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Linoleum vs. Vinyl Flooring

By The Craftsman on Oct 08, 2012

Marmoleum Linoleum flooring

Linoleum and vinyl. Vinyl and linoleum. If you’re like most people, you might think they are the same thing. But in reality they could not be more different. They are two very different products from two very different times. Each one has its advantages, but only one of them rightfully belongs in a historic home. Do you know which one is right for you?

Linoleum was invented in 1860 by Englishman Frederick Walton. Quite by accident he noticed that dried linseed oil formed a strong yet flexible film at the top of an oil-based paint can. After nearly a decade of toying with the process and adding natural ingredients like pine rosin, ground cork dust, wood flour and a canvas or juke backing to the dried linseed-oil, he patented linoleum.

Linoleum was slow to take off but eventually became an affordable flooring alternative for homes and businesses. Compared to other flooring options of the time like hardwood and tile, linoleum provided better moisture-resistance and a lower price.

Linoleum is considered a resilient flooring like vinyl and creates a soft surface to walk and work on. Because of this characteristic, it was installed on most US Navy ships and is still used on submarines today. Its popularity peaked in the 1950s, when it was slowly replaced by the even more affordable vinyl. However, in recent years it has reappeared as Marmoleum, which is made just the same as the original linoleum. If you’d like to purchase Marmoleum, the best pricing and selection is at Green Building Supply.

Pros of Linoleum

Made from only natural and biodegradable products.

Has color throughout its body, unlike vinyl, and therefore has a much longer wear life.

Naturally antimicrobial, antistatic, and hypoallergenic.

Natural ingredients make it stain-resistant and fire-retardant.

Relatively easy to care for and install.

Contributes to LEED points.

Excellent moisture resistance.

Cons of Linoleum

Not as readily available as vinyl.

Some varieties require occasional waxing.

More expensive than vinyl.

Less color and pattern options than vinyl.

Vinyl flooring was introduced to the public at the 1933 World’s Fair in Chicago. It was relatively easy to install and could be purchased in tiles or as a large sheet that was cut to size much like linoleum.

In the lean times of the Great Depression and WWII, a very inexpensive flooring option like vinyl was bound to catch on, and it did. However, it wasn’t until the 1950s and 1960s, when vinyl really began to appear in homes across America.

Vinyl flooring is made from a combination of several chemicals. Ethylene (a petroleum byproduct) and chlorine, which adds stability and and gives vinyl its heat resistance. Vinyl is very similar in its composition to PVC (polyvinyl chloride).

With the relative abundance of fossil fuels, vinyl could be inexpensively and quickly manufactured. It is made up of several layers of the material with the top, or wear layer, being the one with the color or easily stamped patterns that became so popular.

Pros of Vinyl

Very inexpensive.

Easy installation and care.

Wide availability at home stores and suppliers.

Wide variety of colors and patterns.

Excellent moisture resistance.

Damaged asbestos vinyl flooring

Be careful of older (pre 1980) vinyl, because it may contain asbestos.

Cons of Vinyl

Made from non-renewable petroleum products.

Wear layer is thinner than linoleum and does not stand up to heavy traffic as well.

Prior to the 1980s many vinyl floor tiles contained asbestos.

Emits small amount of VOCss (Volatile Organic Compounds) into the living space.

Who knows? You may have one or both already in your house. However, for historic homes built before the 1950s, linoleum is the only period-appropriate resilient flooring. It’s safer for your family in many ways, easier on the environment, and not much more expensive than vinyl. I like it enough that I installed it in my own home in our guest house project, which I’m excited to share with y’all in the next couple months!

What’s more important to you, cost, quality or green building products?

Image credit: & Scott Sidler

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