Modern manufacturers offer an impressive range of artificial finishing materials with the widest operational and decorative functionality. Nevertheless, a rather serious drawback of such products is their insufficient environmental safety. This leads to the fact that many customers begin to search for the most natural solutions for decorating their interior. The only obstacle to the use of natural materials is the widespread belief that such products are short-lived and have limited technical and design capabilities.
However, there is a product that is equally natural and universal. This is a cork. Today it is used in various fields and for a wide variety of purposes. Cork is used for sound and heat insulation of rooms, as a substrate for arranging floor coverings (for example, laminate) and in many other cases. What is good cork material, what are its properties and scope?
Why is cork material considered environmentally friendly? Yes, because the bark of a tree called cork oak is used as a raw material for its production. At the same time, no synthetic substances are included in the composition of the finished products. Thanks to this, cork material is extremely natural.
Trees whose bark serves as raw materials for such production grow in the Mediterranean countries. The largest supplier of all these states is Portugal. Bark from cork oak is removed for the first time after the tree has reached the age of 25. After that, the plant undergoes a process of intensive natural regeneration, which is why it does not die. After 10 years, the bark is again removed from it. It is worth noting that each time its quality is becoming increasingly higher. Similar “harvests” are made regularly every ten years. Given that the life span of such an oak reaches 200 years, a similar treatment of each plant can be done about 20 times.
After removal, the bark is preliminarily dried under natural conditions, and only then it is sent to the factory. The manufacture of cork material is a technologically simple process. Finished products are produced after crushing the raw materials to the state of granules and their further pressing under the influence of steam. No additional binding elements are used to obtain such products.
The technological process used in the production of cork wood material is called “agglomeration”. The thing is that finished products include two positions. These are black and white cork agglomerates. The first of them is obtained using the bark of the trunk, and the second - the bark of the branches.
Bark, as you know, is present in all plants of the tree type. But only this oak has a unique composition that allows the use of recycled fabric for industrial purposes.
The main components of the cork tree bark are:
- Suberin (up to 45%). Thanks to this substance, which is a natural glue, synthetic binders are not used in the manufacture of cork material. In its molecular composition, suberin is close to fats. It is highly resistant to oxygen, as well as mineral acids and bacteria. In addition, due to this component, the cortical tissues have elasticity and have a low level of thermal conductivity.
- Lignin (up to 27%). This substance is a complex mixture of aromatic polymers. Together with fiber (cellulose), it is responsible for the strength of the cork and its characteristic pleasant smell.
In addition to these two elements, the cork also contains other components. These are ceroids and polysaccharides, tannins, tarry, tannic and other substances.
A unique feature of the finished cork is its honeycomb structure. Each cubic centimeter of such material contains approximately 40 million cells. The shape of each of them is represented by a polyhedron of 14 faces, the inner space of which is filled with a special nitrogen-oxygen gaseous mixture that does not have an impurity of carbon dioxide. In this case, all cells are separated from each other by intercellular septa. Thanks to this peculiar structure, products made of cork material have excellent thermal insulation properties, do not allow moisture and gaseous substances to pass.
Positive performance characteristics
Based on its composition, cork itself is an excellent natural composite or polymer. Due to this, it has a wide range of the most diverse operational characteristics. Among them are the following:
- Environmental safety. This criterion for a consumer who decides to use cork finishing materials is one of the key ones. During the operation of such products no harmful substances are released into the air, because in the pressed layer of finely divided crushed bark there are no toxic components that play a binding role. In addition, the cork is not subject to decay, like all other materials from wood, and it is "not interested" in termites, rodents and other pests. It was also established that such products can protect a person from various harmful radiation, including radioactive ones. It has also been proven that cork reduces the effect of geopathic zones by 80%.
- Flammability. Cork material, despite its natural origin, burns very poorly. And besides, it does not emit harmful volatile substances into the air.
- Low thermal conductivity. This property of the material is manifested due to the high content of suberin in it and the presence of gaseous fillers. It is these components that reduce heat loss by cork to a minimum. By the way, it is this protective mechanism created by nature itself that allows trees to tolerate the cold perfectly. Cork heat-insulating materials have a coefficient of thermal conductivity almost the same as that of expanded polystyrene. This property is used in the arrangement of floors. Such coatings practically do not absorb the heat released by the person’s legs through the feet. At the same time, cork flooring is never cold. Choosing such a coating can significantly reduce heating costs.
- Good sound insulation. Thanks to its multi-component cellular structure, the cork perfectly dampens noise. For shock sound waves and provided that the material is located on the source side, this figure is reduced by 16-20 dB.
- Hypoallergenic. The structure of the cork allows it not to accumulate static on its surface electricity, as well as dust and other potential allergens.
- Elasticity. Due to the high content of suberin, cork decoration materials have cushioning properties. They bend under the weight of a person, and then take their original shape. Nevertheless, it is imperceptible when walking. But where a person can go without any consequences, a heavy cabinet on sharp legs will certainly leave irreparable dents.
- Good slip resistance. Thanks to this property, cork floors can be used in public areas, on the stairs.
- Hygiene. No special care coatings of cork material are needed. When contaminants appear, they are wiped with a rag or a vacuum cleaner is used. Ease of care for the cork is caused by its anti-condensation properties, which prevent corrosion and mold, and also protect against steam.
- Durability. A cork floor is not afraid of heels and stilettos. Chairs and armchairs will not leave traces on it. If a heavy object falls onto such a floor, the coating will immediately restore its original shape. The sharp claws of pets are not harmful to cork materials.
