Monday, May 5, 2008

Bamboo, Cork and Some Really Dark Wood

This weekend was the Living Green exposition at the State Fair grounds in St Paul. This annual event features over 200 exhibitors who offer a variety of services, products and ideas about improving environmental and social impacts of day-to-day life. There were 22,000 visitors in 2007 and I’m sure the 2008 numbers will beat that, based on the crowds waiting for it to open Saturday morning.

One thing that was very apparent from the exposition is all the great sustainable flooring options out there. In addition to FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) certified woods, there are some new engineered options out there that are quite interesting. Natural Built Home’s booth was right next to EcoDEEP’s and I was drawn to the various wood flooring samples. Wood from bushes, scrap wood and other typically-unusable wood is combined to create some very visually interesting and unique planks. They also carry a line called “Wood from the Hood” that is made from Elm trees in Minneapolis that had to be downed because of Dutch Elm Disease. Pretty darn clever.

Bamboo and cork continue to be popular flooring choices and are considered “rapidly-renewable materials”. Bamboo looks and functions similar to a hardwood floor, but bamboo is a grass and not a tree. A bamboo plant takes about 5-6 years to mature and after harvesting, it will regrow again and again. Bamboo flooring is commonly sold in two color tones: a light blond (bamboo’s natural color) and a darker hue, often described as “carbonized.” The darker color comes from heat-treating the bamboo, which actually caramelizes the sugars in the fiber. Teragren is a manufacturer I have used before. Although they are located in Bainbridge, Washington, they get their bamboo from China.
Another rapidly-renewable flooring option is cork. The bark from cork trees is harvested every 9-12 years, without any harm to the tree. Portugal is the largest producers of cork When we traveled in Portugal years ago, we were fascinated by the cork tree forests and how becoming a cork farmer would be a great gig. Imagine having to stop drinking vinho verde long enough once every decade in order to cut some bark off a tree. We currently have cork floors from Unicork in our kitchen and a plank cork product in our family room. Overall, we’ve been extremely happy with the Unicork product. Kevin laid it and finished it himself and it’s very easy to maintain. The best thing about this product is that our kitchen floor really never looks dirty. This can be a pro and con, as we probably don’t clean it nearly as often as we should. This cork naturally has a lot of texture, so if it is damaged or dinged, it’s not apparent. Another great advantage of cork is the cushioned surface it provides. This eliminates the need for a rug in the kitchen and it’s forgiving to dishes that may get dropped. We haven’t had any problems with the Unicork product denting or being damaged and it’s been installed for about 5 years. One caution is that floor imperfections may telegraph through if the cork pattern is too regular. The pattern we had selected is very patterned and it masks floor imperfections.

The floating cork plank floor in our family room has a thin layer of finished cork on top of a thicker cushion of cork. It’s a tongue and groove product with gaps at the room edges to allow for expansion. It does add insulation value to our slab on grade floor, which is the main reason we chose this product.. The one downside is that it can be damaged by heavy objects. We had a extremely heavy, ancient couch sitting on it for a couple of months and didn’t realize that a furniture pad had come off one of its skinny legs. It left a series of small dents that never really sprang back.

We were very tempted to go with cork in our new kitchen because of the great experience we’ve had with it in our current house. We did, however want to create a consistent flow from entry to hallway to kitchen- so we decided to go with a locally harvested FSC red oak floor.

Our flooring contractor (and neighbor), Greg of Chelsey Flooring was busy working on it this weekend. On Saturday, Greg was working on finishing the edge details and sanding the floor to an ultra-smooth finish. The adjoining existing wood up to the entry was also sanded. On Sunday, I stopped by the house and Greg and Tonya were panicking as they started to lay down the stain. We had approved quite a dark, rich coffee color sample. The stained wood was such a huge contrast with the existing floor that they weren’t sure we would like it. I did match what we had approved and was achieving the consistency in tone that we were after. Oak is not one of my favorite woods and I generally don’t care for the grain patterns. A dark stain is able to even out the grain patterns and creates a strong, solid base. I think it will be great when complete. It’s definitely making a bold statement!

A few notes about our wood floors - We salvaged much of the existing oak flooring upstairs and are re-using that in the hallway and guest room. More information about that in a future post. For the new wood in the kitchen we were able to obtain FSC certified red oak from one of our great local suppliers - Hovland Lumber in Mora, MN. Eric Hovland hand picked and milled the wood himself and it is of exceptional quality. Hovland Lumber is part of the Upper Minnesota Certified Forest Products Group - see Resources for link. The group has a lot of high quality woods unique to nothern Minnesota and manages their forests in a sustainable manner. Greg Fisher (our flooring guy) drove up to Mora on a Saturday to pick up the wood and get it inside the house so it could acclimate to the conditions of the house for a few days before he started installing and finishing.


tres_arboles said...

Hi guys--Thanks for checking in at our blog recently. Yes, our timing appears close to yours, although I am constantly reminding myself to relax/calm down about the fact that we are two months late. I was promised five months over and over and here we are late in our sixth month. But as you might have seen, we are painted and the cabinetry is ready to install. My wife is going down this week to lay out the tile for the main bath which I delivered and humped up the stairs myself last week!

I'll get excited when the cabinet boxes are up, the island is standing and the electrician begins the finish work, either this coming or next week. ThenI'll be able to go down and install our floor, for which we chose a cork plank product.

Several years ago, I travelled to Spain, and like you, visited a cork plantation. That was the first I had heard of cork in flooring and have been wanting to use it ever since. And also like your experience, our farmer was one of the happiest men I have ever met. He had wine and food abundant, and he and his crew took long frequent breaks to meet us and eat!

Please check in again soon. It won't be long before we "get the keys"!


Anonymous said...

For those of you who don't know, cork floors are beautiful, I have them in my home and they are super easy to maintain

Anonymous said...
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