Question

Should we avoid the vinyl linoleum? We need to replace a little bit of linoleum in our back door entry way and under our kitchen sink.

Asked by Margaret
Lombard, IL

Is it just MARMOLEUM that is the safest as it is made of linseed oil? I know we're supposed to avoid vinyl. The contractor we hired to refinish our wood floors and then replace this small bit of linoleum asked us to pick something out at Menards or Home Depot-but I dont see Marmoleum there.. Help!

Answer

David Bergman

Answered by David Bergman

New York, NY

David Bergman Architect

March 19, 2012

People often get confused about vinyl and linoleum flooring, and it’s easy to understand why. They can look very similar and, over the years, linoleum has become a generic term for both types of flooring.

  • When vinyl became popular, people were more familiar with the term linoleum so it came to be loosely – though incorrectly -- applied to both.
  • If you search for linoleum at Lowe’s or Home Depot’s website, it will lead you to vinyl.

Linoleum

Linoleum is the older material, invented as flooring in 1860, and even before vinyl came into the picture (in the post-WWII period), there was confusion over the name.

Frederick Walton, linoleum's inventor, neglected to trademark it (don’t you hate when you do that?), so it became the accepted name for all flooring made primarily from linseed oil and flax seeds combined with other natural materials like rosin. 

(The name linoleum is a combination of two Latin words: linum, which means flax, and oleum, which means oil. Thank you Wikipedia.)

Vinyl

Vinyl flooring, on the other hand, is made of PVC (polyvinylchloride), which is derived from petroleum. 

Aside from its problematic source, the main environmental issue is that it offgasses dioxin, a carcinogen, during its production (allegedly) and end of life, particularly if burned.

(If you want to be entertained while learning about this, I recommend the documentary Blue Vinyl. It may be the closest thing to an environmental docucomedy.)

Linoleum vs Vinyl

There are a number of practical differences between linoleum and vinyl.

  • Linoleum tends to be a bit more expensive, but lasts longer, in part because it is a solid material with the color and pattern going all the way through the tile.
  • Vinyl tiles have a printed layer on top.

Additionally, linoleum is biodegradable; vinyl is not.

Buying linoleum

If the flooring you are replacing is indeed linoleum, or if you want to switch it to linoleum, it looks like you can’t get it at Home Depot or Lowes.

  • Armstong Marmorette does turn up on Menard’s website but it’s in roll rather than tile form (and called both linoleum and vinyl…).
  • Linoleum tiles are pretty widely available, just not generally in the big box stores.

Marmoleum, by the way is the brand name for one line of linoleum, manufactured by Forbo. Marmorette (an intentionally, I assume, similar name) is made by Armstrong Flooring and Harmonium is made by Johnsonite Flooring.

Unavailable?

It’s unfortunate that this has come to be a problem with many contractors. If they can’t get it at their usual source (um, where did they go before there were Home Depot’s?), then they say it is “unavailable.”

  • When doing a green renovation recently with a non-green contractor, I wanted him to use recycled cotton insulation.
  • But he balked at getting anything that wasn’t available at Lowes.
  • After much back and forth under a deadline, I very reluctantly settled for non-formaldehyde fiberglass insulation and, as you can probably tell, am still kinda P.O.’d about it.

That insulation – and your linoleum or vinyl – is going to be there a long time, so it’s worth the effort.

 

For more information:

Read "Can you give me information on Naturcor vinyl sheet flooring?" a Q&A answered by Molly McCabe.

Tagged In: linoleum, pvc safety

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