- Orthopedic effects. This property is manifested due to the cushioning properties of the cork. When walking on such floors, the load on the spine is much easier.
- Durability. Manufacturers give such products a guarantee of 10 to 20 years.
Cons of the material
In addition to the undoubted advantages of this product has some disadvantages. Among them:
- gh price. Cork is a natural material, which is why its price is higher than for artificial products. Its level depends on the type of coating (agglomerate or veneer), as well as the thickness of the layer.
- Imprints and traces. Homeowners who use cork flooring often complain of traces of cabinets and other heavy objects.
- Abrasive sensitivity. When removing dirt on cork coatings, it is forbidden to use metal brushes, which will certainly leave scratches on them. They are afraid of such floors of sand, which is also an abrasive, and rubber that leaves stains.
- Vulnerability to excess moisture. With a large amount of water, the cork can swell, and after that it will become unusable. By this property, it is significantly inferior to other materials for the floor, for example, linoleum.
Today, manufacturers are increasingly expanding the production of cork products. That is why on sale you can find a wide variety of panels and tiles, as well as other types of cork products.
Let's consider the main types of this natural material:
- Technical cork. This material is available in sheets and rolls. For sound insulation and insulation, it is placed under the main coating (laminate or parquet).
- Adhesive material. It is produced in the form of cork tiles. As a finishing material for the floor, it is glued over its entire surface. Lock connections for such products are not provided. This type of cork tile as a finishing material for the floor is applied to special glue. It is on its composition that the quality of the joints of the coating and the entire work will depend.
- Floating floors. They are panels that are connected to each other using special ridges or grooves. Such a floor is not fixed either to the base or to the walls.
In turn, "floating" floors are divided into adhesiveless and adhesive. One or another type is determined by the docking of the panels. Glueless products are fastened together using special grooves and ridges, which play the role of locks. Such a floor can be easily disassembled and, if necessary, can be moved to another room. Adhesive panels include a spike-groove system. Such floors cannot be disassembled.
There are also differences in the structures of “adhesive” and “floating” materials. In the first of them, the cork layer is covered with decorative veneer from wood of valuable species. To increase the strength of the coating, such tiles are covered by manufacturers with a protective layer of vinyl or varnish.
Cork products are classified by quality and material cost. The most expensive option is veneer cork oak. It is a solid bark of a tree. Agglomerate has the lowest price. This is a material made from heated cork chips. On sale you can also find such products in which both veneer and agglomerate are present. This coating option has a price and quality indicator.
A kind of technical cork
Such products are used for construction purposes not at all as independent coatings, but as auxiliary materials. By their structure, all of them are pressed under high pressure cork crumbs, formed into rolls or sheets. Let's consider these types of materials in more detail.
This type is one of the most common forms of technical products. Roll cork material significantly speeds up and simplifies installation work. It is produced with a standard width of 0.5 m and 1 m. The length of the rolls is 8 m and 10 m. When choosing such a material, in addition to these two parameters, it is necessary to take into account the thickness. Its values can vary between 2-10 mm.
This cork material is used for laying. That is why it is called the substrate.
Roll materials are produced by pressing cork chips, to which a small amount of binders is added. It can be crushed rubber or bitumen. Sometimes roll materials are supplemented with a cellulose or textile base.
The use of various substances allows you to expand the functional capabilities of the cork, but at the same time impairs its positive qualities. For example, the material in which bitumen is included is highly water resistant. However, due to its toxicity, it cannot be used in residential premises.
This material is an analogue of the rolled form. However, even during manufacture, it is cut into separate plates that have a standard length.
The key criterion for choosing such material is its thickness. Based on this parameter, separate groups are distinguished within this category:
- Cork. It is a plate of pressed crumbs, the thickness of which can be in the range from 2 to 12 mm. For length and width, the range also exists quite extensive. The surface of the cork sheet has a pleasant texture. That is why such products are used both for sound and heat insulation, and as a finishing finishing layer. Such cork material is perfect for walls, ceilings and other surfaces.
- Agglomerate. This is a sheet cork material, the thickness of which is 10-150 mm, and sometimes more. The products are distinguished by a characteristic brownish color, the intensity of which is directly dependent on what humidity the feedstock had.
Where is cork material used? It is used for decoration of various rooms. Due to its ability not to absorb odors and liquids, they sheathe the walls in the kitchen. If you trim the loggia or balcony with this material, then during the summer heat it will be colder than the street by about 7 degrees. In winter, the temperature will be as high.
Cork is widely used by designers in creating a variety of interiors. Such material is often used as a wall covering due to the wide range of textures of finished products, color shades and textures.
Cork is also used for decoration and decoration of ceilings. At the same time, the echo disappears in the room and the noise that can reach the next room is reduced. It is cork coverings of walls and ceilings that can be found in many recording studios, as well as in cinemas. When arranging wall and floor coverings in a children's room from a cork, noise from running around and games is significantly reduced.
Cork board made of material that is used to decorate the interior of premises can be made of a sheet of brown, white or black agglomerate. In offices, such a product serves as a stand for information sheets, and in houses on it can be placed children's drawings and photographs, various kinds of reminders, calendars, etc. A cork board can be a great place to store keys. Recipes, as well as information for family members, can be placed in the kitchen in it. In the office, such a board is perfect as an accessory for storing stationery trifles. In the children's room, it will be an excellent stand for the drawings of the baby.
You can cut such a board yourself. The accessory, as a rule, has dimensions of 100x70 cm. It is cut out of sheet cork material and formed around the perimeter with anodized aluminum. Information on this board is attached using the usual push pins.