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Beyond Hardwood: Vinyl and linoleum stand on their own two feet

Linoleum and Vinyl have evolved beyond imitating ceramics, marble or wood, with designs and colours unique to the materials themselves.


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September 14, 2015 by John Bleasby

With apologies to Mrs. Cleaver (ref. Leave It to Beaver), linoleum and vinyl may no longer be regarded as prestige miracle flooring. However, they still have a place and function in 21st century homes.

Eco-friendly and renewable linoleum
Linoleum is the grand-daddy; it goes way back, developed in 1855 by Englishman Frederick Walton and introduced to North America in the 1880’s. Although Walton patented the material in 1860, he never trademarked the name, so linoleum became a generic term.

Linoleum in either sheets or tiles can be very striking.

Linoleum in either sheets or tiles can be very striking.

Linoleum’s components have not changed much in all that time: solidified linseed oil, powdered cork, powdered wood flour, limestone, jute, and pine rosin. These are all renewable and recyclable, one reason why linoleum remains popular today. It is also static free and said to be non-allergenic. Linoleum is sturdy, very water and wear resistant and, if installed over a suitable substrate, will last for years since colours go through the entire depth of the material.

Linoleum is available in tiles, but is mostly commonly installed in sheets, requiring long seams and consequently professional installation. The variety of colours and patterns are almost endless, and if fanciful floor designs are desired, using different patterns and colours can result in spectacular results.

Linoleum: Back in plain view
Depending on brand quality, linoleum can be quite comfortable under foot. However the low cost of the flooring material itself is counter-balanced somewhat by the relatively high cost of professional installation. Nevertheless, it can be a good choice beyond the laundry rooms and bathrooms. Mrs. Cleaver might have used it in her hall and entrance, even in her living room; some bold home owners might be tempted to do the same today.

Then along came Vinyl
Linoleum and vinyl are often used as interchangeable terms, however, they are not the same at all. Vinyl appeared in the 1960’s, and its translucency and colour brightness pretty much pushed linoleum to the sidelines.

Not so green

Vinyl floors like this do not necessarily require installation by flooring professionals.

Vinyl floors like this do not necessarily require installation by flooring professionals.

However, it is not as environmentally friendly as linoleum. Its main ingredient is polyvinyl chloride (PVC), therefore the manufacturing process is a concern to many, as is the fact that PVC is currently almost non-recyclable. However, new initiatives are reportedly underway to address this. New developments, such as the addition of fibreglass to the core of the sheets or tile, have added cushion-under-foot and durability to the product’s features.

Price can indicate quality
While the range of colours and inlaid patterns are impressive, pricing can vary greatly. Issues to consider are: thickness of the tile or sheet, depth of inlaid patterns, and surface printing versus full depth colours. These variables drive pricing and quality, with price often being an indicator of quality. Poor quality vinyl will not last. Therefore the recycling issue and the replacement nuisance factor are worth consideration when shopping. It is important to do good research. Look for a reputable brand and a good warranty.

DIY-friendly
The good news is that vinyl flooring is much easier to install than linoleum, well within the range of most DIY’ers. Various types, from click-tile or glue-down tiles, and even sheet products, are easily installed over a variety of substrate surfaces. Vinyl is also virtually non-reactive, meaning you can clean it with anything. These factors, plus the range of design possibilities, are bringing vinyl back onto the list of flooring possibilities for kitchens, bathrooms, family rooms, basements and laundry rooms.

This concludes Canadian Contractor’s survey of flooring options Beyond Hardwood.
To review the entire series, follow these links….

Solid hardwood and its composite look-alikes 
Bamboo: a low-priced, eco-friendly alternative
Cork: warm underfoot, infinite in variety
Concrete: more than 50 Shades of Grey


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