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Once and for all, let’s clear one thing up: Vinyl is not linoleum. The terms are often confused and used interchangeably. Go into any big box or discount flooring store and ask the sales staff. They won't know what you're talking about.
Why do I care so much? I'd been redoing my hardwood kitchen floors, which had become something of a hazard, with gaps between the boards and nails that wouldn't stay down. I'd installed a new subfloor (for the full story, read the first part of this two-part series), and the time had come to choose which material I'd use for the floor itself.
Thus, the angst over linoleum versus vinyl, which are the flooring equivalent of freshly squeezed orange juice and Sunkist, respectively. One is all-natural and the other is man-made. One is good for you and the other, not so much.
Deciding on a material
Our first thought was to use tile, the preferred surface in many kitchens because it's durable and easy to clean. But we quickly nixed that idea. We didn’t feel like taking on another full-on tiling project that involved thin-set mortar, wait times, grout and mess. Plus, some tile can be pretty thick and we didn’t want to add to the height level of the kitchen floor.
We also didn’t like the look of tile. There was a lot going on in the kitchen already: open shelving, free standing units, and of course, our new backsplash. Tile would make the room feel too busy.
Besides, we were ready for a change. We wanted a stark contrast to all the open wood storage and noticeable wall imperfections. We wanted a totally sleek, seamless, modern surface. And we wanted a dark floor.
I had always been intrigued by linoleum, that often misunderstood material. I knew it was a natural product made mostly of linseed oil and wood rosin. The more research I did, the more I loved it: it has serious eco-friendly credentials and looks gorgeous.
But in my head, linoleum always conjured images of black and white floors--which have a certain retro charm, but not the modern look I wanted. Happily, linoleum does not only come in checkerboard tiles, but in almost any color you can imagine.
I quickly ordered free samples from Forbo, one of the few flooring companies that make linoleum for residential use. (The line is called Marmoleum.) They send six three-inch squares in whichever color you like. We ordered dark gray and blue hues, and they arrived within a few days.
We loved the look and feel of the linoleum right away, but there were a couple of downsides.
Linoleum would probably take more effort to maintain and clean than vinyl or ceramic tile, and it can’t really take harsh cleaning chemicals. However, after speaking to a few of the New York City-based dealers listed on Forbo, I learned that the Marmoleum line didn’t need to be sealed like traditional linoleum. And the cleaning sounded pretty standard: mop up spills as quickly as possible using a pH neutral linoleum cleaning solution (Forbo sells their own version) and clean water.
Setting a price
So how much would this all cost? The dealers we contacted gave us quotes between $1,400 and $1,600 for the materials and installation. But I thought, I can do better!
The only way to save real money on any home improvement is to go the DIY route. We visited a Marmoleum dealer in Manhattan to take a look at Click, a floating flooring system that uses "tongue and groove" joints to “click” together. Very DIY friendly. And except for a tapping block, we had all the tools we needed, which were basically just a jigsaw and hammer. Perfect.
Except, of course, that this Click system cost a lot more than regular linoleum tile or sheets. To cover our 94-square-foot kitchen with this miraculous material would have cost us around $1,100, according to the dealers.
Fortunately, I found Green Building Supply. They sell the stuff online, with flat-rate shipping to New York. I paid $555 for 102 square feet of 12- by 36-inch panels in Volcanic Ash, plus $60 for shipping. Done deal.
Ten days later, our new flooring arrived in five 12" x 36" x 5" boxes. When linoleum enters your home, you must store it in the room where it’s going get installed, and leave it for two to three days. That way it can adjust to the humidity and other climate conditions of the room.
The installation begins
Finally, we were ready to install the new floor. Per the supplier's recommendation, we had bought a moisture barrier as an underlayment. After securing the underlayment to the floor with the adhesive strip on one end (roll it out over the entire floor, then cut to size with scissors), we put down the first row of panels.
The click mechanism worked well. When joining two panels together, you do have to wiggle the tongue into the groove quite a bit until you hear the "click," but then the fit is so precise that the seam is virtually invisible.
Still, after several hours of wiggling and tapping with the tapping block and cutting the panels to size, I was cursing this miracle material to hell and I started to wish we had just spent the money to hire professionals.
Despite the clear instructions and how-to videos, no one tells you it’s exhausting work to install this floor.
At the end of a 12-hour day, we had a new floor--and it was beautiful. Maybe it was all the hard work we had put into it, but I have never seen a more gorgeous floor. The only negative? I feel compelled to lecture guests when they see it: this is not vinyl!