There are loads of flooring options available today for the home. But if you’re looking for an inexpensive flooring, especially suited for potentially wet areas such as kitchen or bathrooms, you’re probably going to consider either linoleum or vinyl. Although the terms are often used somewhat interchangeably, the materials are not the same. Historically, the mention of either conjures up images of second-rate products, but both have their applications and a place in many homes. Both linoleum (lino) and vinyl flooring are referred to as “resilient flooring.” Resilient flooring means that if a heavy object were to fall on it, the material wouldn’t necessarily be permanently damaged with a crack or dent. Its shape would be restored somewhat or in full.
Linoleum is mostly limited to commercial applications, but not exclusively. Vinyl is found in numerous residential and commercial applications. Both materials are available in sheets and in tiles.
Linoleum is an older product than most people realize, and was first patented over 150 years ago. Like many innovations, it was discovered by accident. English inventor Frederick Walton observed how a solid but flexible film formed on top of linseed-oil-based paint. He experimented with this natural product and eventually found it to be a perfect floor and wall covering. Since linseed oil was the primary component, Walton called his new product linoleum.
Another important characteristic of linoleum that is largely unknown — but far more relevant to current home-building trends — is that it’s all natural and biodegradable. In addition to linseed oil, linoleum includes pine rosin, limestone, cork flour, wood flour, jute as the backing, and colouring pigments. Its colour goes through to the backing, so scratches don’t readily show. Homeowners increasingly are selecting it as a green material that is relatively inexpensive.
Vinyl was also discovered accidentally. Waldo Semon created it in the late 1920s while attempting to develop a glue for bonding rubber to metal. Today, vinyl is, of course, used in a huge variety of applications.
Even though these two products are often confused and can look similar once installed, vinyl and linoleum are significantly different in terms of composition. While linoleum is “all natural,” vinyl is a synthetic product made using a variety of chemicals, primarily polyvinyl chloride (PVC) resin. Sheet vinyl flooring also contains plasticizers for flexibility. Because of a huge number of options for colours and patterns, vinyl flooring has achieved a large market share. Also, not all vinyl flooring is inexpensive. Luxury vinyl flooring (LVF, or LVT for tiles) is a higher-quality version of the product. Some floors in new luxury homes that I have seen are so realistic looking that they could be easily mistaken as ceramic tiles or even hardwood.
Many real estate professionals use the word “lino” as a generic term meaning a resilient flooring product. But, as you can see, these two products are substantially different.