Linoleum Flooring

Vintage or contemporary, easy care linoleum is a great look

Linoleum floor

Linoleum flooring was invented almost 150 years ago and until the 1950s was a popular floor covering used widely in both residential and commercial settings. With the advent of vinyl floor coverings that took the market by storm in the 1950s, the tried and true—but old-fashioned—linoleum floors became less common.

As a natural product, linoleum is enjoying a resurgence in availability and popularity. Made of renewable resources including linseed oil, rosin, cork dust, limestone, wood flour, and pigments that are pressed into a jute backing, it's available as tile and sheets that are installed with an adhesive. When installed using a low-VOC adhesive, it emits much lower levels of contaminants than vinyl. In manufacturing and disposal, linoleum is environmentally kind, biodegradable, and creates no toxins. New click tiles that snap together have also recently come on the market. These may be floated over existing flooring for easy installation.

Now, homeowners want it not only for it´s "green" value, but because it also permits historically accurate restorations in many older homes, especially those built from 1900 to 1950.

Linoleum advantages

Linoleum is really a beautiful material. It's available in a remarkable range of colors and patterns. Because it can be cut, linoleum lends itself to creative floor design with patterns and bands to create unique floors for every room in your home. It´s comfortable and resilient underfoot.

Linoleum is extremely durable and has a life expectancy of decades with minimal maintenance, which makes it ideal for high traffic areas. It´s water resistant so it´s a logical choice for kitchens, bathrooms, laundry, and mud rooms. It doesn´t generate static electricity so it´s appropriate for offices too.

The color is integral to the flooring, so if you drop a knife you can repair the damage and reseal it. If it´s not too large a ding, it may even self-heal.

It is also naturally anti-microbial. This makes it a good choice for schools and hospitals, and would be great solution in kid´s rooms, nurseries, or playrooms. It´s easy to clean; generally sweeping and occasional damp mopping is about all that´s required.

In addition to using it for floors, linoleum also makes nice countertops for kitchens, bathrooms, and laundry areas. Its durable, water-resistant surface will be welcome everywhere, but because it isn't heat resistant, don't use it next to the stove or oven. To preserve its good looks, avoid cutting or preparing food directly on it. Consider using one color for the floor and a complementary contrast for the counter. The unity of material can pull a room together easily.

Linoleum tile and the brand new linoleum click flooring that floats over existing flooring is something do-it-yourselfers can accomplish. The click flooring is particularly nice because it's backed with cork for extra noise control and requires no adhesives for installation.

The cost of linoleum usually runs about the same as high-end vinyl and is often comparable to wood flooring or carpet.

Linoleum has the distinct advantage of being both a contemporary and historically accurate design solution in many settings. Take a kitchen back to the 1920s or 30s with a cool floor graphic or make it modern with a simple, clean installation of one color throughout your home.

Linoleum disadvantages

Though linoleum is beautiful and durable, it has its weaknesses. It must be protected from moisture in the subflooring, which makes it a poor candidate for basements or concrete subfloors. Armstrong recommends against using it in bathrooms, though Forbo uses it liberally throughout their sales literature. Read the manufacturer´s recommendations for installation to prevent voiding the warranty.

Nevertheless, linoleum is very common for bathroom installations. Because it is made of linseed oil, it's water-resistent. Most vendors suggest adding a bead of silicone caulk as extra insurance to prevent water from getting to the subflooring. Joints where the flooring meets the tub or shower would be the most likely candidates for sealing. (If you have any doubts or tend not to get worked up over a little standing water after a bath, use sheet only in wet rooms.)

Some folks consider not being able to install it themselves to be a disadvantage, too. Most manufacturers and vendors maintain that sheet linoleum should be installed by pros. One reason is that the width of sheet linoleum is 6'-7", so any room wider than that is going to require a seam. A professional installer can place the linoleum to minimize the impact of the seam.

Linoleum tile installation

Most vendors suggest having a pro install linoleum sheets, but acknowledge that tile is manageable by savvy do-it-yourselfers. Depending on your project, you´ll probably need more detail depending on whether the tile will be installed in a dry setting like a playroom, or a wet setting like a bathroom. The following steps are an outline, and should not be considered a comprehensive guide for your linoleum tile installation.

