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In 1863, Englishman Frederick Walton was granted a patent for a new flooring material he called Linoleum. It grew in popularity throughout the 1800s, and as Walton brought his product across the Atlantic, a number of imitators followed him. Walton never trademarked the name of his product, and linoleum became a generic term.
There are two primary brands of linoleum sold today: Marmoleum by Forbo and Marmorette by Armstrong. Both materials come as tiles or sheets but are most commonly seen as sheets.
Both brands make linoleum with the same ingredients Frederick Walton used. Namely, linseed oil, powdered cork, powdered wood, limestone, jute and pine rosin. The raw materials used to manufacture it are rapidly renewable, so linoleum is catching on as a sustainable flooring option. Some varieties of linoleum contain recycled material, And not only is it recyclable, given the right conditions and enough time, it's biodegradable.
Linoleum is sold in sheets and tiles in a wide variety of colors. Linoleum has to be installed by a professional installer. Almost all applications of this product require sometimes-extensive seams. Its performance over the long term is dependent on the substrate over which it's installed.
Linoleum is a sturdy, water- and wear- resistant material and if taken care of will last for a very long time. It can't handle having heavy objects being dragged over it, but no flooring material can.
Linoleum is static free (helpful when it comes to cleaning up pet hair) and is purported to be non-allergenic. Take care to clean it with pH neutral cleaners (Fabuloso is one) and it will stay looking beautiful for years and years.
Pros: Wide selection of colors and patterns, environmentally friendly, easy to care for, comfortable underfoot
Cons: Can be expensive to have installed, difficulty finding an installer, water-resistant but not waterproof
Suggested uses: Living rooms, kitchens, hallways, baths, dry basements
Price range: $5 to $8 per square foot
At some point in the 1960s, sheet floors made from vinyl all but replaced linoleum. These vinyl floors took over so thoroughly that vinyl sheet floors too are often called linoleum. They're made completely differently of course, but they behave in somewhat similar ways. Just as is the case with true linoleum, vinyl floors are sold as sheets and as tile, though for home use it's most often seen as a single sheet.
Though vinyl sheet flooring no longer has the prestige it once had, it remains a popular material. In some places it's still the default material for kitchens and baths.
Vinyl sheet flooring is all but unrecyclable at this point, though technologies on the horizon may change that. More progress is being made with resilient vinyl tile recycling, but again, that's not a material often encountered in homes.
In the industry's defense, they are working on ways to lessen the impact of these products and there are buy-back initiatives available; check into them before you replace a vinyl floor.
Beware cheap flooring. Something that costs a dollar a square foot will not last, and you will end up replacing it before too long. Considering the environmental impact of this material, buy it for the long term and get the best quality you can afford.
Just as is the case with every other manufactured flooring material out there, the printing technology used in its manufacture has exploded in recent years, and it's available in just about any pattern you can imagine.
Unlike the linoleum it competes with, vinyl sheet flooring is a much more forgiving material when it comes to installation. With a little preparation and care, many DIYers can tackle a vinyl floor as a weekend project.