Natural Linoleum Makes A Comeback
Natural linoleum--I remember it from my childhood, not as flooring but as an art material. Smooth, leather-like, durable, easily-carved, it was better than potatoes for print-making.
In the past 50 years, almost all so-called linoleum has actually been vinyl, with asbestos included for fire-proofing, insulation, and durability. Now, pushed by demand from eco-savvy designers and consumers, true linoleum is making a comeback.
Natural linoleum is becoming popular again for a number of reasons. First, in the search for alternatives to petroleum-based products (which are highly polluting in their manufacture, and are not sustainable in the long run), linoleum is a natural. It's made from wood and cork "flour," limestone dust, rosin (from pine trees), and colorants, all mixed with linseed oil (from flax seeds) and baked onto a jute backing. An acrylic sealant is added as a topcoat. Presumably, when it's time to remodel, old linoleum can be shredded and turned into compost.
Natural linoleum is valued for its longevity and low-maintenance. Manufacturers estimate its lifespan at thirty to forty years compared with ten to twenty years for vinyl. Dry-mopping is the recommended method for routine maintenance. If linoleum is wet-mopped, manufacturers recommend periodically waxing it with an acrylic sealer. Because linoleum's color extends throughout its thickness, surface mars can be buffed out and the area re-sealed. Certain disinfectants and high-pH cleaning agents should not be used with linoleum. On the other hand, the linseed oil in linoleum has some natural antibacterial properties.
However, installing linoleum carries some precautions. First, linoleum does off-gas as much as vinyl (but it offgasses different chemicals). Some people are extremely sensitive to linseed oil fumes and cannot tolerate linoleum until it has aired for several weeks, even months. Check your reactions before selecting it.
Secondly, linoleum (like most essentially plant-based materials), should not be exposed to constant moisture. Test the moisture content of floor slabs before installing linoleum. Caulk edges in bathrooms where linoleum abuts tubs and showers.
Linoleum comes in a wide range of colors, typically in mottled patterns. Forbo, currently the best-known linoleum producer, offers a product called "Marmoleum" in a palette of colors that mimics quarried rock, and "Artoleum" with colors that may have been taken from a computer-generated Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scan.
Costs and Availability
Marmoleum, manufactured in Europe, is readily available in the U.S. and available in stock colors. Recently, Armstrong Flooring has begun marketing its own line of natural linoleum.
Marmoleum costs $29 a square yard versus $6 to $40 a square yard for varying grades of vinyl. Environmental Building News, a trade publication for builders, gives the cost of linoleum at $4 a square foot compared with $1.50 to $2 for vinyl. Installation costs are more variable. My 200 square feet of intricately-cut linoleum flooring installed in 1997 cost $1,400, or about $7 per square foot.
- Forbo ('Marmoleum' and 'Artoleum'). (800) 842-7839, Humboldt Industrial Park, PO Box 667, Maplewood Drive, Hazleton, PA 18201
- Armstrong Flooring, (800) 292-6308, PO Box 3001, Lancaster, PA 17604-3001
- "Linoleum: the All-Natural Flooring Alternative," Environmental Building News, Volume 7, Number 9, October 1988, 28 Birge Street, Brattleboro, Vermont 05301.