  1. Prep the floor. Linoleum tile can be installed over existing flooring if it is securely attached to the subfloor. If it isn´t, you´ll need to rip it out. However you approach it, the surface on which you intend to lay your linoleum needs to be smooth, clean, and dry without any bumps, dirt, oil, or paint that could prevent a tight fit.
  2. Use a water-resistant Portland-cement filler to create a smooth surface. Mix to the consistency of peanut butter, then apply with a mud knife. Keep it smooth to avoid having to sand more than necessary.
  3. Sand to a smooth, even surface.
  4. While working on the floor preparation, put the linoleum tile somewhere nearby for a couple days to acclimatize to room temperature. (It tends to be brittle if it´s too cold.)
  5. Use a chalk line to determine placement of tile. Use a carpenter´s square to make sure you have 90 degree angles.
  6. If installing borders, precut edges with a utility or linoleum knife, then dry fit pieces. For a nice corner, cut 45 degree angles to miter joints. (This can be tricky. Practice on a few pieces first.)
  7. Apply adhesive according to manufacturer´s instructions, apply tile, then use a hand roller to ensure a good seal. A 100-pound roller is recommended.
  8. Once all the tile is laid, apply sealer according to manufacturer´s instructions.

Removing old linoleum

DYI Sheet Linoleum

In rooms less than 6'-7" wide, you may be able to install sheet linoleum yourself. Manufacturers may not warrant the installation unless it's put in by a trained "mechanic", but it's not difficult to do. Check with vendors for bolt ends of linoleum. They may be up to half price off and perfect for a little room.

  1. Prepare floor as for tile, then create an exact template of the room.
  2. Transfer the markings to the linoleum.
  3. Cut using a sharp linoleum knife. Go slow. There's no rush.
  4. Dry fit your cut linoleum to make sure it fits correctly. Trim if needed.
  5. Start at one side of the room and using a notched trowel (check for manufacturer's recommendation) spread the adhesive to about two feet from the wall.
  6. Position linoleum, then spread more adhesive.
  7. From the center, use a floor roller to smooth out air pockets and get a tight fit to the floor.
  8. Install baseboard trim and seal floor to baseboard with caulk.

Removing old flooring is hard, dirty work no matter how you cut it. There are a few things to keep in mind before you start.

If the flooring is is firmly attached to the floor, your simplest course may be to put an underlayment down and not bother with stripping the old material. Just screw down 1/4" plywood, masonite, or cement board, mud the seams, and install your tile on top. This is especially effective if you are doing floors in different rooms and the difference in floor thickness isn´t apparent.

If you have to take up the old flooring, make sure it does NOT contain asbestos. Old flooring was sometimes backed with asbestos and when it is disturbed it releases asbestos fibers into the air. It is a very BAD thing, so be careful. Take a small sample to your flooring company. They should be able to tell you if asbestos is present. If so, you´ll need to hire someone with experience doing asbestos abatement, or use an underlayment over the existing floor.

Methods of removal depend on how well attached the flooring is, the original adhesive, and the flooring itself. Often experimentation is needed to come up with the right approach. Using a pole, steel, or a razor scraper may work, various solvents including boiling water are common, or even renting a floor stripper might work. If you have a hardwood subfloor, try scoring the surface with a utility knife, then pull up as much of the flooring as possible. Take an old towel and fold it into quarters, then pour boiling water on the towel. Let it sit for a couple minutes. You should be able to scrape up the leftover backing and adhesive.

Ultimately, removing old flooring is hard work and it may take a few false starts to get the right combination of tools or solvents to attack yours.

Maintaining linoleum

Once it is installed and sealed, you can keep it looking new for years by just sweeping, occasionally damp mopping, and applying a sealer periodically. The best way to make sure you care correctly for your linoleum floors is to read the manufacturer´s instructions for maintenance.

To mop, use just water or water and a little mild detergent. Don´t permit standing water because that may loosen the tiles around the edges. Some people add about a tablespoon of baby oil to the water occasionally to help restore natural oils lost over time.

To reseal the floors, use the manufacturer´s suggested sealant once a year or so. Or you may be able to use a water-based wax. To remove the wax, use isopropyl alcohol in water (1 part alcohol to 3 parts water) to remove the old wax. Scrub well and rinse thoroughly. Make sure the area is well ventilated, wear gloves, and something to protect your eyes.

Never use harsh solvents or cleaners though. Those with a high or low pH can discolor and pit the floor´s surface.

Books to read

Do you need to have a linoleum floor installed? ContractorNexus can help you locate a qualified professional.

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