Today's green revolution has helped consumers learn that linoleum's not only a long-lasting, fashionable, affordable and versatile flooring material, it's also antibacterial, all-natural and completely eco-friendly.
This makes linoleum the natural choice for many Rogue Valley homeowners, says Eric Austad, co-owner of Abbey Carpet & Floor in Ashland.
"We sell lots of it and it's gaining in popularity, even for commercial applications," he reports. "The fashion end of it is really good and the durability and quality are really good, too."
Manufactured almost exclusively in Europe by Armstrong World Industries (they call their product 'genuine linoleum') and Forbo (their brand names are Marmoleum and Artoleum), linoleum is made entirely of natural, renewable products. It's actually named for its main ingredient: linseed oil. The oil is pressed from flax seeds and is mixed with rosin, which is tapped from pine trees using non-harmful methods. Combined, the two oils create a strong and flexible base which is then bound together with wood flour, limestone and natural pigments.
"It's got a jute backing—a natural material not unlike hemp," Austad says of the fiber that is sustainably harvested in India and Bangladesh. "It's not like vinyl, which is made of PVC, plastic and a felt backing—a lot of synthetic, man-made, petrochemical products."
Linoleum's natural ingredients also offer homeowners health and hygiene benefits, as linseed oil has been shown to prevent allergy-causing dust mites and the multiplication of bacteria including Salmonella Typhimurium and Staphylococcus Aureus.
"It's environmentally sound, it's very resilient and you can do just about whatever you wish with linoleum," says JD David, sales associate at Lipperts Carpet One in Medford. "There's a monster range of colors and it comes in sheets, square tiles, and click tiles that allow you to make your own designs like checkerboard or other patterns."
Colors—every hue of the rainbow—are created by adding natural pigments during the cooking process. When choosing the color, one thing to look for is "ambering" or "blooming." This refers to a slightly yellowish cast that may be apparent right when the linoleum is removed from its package. Caused by oxidizing the linseed oil during manufacturing, the discoloration is only temporary, disappearing as the flooring is exposed to light.
Affordability is another bonus of linoleum. Costing about $3 to $5 per square foot uninstalled or $5 to $9 installed (depending on type of linoleum—sheets, tiles or planks), it's generally less expensive than "regular heavy grade residential sheet vinyl," says Austad.
To make the most of the investment, be sure to have the flooring installed by an expert.
"The stuff is extremely difficult to install properly," Austad points out. "Being natural, it's going to expand and contract somewhat, which means it's a little more susceptible to environmental conditions. Everything has to be just right."
That means the subfloor must be hard, flat, dry and smooth A-grade plywood or concrete for best results. Applied with low-VOC adhesive, the linoleum will last for decades.
Finding the perfect linoleum for a project is best done in person, where colors, shades, patterns and types can be seen and discussed. It's helpful to bring in rough measurements of the area to be covered.
"Based on that, we'd give them an estimate ballpark idea of cost," David says. "If it's in their budget, we'll go out and measure out the space and then give them a full bid after we've got a total project scope."
Most flooring experts offer everything from raw materials to the entire installation. And once the linoleum is properly installed, you can breathe (and walk) freely, knowing you've done something good for your environment—inside and outside.