14 Apr Look West
An everyday choice on the West Coast, linoleum is misunderstood in some regions
In some areas of the country, people think linoleum is the same thing as vinyl. But on the west coast and east – where green products have been in greater demand for years – consumers not only know that linoleum is a natural, sustainable product, but they also depend on it for high style.
And there is one manufacturer – Forbo — that is dominating the market by meeting the all the needs of these green-savvy consumers, says John Hill, ecological coordinator at Interstate Flooring in Portland, OR.
“Forbo’s colors have kept up with design trends, and they are the only ones offering a click product that homeowners can even install themselves,” Hill says. “Until last year, Marmorette (from Forbo competitor Armstrong) had a color pallet that was way too ‘pastelly’ for the west coast, and even though that has improved, they don’t offer a click.”
Unlike vinyl flooring, linoleum is made from natural ingredients – linseed oil, pine rosins, environmentally friendly pigments. Forbo adds wood flour while Armstrong and Johnsonite, whose product is called Harmonium, add cork flour. Forbo says wood flour give its product the edge on color, while the competitors say cork flour makes their flooring more resilient.
“In my store, linoleum is our lead product,” says Mark Thompson, sales manager for Major Brands Floor Supply/Abbey Carpet in Seattle. “Vinyl is selected mostly for bathrooms and rental properties, where the customer doesn’t want to make the long-term investment. The bottom line, when compared to vinyl, linoleum is warmer on the feet, prices are in line, it’s vibrant and maintains the integrity of the home.”
While Thompson also carries Johnsonite and Armstrong, he says the bulk of his sales are Forbo Marmoleum because it is readily available through the Portland-based Forbo distributor, Wanke Cascade, and his customers do not face a wait time that prompts them to choose another product. (Forbo Marmoleum Click pictured left.)
In addition to linoleum sheet material, Forbo offers the product in tiles, and in self-locking, or “click” panels, which have a moisture resistant HDF (high-density fiberboard) core and a cork backing. This is a floating floor that can be installed over an existing floor. The sheet material, on the other hand, has to be installed by a person with special training because linoleum expands and contracts differently than vinyl. Linoleum is prefinished, in Forbo’s case with Top Shield, so the floor is ready to walk on when installation is finished.
“This eliminates the need for initial floor maintenance in even the most aggressive commercial environments, which can drive substantial cost savings in many instances,” says Mark Buckwold, commercial sales manager for Wanke Cascade, which supplies Forbo Marmoleum to retailers in Washington, Oregon, Montana, Northern Idaho and Alaska.
The number of Marmoleum’s other, green benefits surpass just about any other type of floor, says Susanna Schultz, marketing director for GreenDepot, a national green building products retailer that buys Forbo from Wanke Cascade in Washington and Oregon.
Of most importance to many consumers is that Marmoleum contributes to healthful indoor-air quality as it is made with renewable, natural materials and does not emit potentially harmful chemicals, she says.
— Compostable and biodegradable.
— Repairable – scratches or gouges can be filled in with a mixture of ground up linoleum and white glue.
— Naturally bacteriostatic because the linseed oil in the product continuously oxidizes, which prevents bacteria from taking hold on the floor. This has been a main reason for the national, widespread use of Marmoleum in hospitals and doctors’ offices. (Note: this process also means ambering – a yellowish haze that appears on the flooring when it comes out of the box but disappears after the product is exposed to light.)
— This same oxidation process also ensures a hard, durable finish.
“This natural durability is why we call it the 40-year floor,” Schultz says. (Forbo Marmoleum sheet, pictured left.)
While Forbo’s click product, which has a more cushioned feel underfoot because of the core and cork backing, has led to increased sales, GreenDepot is still selling a lot of sheet goods because a lot of people still want the continuous look of sheet material in kitchens and fewer seams in areas where there is a lot of plumbing, Schultz says.
“Marmoleum performs great whether it’s in a residential kitchen or a hospital corridor,” Wanke Cascade’s Buckwold says. “It’s Forbo that is driving the market and constantly evolving the category. Their green story is great as well. In addition to all the healthy and sustainable aspects, Forbo’s plant in Holland is powered 100-percent by wind.”
But while there are abundant commercial installations of all manufacturers’ linoleum products across the country, flooring retailers in some areas say they are not seeing a significant residential call for the product. And some chain stores around Cincinnati, OH, have moved their Marmoleum Click displays to make room for products that are more in demand.
Private-label, self-locking products that used to be available from USFloors and Torlys have been dropped, these suppliers say, due to price and lack of demand.
In Seattle, Thompson says the sheet linoleum – not the click product – is the mainstay. The self-locking product has a higher price, and there are other considerations the customer needs to be aware of when buying this type of floor. At some point, it is likely that the manufacturer will change the type of self-locking system and not have additional material available when a customer needs to replace a portion of a floor. Colors also are often discontinued. Anticipating this means buying extra material at the time the floor is installed, which adds to cost, Thompson says.
Price is the big focus for some customers. Inquiries about linoleum are rare, and most customers do not differentiate it from vinyl.
— Nancy Kibbee is editor at naturalinteriors.com.