Green, Economical And Resilient
If you thought linoleum flooring was something from a time long past, think again. Sure, it was invented a long time ago and became a predominant flooring material in the early and mid 1900s.
But despite it's 'old-fashioned' persona, it's enjoying a comeback. And with the broadening environmental awareness related to how we build our homes and live our lives, linoleum's natural ingredients and environmentally-friendly characteristics fit right in.
Today's linoleum floors can be stylish or understated, depending on your style and tastes. They offer easy maintenance and comfort underfoot.
If you haven't given linoleum flooring much thought until now, take a closer look. It might end up being the right choice if you're looking for a resilient floor but aren't sure you want vinyl.
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What Exactly Is Linoleum And What Are Its Benefits?
Let's first start out by saying what linoleum isnt't -- it's NOT vinyl flooring. Sometimes vinyl and linoleum are used synonymously but they are two very different products.
A Natural Product
Linoleum flooring is made from natural products and most of those are renewable as well. It's made from linseed oil, extracted from the seeds of the flax plant, ground cork or wood, pine rosin, crushed limestone and mineral pigments (for color). These ingredients are usually mated with a jute backing material.
Since most of the ingredients are renewable linoleum is an eco-friendly product, with less of a draw on the earth's resources than other types of flooring material. These natural constituents also make for a biodegradable and/or recyclable product at the back end of the life cycle.
One of the characteristics of linseed oil is that it continually oxidizes over the span of time. What this does in a linoleum floor is that it makes the material more durable as time goes on, making it a more durable and longer lasting floor than vinyl. Properly cared for, linoleum can outlast vinyl flooring and last for decades.
Mostly Beneficial Characteristics (And A Few Minor Drawbacks)
Linoleum possesses a number of beneficial qualities:
- Resiliency - linoleum is a resilient flooring material, meaning that it has some cushion or 'give'. This makes for a more comfortable floor, particularly in places where you may do a lot of standing, like the kitchen for example.
- Durable - the characteristics of linoleum flooring make it a durable floor type, even though it's a resilient material. A well cared-for linoleum floor might save you money in the long run by outlasting one or even two vinyl floors.
- Anti-Bacterial - the continual oxidation of the linseed oil makes it difficult for bacteria to multiply. This makes it a nice choice for places more prone to bacteria such as the kitchen and bathroom.
- Anti-Static - linoleum's anti-static properties keep you from getting zapped at the light switch after walking across the floor. This handy property also helps make the linoleum easier to clean since dust won't be "magnetically" attached to the surface from a static charge (just recall how your television screen attracts dust).
- Doesn't Burn - linoleum flooring doesn't readily burn and it won't melt so it's more tolerant of dropped cigarettes and other hot items like arts and crafts glue guns, curling irons and similar items.
- Color Goes Through The Material - unlike a vinyl floor, the color in a linoleum floor goes throughout the thickness of the material. Any scrapes or heavy wear will still be the same color as the top surface, minimizing the visual impact of wear and tear.
- Repairable - small cuts and gouges can be repaired using a spare piece of linoleum, sanded into a powder and mixed with glue and sealed. Larger damage can be patched although this is best left to a professional.
- Mostly A Green Product Choice - this was mentioned earlier but linoleum floors have a soft environmental impact and are a green building choice for the most part. Issues involving embodied energy costs (like transportation) can be a concern however (see the Drawbacks section below).
Linoleum has a lot of good points but it does have a few drawbacks too. Consider these items:
- Temporary Smell - new linoleum has a distinct smell due to the linseed oil content. The smell will dissipate over time.
- Requires A Good Subfloor - linoleum sheet and glue-down tiles require a good smooth subfloor otherwise any defects or imperfections will be "transferred" through to the surface of the linoleum. This isn't as critical when using linoleum floating-floor tiles.
- Professional Installation Is Recommended - professional installers understand how to work with the material, including minimizing and sealing the seams so that you get the best installation possible. Linoleum sheet needs to be glued down and it will expand and contract in contact with the glue. Understanding how to work with both the material and the tools is something the average do-it-yourself handy person might be lacking.
- Needs To Be Sealed - linoleum is porous and should be sealed and periodically re-sealed to prevent long-term damage from standing water and stains. However most of today's linoleum products come with a factory-applied sealer so this might not be necessary depending on the product you choose.
- The "Bloom" Effect - linoleum will yellow (the "bloom" effect) in the absence of light but it is temporary. This is more of an awareness issue in that you might see differences in color if you move floormats around after they've been in place a while. Also, when choosing color swatches, make sure they've acclimated to the light before you make your final decision so that you're looking at the true color of the linoleum, not the yellowed tint because of the "bloom" effect. Tiles pulled out of a dark box may not accurately represent the true color until they've adjusted.
