Armstrong Brings Back Linoleum, Renewing a 140 Year old Tradition

The original linoleum flooring, developed in the late 1800's, was an English inventor's blend of linseed oil...hence the "lin" in linoleum...finely divided plant materials like cork or wood powder, and jute backing. Linoleum was displaced by various asphalt and vinyl flooring composites beginning in the late 1950's. With Armstrong's return to its product roots, good old fashioned linoleum seems back to stay in the USA. As before, they have English competition for the US natural floorings market. TreeHugger provided earlier coverage of the linoleum brand called "Marmoleum", which is made in Pennsylvania for the British firm Forbo-Nairn.Armstrong's FAQ page states that professional installation is recommended (not appropriate for DIY?) and that "Genuine linoleum is extremely long-wearing because its color and construction go all the way through to the backing. By comparison, in most vinyl floors, the pattern is printed onto the surface, which is then protected by a vinyl or urethane wear layer".

Basic longevity would not seem to be a fundamental issue. After all, the oil paintings on the Sistine Chapel are based on linseed oil.

The healthcare market could be a major driving force in the widespread return of linoleum. Forbo-Nairn, brand owner of Marmoleum, reports that "Research has found that the flooring, invented more than 100 years ago, has natural bacteria-killing properties.It means bugs such as MRSA and ella cannot live or breed on the surface. The effect is thought to be due to the anti-bacterial properties in the linseed oil used to make the linoleum....

Yesterday, company spokeswoman Therese Magill said: "You do get other flooring products which say they are MRSA-resistant. But some of these products will have a chemical additive or surface treatment to give it its MRSA resistance. The thing about linoleum is that it is an inherent quality of the product. It doesn't wear off over time and it doesn't get washed out."

So, did vinyl flooring replace linoleum over the last 50 years because it offered lower cost and more color choices? Or was it the Do-It-Yourself option that brought vinyl to prominance? Could it have been that linseed oil was in short supply during and shortly after WWII. Maybe vinyl's relatively high fire resistance give it a firecode benefit. Regardless, linoleum is back and looking good.

Renewabilty: - The flax seed that produces linseed oil is grown in Canada, Argentina, India, China and the United States. South Dakota apparently is still a major source of seed-flax for oils for both food and manufacturing. Good chance for homesourcing sustainable products!

If anyone has compared linoleum generally with vinyl on installed per-square-foot basis, comments would be appreciated.

by: John Laumer

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What makes this particularly interesting is that Armstrong would appear to be internally competing with their vinyl flooring products, a brave innovation. Cost, and wide availability through normal distribution channels, will be important success factors if it's to transcend "green niche" status.