Jennifer Ranger, Jennifer Earle, Nasrin Asadi, Vancouver, Canada
The name linoleum is derived from the Latin word for flax (linum), the source of linseed oil, and oil (oleum). Linoleum was patented in 1863, by an English man named “Frederick Walton”, whose original recipe – a mixture of linseed oil, tree resin and wood flour, is still used by manufacturers today. Linoleum became a favorite floor covering for kitchens, restaurants and stores, where its smooth, water resistant surface made cleaning easy. It was the original low maintenance resilient flooring.
Linoleum’s popularity began to wane I the 1950’s after the introduction of the cheaper, easier care vinyl flooring. Armstrong, which began North American Linoleum production in 1907, eventually abandoned the failing market in 1974. Linoleum remained a practical flooring choice for some commercial applications, where durability and longevity were priorities, but it virtually disappeared from the residential market.
A resurgence of interest in linoleum, fuelled by a desire within the trade as well as the general public for low impact and environmentally sound products, has taken place over the past several years. Fobro, a Dutch manufacturer has seen sales of linoleum increase dramatically, while American manufacturer Armstrong recently re-entered the market with the purchase of Europe’s second largest linoleum manufacturer, DLW. Improved color rendition and retention, as well as customized inlay design options available with linoleum have made this new generation of products an attractive flooring option for both residential and commercial applications.
General Description and Composition
Linoleum is a resilient flooring, which is manufactured using only natural, renewable materials. Linseed oil from flax seeds and rosin, a pine tree resin, act as binders for wood flour (the filler), which makes of the bulk of the material. Cork flour is sometimes added for additional resiliency, shock absorption and insulation. Ground limestone provides abrasion resistance and natural mineral pigments add color. A backing of either woven jute, canvas or occasionally felt is added. All these materials are either agricultural products or are derive from managed forests in North America or Europe.
Linoleum production begins with the mixing and heating of the linseed oil and resins in large boilers to form linoleum cement. This binder mixture is then cooled and mixed with the rest of the materials to make linoleum granules. The granules are extruded and heated again. Cylinders are used to press a smooth layer of the mix onto a fabric backing – a process called calendaring. The sheets, which can be up to 5 miles long, are then hung in drying rooms, until the product reaches the desired flexibility and resilience. This curing process takes 2 or 3 weeks in the drying room, but hardening continues even after installation – improving linoleum’s durability over time. The sheets are then cut into rolls or tiles and shipped. Rolls are generally 6’ –6” wide (2m for European mills). Tiles may be various sizes, depending on the manufacturer. American mills produce tiles in 12” and 24” sizes, European mills in 13” and 20” squares. Gauge, or thickness, varies from 0.080” to 0.125” depending on the product and its intended use. Thicker gauges are longer wearing and more appropriate for commercial applications.
C) Physical Characteristics
Linoleum has many redeeming characteristics as a flooring material:
- It is resistant to impact damage such as dents and gouges, as well as abrasion, scarring and burns. If damaged, linoleum can be repaired, unlike many other types of resilient flooring.
- Linoleum is a homogeneous material –the color extends through the flooring from top to bottom. This improves the color retention of the material.
- Highly resistance to heavy rolling loads, heavy foot traffic and castor wear.
- Linoleum is quiet, elastic and comfortable underfoot. Its elastic and acoustical insulating properties can be further improved with the addition of cork flour during production, or with a cork underlay.
- Water resistant and stain resistant
- Bactericidal properties due to the continuous reaction of linseed oil with air (oxidation). Microorganisms such as Salmonella and Staphylococcus are prevented from multiplying on floor surface.
- Linoleum has naturally occurring anti-static properties. Relevant for allergy sufferers at static attracts and accumulates dust. Also relevant for installations where computer equipment is used.
- Good reflectance –up to %74. Important consideration for installations where artificial light is primary source, such as educational facilities.
- Suitable for use with under floor heating systems.
- Very long useful life –lasting up to 40 years- and naturally biodegradable when life cycle is complete.
- Linoleum does not emit VOC’s (Volatile Organic Compounds), because its constituent materials are all natural. No toxic chemicals are used or produced during its manufacturing. A low VOC emitting adhesive should be specified for installation.
- Does require some maintenance. Floor should be polished regularly.
Uses and Restrictions
Linoleum is often recommended as an alternative to vinyl or ceramic. It has much the same durability and price point as ceramic, with the advantage of being more elastic and acoustically absorbent. Its natural composition makes it a more attractive option than vinyl for specifiers and clients with concerns about indoor air quality or environmental issues.