- Embodied Energy - embodied energy involves the resources required to manufacture a product and get it to market or where it will ultimately be used. Linoleum flooring is made in Europe. Some view the energy in transporting the material outside of Europe and to North America as something to factored into the 'green-ness' equation. The longer life cycle of linoleum combined with its lower end-of-cycle environmental impact (i.e. biodegradable/recyclable) may mitigate some of the embodied energy concerns however.
- Installation Over Concrete Is Conditional - depending on the situation it may not be advisable to lay a linoleum floor over a concrete subfloor. The reason is related to the moisture that can be emitted by the concrete. Some manufacturers require that moisture levels be below a certain threshold as measured by a moisture test. Understanding the manufacturer's recommendations and the warranty implications in these situations is important.
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What Kind's Of Choices Do I Have?
The linoleum flooring market is dominated by a few players but that doesn't mean there are limited choices available.
With linoleum, you have the choice of 3 product types:
- Floating Tiles
Forms Of Linoleum
The sheet and tile forms are glued down to the subfloor. The floating tiles are similar to laminate flooring in that tiles or panels are interlocked together to form what's called a "floating" floor (meaning one that's not nailed, glued or otherwise fastened to the subfloor). These tiles usually come in several sizes and may be square or plank-shaped.
The benefit of a floating floor is that it's easier to lay it yourself than glued sheet or tile and you can walk on the floor as soon as you're finished putting it down. However like laminate flooring, there may be a "hollow" sound as you walk across it compared to linoleum that's glued down to the subfloor.
Sheet linoleum and and the non-floating tiles require an adhesive for proper installation. If you're concerned with how certain products affect your home's environment choose a low VOC adhesive to glue the linoleum. VOCs or volatile organic compounds are chemicals that are off-gassed (emitted) into the air and are usually associated with strong and/or objectionable odors.
Colors And Styles
If you look at various print and web articles on linoleum flooring you'll no doubt see some pictures of richly colored floors with contrasting borders or intricate designs. What you need to keep in mind is that virtually all the linoleum product that's manufactured today is made in solid colors -- not in a wide variety of prints.
The range of available colors varies by manufacturer but they're predominantly offered in either a solid or marbled pattern. So what about those intricate and bordered designs you see in the pictures? These patterns are achieved by using contrasting colors inlaid into sheet linoleum, or, using different colored linoleum tiles. It's not like vinyl flooring that comes 'pre-printed' with all kinds of patterns and designs. A desire for a linoleum floor with a contrasting border or other design is another reason to consider professional installation since it involves cutting and seaming.
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Who Makes It And Where Can I Get It?
There are several manufacturers of linoleum flooring who offer their products through a network of retailers and distributors. Their products can also be found at several online flooring retailers too.
- Forbo Flooring is the world's largest producer of linoleum floor products under their brand name Marmoleum®.
- Forbo has the widest range of colors available among the linoleum producers.
- The linoleum incorporates Forbo's Topshield™ protective layer which helps maintain and protect the linoleum's surface.
- Products are available in sheet and tile (glue-down) as well as in floating-tile form (Marmoleum® Click)
- Easy Loc floating linoleum tiles are available exclusively in Canada at The Home Depot
- Armstrong® produces their linoleum under the Marmorette brand name.
- Linoleum is coated with their NATURCote™ coating which is bonded to the floor's surface for protection.
- The product comes in glue-down sheets.
- Makers of click-together linoleum tiles in several marbelized colors.
- Tiles use the Uniclic joint which is used in other types of floating floors like laminate, wood and cork.
Eco-Wise carries Marmoleum® sheet, tiles and click tiles.
GreenFloors sells Marmoleum® sheet, tiles, click planks and click tiles.
Green Building Supply
Green Building Supply sells Marmoleum® brand linoleum in sheet, tile and click tile. Free shipping is available in the 48 contiguous United States.
HealthyHome offers Marmoleum® sheet, tile and click linoleum tiles.
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Here's More Related Info That Might Be Helpful...
Vinyl Flooring - It's similar to linoleum in that it's resilient and available in a wide variety of styles. See what's available and what to consider when choosing vinyl flooring.
Cork Flooring - Cork flooring is resilient, attractive and it's eco-friendly too.
Laminate Flooring - Laminate flooring offers a huge variety of looks and styles along with ease of installation.