JAMES DULLEY Cutting your utility bills Cork is a sturdy, unique floor choice for all rooms

Q. At a recent home show, I saw some beautiful cork floor tiles.
I am remodeling my kitchen now and I hate cold floors on my feet. Will the cork tiles provide insulation and warmth and are they durable?
A. When people think of cork, wine bottles and message boards usually pop into their minds. Cork tiles have been used as flooring for generations and are one of the best flooring material available.
Cork tiles, available in many sizes (one-foot squares, one by three-foot planks, rolls), colors and patterns, are also a good choice for other rooms in your house. Many people, particularly ones with allergies, are switching from wall-to-wall carpeting to smooth, easy-to-clean flooring.
Cork not only insulates and keeps your feet warm in the winter, but it is slightly resilient for better comfort. My cousin installed cork tiles in her kitchen and at Easter dinner, a child accidentally dropped a glass. Even though the floor feels very rigid, the glass did not break.
Sound barrier: Cork is durable (some has a 25-year warranty) and is commonly used in high-traffic areas such as libraries and public places. The resilience and sound-absorbing qualities are noticeable, especially in a house with screaming kids. Even with a high-gloss finish, it retains much of its sound absorption.
The natural patterns in the cork are beautiful and unique. Colors can range from near-white to dark browns. These natural colors depend on how long the cork material is baked under high heat and pressure to form the tiles. Pigments can also be added to create brilliant red, blue and green patterns.
Cork is an earth-friendly flooring material. The bark is peeled from cork oak trees to make cork products. This is actually good for the trees and keeps them strong and growing. The tree bark heals and every nine years, up to a life of about 150 years, the bark is peeled again for more cork.
Resists marks: Each inch of cork tile contains more than 100 million tiny air cells giving it insulation and resilience. This also makes it resistant to a permanent set from chair and table legs so it is not marred. There is natural waxy compound, suberin, in cork that seals the cells and repels insects, mold and dirt.
Cork tiles are available with several finish options: glossy urethane, matte urethane, acrylic, waxed and unfinished. It is easy to install the cork tiles yourself using ones that are prefinished with the urethane or acrylic. Acrylic finishes are more natural, but require somewhat more care.
For professional installation, unfinished tiles are ideal. When the entire floor is laid, the tiles can be finished with several coats of urethane. A natural carnauba wax finish gives the floor a rich look and enhances the textures.
Q. We are building a new house. Our previous house had undersized heating ducts and it was noisy. Should we have the builder install ducts as large as possible to cut the noise and improve efficiency?
A. Small ducts with many bends can create a noisy situation and larger ducts are definitely quieter. There is a limit on how large to go, so follow your contractor's guidelines for sizing.
If the ducts are too large, the air flow through them will be too slow for efficiency and comfort. The routing of the ducts should have the minimum possible number of bends and joints. Make sure all the joints are well sealed.
XWrite for Update Bulletin No. 981 which gives a buyer's guide of nine cork floor tile manufacturers listing tile sizes, colors, finishes, thicknesses, features, typical patterns and installation instructions. Please send $3 and a business-size SASE to James Dulley, The Vindicator, 6906 Royalgreen Drive, Cincinnati, Ohio 45244. For an instant download, visit James Dulley online at www.dulley.com.

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