In residential applications, linoleum has traditionally been used in the kitchen. Renewed interest in the product due to its low environmental impact, however, has led to an expanding array of color choices and even textures –making linoleum a more esthetically attractive option or almost any space where a non-textile flooring surface is desired. Linoleum’s anti-static properties and its easy-clean smooth surface limit the accumulation of dust and mites, making it an ideal choice for those with respiratory disorders. It is also recommended by health professionals for people with chemical sensitivities as linoleum does not release VOC’s. Linoleum is not recommended for installations below grade, where dampness in the concrete sub floor may be an issue, nor does the manufacturer for use in bathrooms recommend it. Alternative sources, however, suggest that linoleum is suitable for bathrooms as long as the seams are heat-sealed.
Commercially, linoleum is used in areas subjected to extremely high foot traffic, such as bus stations, airports and schools. Its good resistance to gouging, the integral color that won’t wear through, acoustical dampening properties and overall durability make it an ideal choice for this type of installation. Linoleum’s bactericidal and anti-static properties make it a logical option for educational, health and daycare facilities. Designers have specified linoleum for art galleries and museums due to the design possibilities available with inlay. Other applications include retail, hospitality, office and entertainment spaces.
Because linoleum is porous, its appearance and continued resilience depends on regular maintenance. Manufacturers recommend sweeping or vacuuming regularly. Occasional damp mopping with water and a proprietary cleaner is suggested. Linoleum comes from the factory with a thin coat of factory-applied sealer that needs to be supplemented with 2 or 3 coats of polish applied a few days after installation. The polish, which prevents spills or dirt from penetrating and staining the floor should be reapplied with a clean mop regularly. One manufacturer suggests polishing after several damp cleanings, another recommends once per year, and another suggests re-polishing as the appearance of the floor dictates. Periodically, the polish layer will need to be stripped with a manufacturer recommended product, again applied with a mop. Two or three coats of polish should then be applied as for a new floor. One manufacturer recommends dry buffing with a nylon pad to achieve maximum shine and durability. Linoleum can be susceptible t moisture and alkaline (such as soaps), so spills should be cleaned promptly and only manufacturer approved products used for cleaning. Rubber or latex-backed mats should be avoided as they can permanently stain linoleum. Damage such as burns and scratches can be buffed out of the floor using a nylon pad or fine grain sandpaper and then recoated with polish.
Finishes and Colors
Pigments used to color linoleum are all naturally derived –giving the product an organic ok and warmth. Color option range from soft and muted to deep and rich. The rolling process blends colors, combined and controlled by computer, to produce either bold shots of color, dense visually textured surfaces or the more traditional marbleized patterning. Pattern options are limited due to the nature of the production process, but inlay, using several colors and/or visually textured products in combination, widens the design possibilities immensely. Pre-fabricated borders are available from most manufacturers to coordinate with their various collections. Simple patterns may be cut on site by the installer. More complicated patterns are cut using a computer-operated system at the factory and then shipped to the site, where pieces simply need to be assembled like a jigsaw puzzle and installed. This design option makes linoleum particularly useful for guiding traffic flow in commercial installations or for providing stimulating visuals in pediatric care, schools and other areas designed for children.
The finish on linoleum is typically a low gloss or satin sheen. Gloss levels can be increased with the application of polish followed by buffing.
We found that suppliers were somewhat hesitant to discuss price. Other representatives stated that the price was flexible depending on the size of the installation. The average price we were quoted for linoleum was $4.00 to $6.00 per square foot. Armstrong’s commercial grade linoleum is priced from $3.75 to $5.00 per square foot.
Availabilty appears to be good. A product not in stock may take from one to eight weeks for shipping from the United States or Europe.
Acclimatization of the product for 24 is required prior to installation. A plywood sub-floor is recommended although above grade concrete sub-flooring is acceptable. Linoleum should not be installed over concrete below grade due to the potential for moisture damage. The sub-floor should be properly prepared: any unevenness should be leveled to prevent telegraphing (transferring) of irregularities of the surface of the floor; plywood should be secured with screws (nails may work loose and cause defects in flooring); sub-floor should be free of paint, oil, grease, dirt or anything else that may interfere with binding of the adhesive.
Manufacturers recommend professional installation for sheet linoleum (although tile installation is a possible DIY). Sheet linoleum can be challenging to install, as it tends to shrink length and expand in width when it makes contact with the adhesive. Sheets must be given time to stabilize before overlapping the next run. Overlapping edges are trimmed with a scriber to produce a clean seam, which is later heat welded. The floor must be rolled with a 100 lb. Roller, to ensure even contact with the adhesive. The adhesive requires 24 hours to set firmly enough to take the weight of furniture.
An underlay of cork may be specified for additional sound insulation and cushioning. Manufacturer approved low VOC emitting adhesives should be specified for minimum environmental impact.
Manufacturers / Sources
- Armstrong (Marmorette and other collections)
- Forbo (Marmoleum, Artoleum and other collections)
- Domco Tarkett (Linosom Collection)