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In this episode, we will talk about cork as a building material, where it comes from, and how it is used. We are here today with Jessica McNaughton and Cody Ruffing of CaraGreen.
JESSICA: Hi, this is Build Green Live Green and I'm Jessica.
CODY: And I'm Cody.
JESSICA: Today we are going to talk about a subject we were recently educated on, which you know we have some familiarity with, but I feel a lot more educated now and that is cork as a building material. So, Cody, do you want to kind of explain to our listeners what cork is and where it comes from?
CODY: Sure, yeah, I'd love to. Cork is a really cool subject. So basically, cork is the bark of a cork oak tree predominantly grown in the Mediterranean regions. For some reason, maybe it's the coastal soil and the sunshine and, you know, like we were learning today the sun and the moon, and that was for some reason the Mediterranean area, it grows really well. So, Portugal, it's its number one industry and the cork oak tree has to grow for 25 years before they can even harvest the bark off of it. And then the cork that we generally know, the wine stoppers, is they basically just take holes out of pieces of the bark, just like a plug right out of it, and then there's all this extra bark that's around and then that's starting to become popular as a building material for insulation-
JESSICA: Starting to. Well, I mean, I think as flooring.
CODY: Yeah, absolutely. Yeah, you're right.
JESSICA: But I think we're seeing the uses grow.
CODY: Yeah, exactly. More applications are starting to really become more popular and people are seeing it more often. So yeah, just the bark of the tree and then the trees live for 150 to 250 years and they only take the bark off every nine years and doesn't hurt the life of the tree at all. It actually helps to grow it just like pruning a tree kind of aids the growth and the health of the tree, that is the same way with cork.
JESSICA: So, it's, in a lot of ways it's a rapidly renewable material.
CODY: Absolutely. Yeah.
JESSICA: And what's really neat, I mean, I think you mentioned wine stoppers and you know, I’ve seen my fair share of those. It's neat to see that that bark is so thick that you just take the corks right out of that bark. So, the full cork hole is sitting there and then you have all this leftover bark. Typically, it's ground up and then laid up into you know, flooring. And we've seen some other applications. But if we stick with flooring for a minute, I really liked what I saw today in our conversation with Expanko Cork in that the cork properties are not just the, you know, the healthy and sustainable properties, but rather it's also got great acoustic value, not just for sound transmission, noise reduction, but also impact insulation, meaning the noise above your head, which everyone always wants you to solve that problem. Cork is actually a solution for that.
JESSICA: So, these additional properties of cork are really interesting. So, acoustics has come to the forefront and I think that's probably what's driven a lot of these you know, new applications of cork. The other one that was really interesting to me was the thermal properties of cork, it's ability to retain heat within a space or retain cool within a space. It's actually a very good insulator, which I think again lends itself to some of these new applications that we're seeing.
CODY: Yeah. You know, it's, it's the distinction between thermal mass and insulation and it kind of rides the line between both of those things. You know, being like Woodward has this thermal mass that it takes in the heat during the day and then it's a slow release at night when it gets cooler and vice versa versus warm installation being that it's keeping the hot end and the cold out or you know, whatever the, the temperature variances are between your home and the outside.
JESSICA: The other thing I thought was really interesting about that, their Heirloom collection, which is the, it's the only half-inch cork floor on the market, but that you can refinish it, sand and refinish it so many times. You wouldn't, I mean I think of cork and I just didn't realize like exactly how much longevity it had, how durable it was. There are installations at Harvard that are 60 years old and these libraries where it's been there for 50 years. And it's just held up really well. So, it really is a, an incredibly durable material. And then the products that they showed today, the engineered cork flooring and then the cork LVT, it really is, they're taking the performance benefits of cork and incorporating them into recognizable materials.
CODY: Modern conveniences of LVT and all that.
JESSICA: Yeah, exactly. So, the price points are such a great range. And then other applications like exterior and somebody's spray on application. So I just had a conversation with a gentleman who does a spray on external barrier that has cork in it, which gives it, you know, those thermal and acoustic properties on the outside of your house, which I thought was really interesting to think about, you know, Applying thermal to the exterior rather than, you know, all the work that we do, you know, on the internal wall cavity, trying to create, you know, thermal flow and so on.
