Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Linoleum Floors


Take pride in a floor made of flax

People often use the word "linoleum" to refer to vinyl flooring. But from an environmental perspective, these two products are poles apart. Vinyl flooring is a petrochemical-based product that produces highly toxic dioxin when it's being manufactured and may give off phthalates, chemicals that can cause damage to human and animal reproductive systems.
Linoleum Floors

Old-fashioned linoleum, on the other hand, contains no vinyl. It's made from boiled linseed oil (from flax seeds) mixed with powdered cork, ground sawdust, and pine resin, as well as minerals such as ground limestone, zinc, and pigments. It typically has a burlap backing and an acrylic finish.

Though it's been around for a hundred years, linoleum was largely supplanted by less expensive vinyl flooring in the 1960s. Now it's back in vogue as long-lasting green flooring. Linoleum comes in dozens of colors and patterns, and is durable, easy to keep clean, and biodegradable. It also has antibacterial properties, which makes it popular for healthcare facilities.

Top Tips

At home

  • Keep it tidy. Dry mop and vacuum regularly to get up dirt and grit that will dull the finish. Damp mop occasionally.

  • Don't worry about scratches. The color and pattern runs all the way through the linoleum material, so minor scratches can be gently sanded out with a nylon cleaning pad.

  • Pay now, enjoy longer. You can buy vinyl tiles for half the cost of linoleum ones (about $2 versus $4 a square foot) but linoleum lasts four or five times as long--40 to 50 years.

Other Considerations

Linoleum requires installation by a certified installer.

Benefits ...

...for your health
We've mentioned linoleum's natural antibacterial properties. It also emits small amounts of certain VOCs (volatile organic compounds), but health experts don't believe these particular ones are a concern.

...for the Earth
Currently all linoleum is imported from Europe, so shipping it to U.S. consumers takes a lot of energy. But its manufacturing impacts are relatively benign.

Common Mistakes

Buying vinyl. Some people think they are buying wholesome linoleum when they are actually buying unhealthy vinyl.

Getting Started

  • Although linoleum is only made by a few European manufacturers, it is widely available from flooring dealers in the United States.

  • Ask any potential installer the following questions:

    • How much expertise does the flooring contractor have installing linoleum floors? Linoleum installers should be certified by the linoleum manufacturer.

    • Ask for references, but also try to visit a few homes where the contractor has installed the same type of flooring that you've chosen. Check the quality of the installation as well as how well the material has held up.

    • If any adhesives, stains, sealants, mortar, or grout will be used during the installation, ask about low- or zero-VOC options. If you meet resistance to using low-VOC products, consider shopping around for a contractor who has experience with healthy home practices.

  • For general advice on what questions to ask contractors and other tradespeople, see our "What to Ask Your Contractor" article.

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