Cork Flooring: Install Before or After Cabinets?

A discussion of the practical issues with cabinets and a floating cork floor. November 30, 2009

I have an upcoming install with some customers that are planning cork floor in their kitchen. The kitchen will include granite counters. I will use leg levelers to get my boxes off the floor. I usually insist of the floor being down before the cabinets go in, but with a cork floor I am not sure what to recommend. Any and all input is appreciated.

Forum Responses
(Cabinet and Millwork Installation Forum)
From contributor M:
Isn't cork flooring a type of floating floor? If so, that usually goes in after the cabinets are installed. Or am I wrong?

From the original questioner:
It is a floating floor just like the click-together laminate stuff. Iíve never had to deal with this before. My customers have always used tile or hardwood. My cabinets have always gone in after the finished floor. With the floating cork floor I was stumped so I am looking for opinions.

From contributor M:
Usually floating floors go in after the cabinets. I never seen that type of floor put down before. Laminated floors were also designed to save money, so putting it down before would not be economical.

From contributor A:
A floating floor moves around a fair amount. If you have heavy cabinets on the floor it will buckle and raise up in front of the cabinets. I have seen this more than once. The repair is cutting through the flooring at the toe kick line and shooting shoe onto the kick. It would be easier to install the floor after the cabinets, this way it will be able to "float". A higher end option for cork is to glue it down wall to wall, sand, and site finish. This install will not creep and is easily recoated as it gets wear. Unfinished cork panels and rolls are available in a variety of patterns, sizes, and thicknesses. Unfortunately these products are being replaced with this floating junk.

From contributor W:
I only have experience with Wicanders brand of cork flooring. When I read all the directions and instructions I could get my hands on I concluded that the safe thing to do was to install the flooring after all the cabinets were in. I did it that way and all has been well for six years. I have done others the same way. If the floor is already installed then I suggest you cut a circle around each of the levelers - making the circle about one-half to one inch larger than the foot of the leveler. I used this method in a condo remodel recently, about 16 months ago, when the owner didn't want to replace her floor, but did want new custom cabinets. It wasn't as bad as I though it might be as I was building the cabinets and could use a holesaw to cut my circles for the levelers. I did have to place the levelers a bit further back than I normally do and installing all the toe kicks wasn't easy.

From contributor L:
First, all of the cork flooring I've ever seen glues down. It doesn't float. If it were me, I'd install the cabinets first and let the floor guy run flooring up to my toe kick. Much more important to you though, at least in my humble opinion, is the finish floor elevation. Sometimes floor guys put underlayment down first. Sometimes they don't. You'll want to check to make sure your finish cabinet heights are going to work for appliance openings such as diswasher, etc. Again if it were me, I would shim up the sub floor under appliance areas to finish elevation (adjust toe kick or levelers accordingly) so the dishwasher, etc can slide in and out easily.

This finish floor height is important enough to you to get the exact finish floor height in writing. Please don't ask why I make this point so strongly. Let's just say it wouldn't surprise me to learn the floor guy changed his mind about the underlayment at the last minute and no one told you about it until it was too late. If the floor is already in, all of the above is moot, of course, and following contributor W's suggestion ought to work fine.

From contributor G:
I've installed plenty of laminate flooring with a cork top layer - and that's what I believe you're talking about (as opposed to glue-down cork, which usually comes in tiles, and is glued down, similar in installation to PVA tile or vinyl flooring). The scenario that works best (for me) when installing a floating floor in a kitchen, is to have the cabinets go in first, but to have the cabinet installer leave the kicks off. In fact, I'd rather cut and install the kicks myself than try to work tight (a no-no on basically any kind of wood floor covering) to cabinets. The only real problems I encounter routinely are finished end gables which are thoughtlessly sitting on the subfloor, and which I have to either undercut or remove and cut down. If you have a sample of the flooring, set your finished gables on the laminate, plus the underlay (note: some brands of cork laminate don't actually need underlay), plus, say, the thickness of a business card.

The exception is islands. I've lifted up islands and laid laminate right underneath more times than I can count, without problems related to wood movement (or should I say MDF type stuff with a plastic wear layer movement). I think of laminate as having roughly as much movement as sheets of MDF - not much, however I'm lucky in that I live in a climate which doesn't change too radically in humidity from season to season. Anyway, cabinets first with kicks off seems to work well for everyone involved. A lot of times the cabinet installer will pre-cut and label the kicks to make my life easier. Hope this helps.

From the original questioner:
It is a cork-like laminate floor. I use leg levelers so the height adjustment is a non-issue and adding kick later is easy. I always plan for my counterheight to reference a finished floor. I will just have to have my customer get a piece of the floor as well as any underlayment that may be used from the floor guy. Thanks for all the help.