CODY: Exactly. And, and it brings in this new question about you know, the value and that you get out of a product like this company ThermaCork that does both corkboard for exterior and it's your insulation and it's your interior. So even though it's a very expensive product, you're getting all three things in one specific products. So, you know, it's like, well, is it more expensive? Maybe it isn't.
JESSICA: More expensive than what, like an MDF?
CODY: Then like different insulation that you might use if you wanted to do, you know, something cheaper if you want to do that. Yeah. Depending on what it would be. So yeah, you know, brings in new questions and cork is such diverse style product.
JESSICA: The other thing you mentioned the cost of it, I find the cork flooring super economical for the durability that you get. I mean, I couldn't get over some of the price points today. I think it's an economical choice. And the other thing, you know, feature of cork is it's so lightweight, it's 50% air. So, think about, you live in a tiny home, right?
CODY: Absolutely. Yep. I do.
JESSICA: And it's mobile, right?
CODY: It is. Yeah.
JESSICA: So, you need lightweight materials in there. So being able to have a flooring that's durable, like a hardwood, but it's so lightweight, it's got to be really desirable to you know, applications like that.
CODY: Yeah. When it comes to a small space like that, you know, like you're saying, it's all about getting as much function out of one particular material. So, you know, cork is a no brainer for a lot of tiny houses and van lifers, and you know, that where lightweight is an important feature.
JESSICA: Yeah. So, I think it'll be interesting to see you know, some of these new building products that start to, you know, see the advantages of you know, incorporating cork because it's lightweight, because it's sustainable, because it's thermally useful. And you know, as acoustics becomes an even bigger and bigger issue. Also, biophilic design, right? I mean, cork looks natural. And I believe, you know, the binders in the cork flooring, it's basically like an Elmer's glue, right? My kids eat that stuff.
CODY: Yeah, exactly. And cork in and of itself I mean, part of the process is steaming it and there is a natural binder within the cork that when it's heated with water as well, it actually binds itself together. So, there's very little glue that's even needed in the process.
JESSICA: That's great. Yeah. I mean I’ve been seeing, you know with Kara green, I’ve been seeing, you know, cork on the market for a long time. And I think when it was just an organic aesthetic, it was maybe not enough for people to kind of embrace it wholeheartedly at the commercial and design level. But now with the thermal and acoustic properties coupled with the way that it looks and the number of ways that you can use it, I think, you know, you're really going to start to see cork, you know, make some headway here.
CODY: Yeah, I agree. And all it takes is just something to start to gain some momentum and become part of the trend. And then people want to get what other people have and then all of a sudden it becomes the popular option and it should be because of its function, its beauty, and the incredible sustainability story that is unmatched.
JESSICA: We were sold on it for our booth at Greenbuild this year in Atlanta. So, the CaraGreen booth is going to be a popup shop. So, kind of like, we're going to call it the sample studio and we're going to have like this whole, like candy shop style of samples. So, architects and designers can go get all the samples that they want, put themselves a kit together and then we'll send it to them. So, it's waiting for them when they get back. And you know, we're going to have a lot of people in the booth. And one of the things that I remembered from years past was just standing on that concrete. And so, we're going to, the floor is going to be a cork floor. It's going to be Expanko Cork. So, we're really excited.
CODY: It's going to be really nice, really helpful.
JESSICA: And nice to stand on. Nice to walk on. It's not going to be loud. I'm excited about it, but you know, I just think about libraries in schools.
CODY: Right, where sound is really important. Yeah.
JESSICA: I mean, we've started a whole campaign called “put cork in it” and I think there's a real opportunity here, not just for floors, but as we talked about, you know, some of these other applications where, think about the benefits of that material and how you can use it in your products and, you know, make it better.
CODY: Absolutely. Right.
JESSICA: Well, this is Jessica.
CODY: This is Cody.
JESSICA: This is Build Green Live Green. Thanks.