Mention “green” resilient flooring and linoleum comes to mind immediately - and I mean real, natural linoleum, not sheet vinyl that so many people incorrectly call linoleum. Misuse of the word “linoleum” is a pet peeve of mine. Sheet vinyl and any material that is installed in sheet form, continues to be incorrectly called “linoleum” or “lino” and even some tile products are called “Linoleum tile.” This terminology mistake doesn’t bother me so much when laypeople use it but people in our own industry should know better. How many advertisements, or signs on stores, lettering on vans, or just general conversations use the word “linoleum” when in fact they mean sheet vinyl? I would bet that in many cases, you could walk into those stores and they would not have the real thing available.
What’s the difference? There is no vinyl in linoleum. Sheet vinyl is a completely different material. I’ll never forget the smell of my each of grandfather’s stores when I was young – they were full of rolls of linoleum and there is no aroma like it. I still can be found sneaking a whiff of a linoleum chain set in architects’ libraries, and the memories of grandpa’s store came back.
In my March, 2005 column Linoleum: Call it Right, Install it Right, I pointed out some of the key points about working with linoleum, and there have been a few changes since then, so be sure to spend time with the manufacturer’s instructions and don’t assume it’s business as usual with regard to the installation of linoleum. For example, some products now have high performance coatings applied to the surface to minimize staining or damage during installation and make for easier maintenance during the life of the floor. Other products are being manufactured with an added layer of cork blend, which greatly reduces the effects of impact noise and greater thermal insulation and underfoot comfort.
Here is a brief review of installation procedures and some advice for where to learn more. Like any resilient flooring, acclimation is important with linoleum floors. Manufacturers recommend that the flooring and adhesives must be site conditioned at room temperature for 48 hours prior to, during, and after installation. Room temperature must be maintained with Heating/Ventilation/Air Conditions (HVAC ) operating before during and after installation – the usual recommendation is between 65° and 85°F (18° and 29°C) This can be a tough requirement to achieve when you are dealing with new construction but stick to your guns and demand that the site be ready. The products and adhesive don’t act the same way when used in very warm or very cold conditions so there is an increased chance of flooring failure if temperature guidelines are not followed.
Proper handling and storage is important to prevent dealing with distorted material at the time of installation. Keep sheet linoleum stored standing on end with material rolled face out on a sturdy core until time of installation and make sure tile products are stored flat and neatly stacked to avoid the possibility of material distortion. On large jobs, install rolls in sequential order and do not reverse sheets - everything is installed in the same direction. As cuts are made off the rolls, they should be numbered so everything is installed in sequence. Cut only the number of lengths/sheets off the factory rolls that can be installed on the same day and allow approximately 3” (76.2 mm) excess on each cut for trimming.
Stove bar marks are a unique characteristic of linoleum that may or may not be present on the material you are working with. Some manufacturers have changed their manufacturing process to eliminate them. However, it’s something to be aware of so you know how to handle it if you run into it. What is a stove bar mark? When curing linoleum, the product is suspended in large loops in the “drying rooms.” The top of each loop, known as a pole mark is cut off and recycled. The bottom of each loop is called a “stove bar mark” and will appear approximately in the center of each roll. When installing material with a stove bar mark, simply spread adhesive on the back of the material with the flat side of the trowel before spreading adhesive on the floor. This is sometimes called “buttering the back.” After that, spread the adhesive on the floor normally. You must get the material into the adhesive while it is still wet. When you place the stove bar mark into the wet adhesive, massage the material down and push it flat. Roll the material with a 100-lb roller. Roll the stove bar mark first to avoid trapping the tension on the material, then roll the rest of the material - first across the width and then lengthwise. Place weights on the stove bar area until the adhesive sets up.
Honestly, not all installers can work with linoleum. Those who know it and understand it love working with it. If you use the same techniques as you would with other sheet goods you will be likely to have a failure. I’d recommend that you invest some time in a training seminar or week-long school to learn abut it. All of the manufacturers offer training in linoleum installation and their sales people tend to refer work to flooring contractors or dealers who have trained their installers. This 100-year old product is back and selling as well as it ever has. Installers who understand it and can install it correctly will have added income opportunities.