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Remodeling 101: Affordable and Environmentally Friendly Linoleum

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Remodeling 101: Affordable and Environmentally Friendly Linoleum

September 7, 2017

Linoleum has an undeserved bad rep. Mistakenly lumped in with vinyl, it’s seen as cheap and environmentally disastrous. But, in fact, linoleum is an altogether different material—one that’s durable, green (it’s biodegradable), and affordable. Is it time to give linoleum a chance? We think so; here’s why.

deep green linoleum looks chic, not tacky, at twentieth century cafe: old vien 9
Above: Deep green linoleum looks chic, not tacky, at Twentieth Century Cafe: Old Vienna Comes to San Francisco. Photograph by Laurie Frankel.

What is linoleum?

The name “linoleum” is derived from the Latin Linum (flax) and Oleum (oil), and gives a clue to its makeup: Linoleum is a made of natural, renewable ingredients, including linseed oil, wood flour, cork dust, tree resins, jute, ground limestone, and natural pigments.

two of the \100 plus colors of forbo marmoleum include the wood grain like wels 10
Above: Two of the 100-plus colors of Forbo Marmoleum include the wood-grain-like Welsh Moor (L) and Yellow Moss (R).

What’s the difference between linoleum, Marmoleum, and vinyl flooring?

The only thing that linoleum and vinyl flooring have in common is affordability and, to some extent, appearance. Vinyl is a synthetic material made from nonrenewable, petroleum-based materials that release VOCs, melt under high heat, and have color and patterns that are applied to the surface only. Linoleum, on the other hand, releases no VOCs (only a linseed oil scent when first installed), is long-lasting (estimated life span, 30 to 40 years), and its color runs throughout. To give vinyl some credit, it is highly waterproof, whereas linoleum is porous and requires a sealant to match vinyl’s water repellence.

Marmoleum is to linoleum as Levi’s is to blue jeans; Marmoleum is a brand of linoleum made by Forbo. It’s the longstanding market leader in linoleum flooring. Armstrong is another leading brand of linoleum.

architect e. b. min of san francisco firm min|day, a member of the remodelist 11
Above: Architect E. B. Min of San Francisco firm Min|Day, a member of the Remodelista Architect/Designer Directory, installed an orange linoleum floor in the mudroom and office of a Sonoma ranch house. “Linoleum is a utilitarian, cost-effective material, and we knew it would be durable,” Min says. “Linoleum gave us an opportunity to think about the floor differently—a solid color gives the floor a monolithic feel.” For more, see The Architect Is In: A Ranch Turned Farmhouse in Sonoma County. Photograph by Bruce Damante.

What colors does linoleum come in?

This is not the linoleum of the past. The color palette now extends far beyond school-cafeteria drab. In addition to a rainbow of solid and multicolor options, offerings include marbled, stone-look, flecked, and wood-grain patterns.

Linoleum’s natural finish is a grainy matte. It can, however, be buffed to a smooth honed surface, or polished to a shine.

brown and white marbled zigzag linoleum from sinclair till. 12
Above: Brown-and-white marbled zigzag linoleum from Sinclair Till.
forbo offers a subdued palette of \1\2 colors chosen by dutch architect piet bo 13
Above: Forbo offers a subdued palette of 12 colors chosen by Dutch architect Piet Boon. The Piet Boon Marmoleum Selections include the blue-hued Piet Boon 12.
another piet boon marmoleum color (piet boon 04) has a stone like look. 14
Above: Another Piet Boon Marmoleum color (Piet Boon 04) has a stone-like look.

Does linoleum flooring need to be sealed?

Because linoleum is a porous material, it needs to be sealed before installation. The product is evolving, however, and most linoleum now comes with a nontoxic sealant that is applied during the manufacturing process. When sealed, it is in impenetrable and resistant to water damage, making it a good choice for kitchens, bathrooms, entries, and laundry rooms. Some linoleum floors should be resealed annually, while those with factory sealants often have long warranties (Forbo’s Marmoleum Click Classic, for instance, comes with a 25-year warranty).

What about cleaning and other maintenance?

Naturally antistatic and antibacterial, linoleum is easy to clean. A duster or vacuum is recommended for debris, while a damp mop with a very mild cleanser is suggested for periodic cleaning. Harsh chemical compounds are to be avoided.

at left, red linoleum in the kitchen of the new homesteaders: chelsea and jame 15
Above: At left, red linoleum in the kitchen of The New Homesteaders: Chelsea and James Minola’s Craftsman Quarters on Bainbridge Island. At right, New York architects Russell Groves (a member of the Remodelista Architect/Designer Directory) and Neal Beckstedt elected seamless linoleum for the kitchen floor in their East Hampton home.

As the New York Times put it, “the neighbors may be appalled, but Mr. Beckstedt is a big fan of the affordable, much-maligned flooring. Linoleum is ‘very, very chic,’ he said. ‘It’s like wall-to-wall carpeting, except it’s a hard surface and you can scrub it.'”

How is linoleum flooring installed?

Linoleum is available as tiles and sheets, each with its own requirements.

Modular tiles and planks:

Easy to lay out and install, tiles and planks (akin to strips of wood flooring) can be fixed with an adhesive to the subfloor. Some versions are available in a click-together, tongue-and-groove format that can be quickly installed on top of any flat floor without adhesives.

Sheets:

Sheet linoleum is more complex in terms of installation: It requires cutting, fitting, and an adhesive “glue-down” to apply it to a flat subfloor–work that’s typically done by a professional.

How much does linoleum flooring cost?

While slightly more costly than vinyl, linoleum is a bargain compared to wood, ceramic tile, and natural stone. A good ballpark estimate is $3 to $5 per square foot installed. By comparison, hardwood flooring costs an average of $8 to $15 per square foot.

Linoleum Flooring Recap

Pros

  • Produced from renewable and recycled natural ingredients
  • Does not emit toxins or use toxins in the manufacturing or disposal process
  • Recyclable and biodegradable
  • Affordable
  • Flexible, won’t crack
  • Soft underfoot: has some spring and give
  • Easy to clean

Cons

  • Still has a bad reputation as drab
  • Conjures up unnatural feeling of vinyl
  • Porous, often requires sealing

Considering flooring? See the following Remodeling 101 posts:

And Christine explores warmth underfoot in Remodeling 101: 5 Things to Know About Radiant Floor Heating.

N.B.: This post is an update; the original story ran on September 18, 2014.

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