floor tile and panel manufacturers listing tile sizes, colors, finishes, thicknesses, features, typical patterns, installation instructions and maintenance recommendations and general information on how cork bark is stripped from trees.

Dear Jim: You recently wrote about installing a solar-powered attic fan. One of the manufacturers told me not to install one if I already have a roof ridge vent. Why wouldn't the fan work with a vent? - Hal M.

A: The solar attic fan will operate the same if you have a roof ridge vent, but it just will not be as effective. It will draw some air in the roof vent instead of in over the attic floor and up under the roof.

Any attic fan works best when there is ample inlet vents in the roof overhang (soffits). This brings in the cool outdoor air lower near the attic floor so it flows over the insulation and the entire roof surface.

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