|Both flooring types are considered Resilient flooring which
refers to their relatively firm surface, and a “give” and “bounce back” to
their original surface profile when a heavy object is compressed on its
surface. Resilient flooring is commonly used because it can be easily
cleaned, is moisture resistant and doesn’t trap dust. |
In deciding which flooring to buy for my kitchen, I wanted to consider durability, maintenance, cost, health and sustainability.
Linoleum is more expensive, but will last 40 years compared to vinyl’s 10 years. When we bought our house it had white vinyl flooring in the kitchen. White flooring in a kitchen? Really? We’re two mature adults with light impact and this 7 year old vinyl floor has not aged well at all.
Since the color or pattern in a vinyl floor is only in the surface layer, any nick or scratch will show. The color in a linoleum floor is through all layers. Although most people can install the tiles for either flooring type, it’s best to hire a professional to install linoleum rolls.
Newly laid linoleum floors have a pronounced linseed-oil scent and although it dissipates in a matter of weeks, during that time, certain people may be bothered (sometimes because of an allergy) by the oil's fatty acids. We had our linoleum floor laid one day before guests arrived and maybe it was because we were doing the tourist bit, running all over the Bay Area, I never noticed the smell except right after it was installed.
The deciding factor for me was that linoleum is made of linseed oil (pressed from the flax plant), pine resin, wood flour, cork powder, limestone dust, natural pigments, and jute, while Vinyl is made from petroleum oil which is mixed with chemicals such as polyvinyl chloride (or vinyl) resins and plasticizers (high molecular-weight solvents), pigments and trace stabilizers, with a carrier sheet or backing.
OK, that alone convinced me to choose linoleum, but I wanted to know more and found out stuff that was just plain scary.
The plasticizers most commonly used in polyvinyl chloride (vinyl flooring) are phthalates which increase the flexibility and durability of the product. I couldn’t find much info on phthalates from the vinyl flooring manufacturers’ web pages, but when I checked polyvinyl chloride and phthalates on Wikipedia, I learned more than I bargained for.
Phthalates are ubiquitous in our environment. They are used in adhesives and glues, electronics, agricultural adjuvants, building materials, personal-care products, (cosmetics), medical devices, detergents and surfactants, packaging, children's toys (!), modeling clay, waxes, paints, printing inks and coatings (school notebooks and backpacks), pharmaceuticals, food products, and textiles and the list goes on and on.
As plastics age and break down, the release of phthalates accelerates. That "new car smell" you like so much? It’s caused mostly by plasticizers evaporating from the car interior. Adverse effects of phthalate exposure include irregular rhythms in vitro, endocrine disruptor, incomplete descent of testes of newborn boys, and lower sperm counts in men. A 2012 study suggested that high levels of phthalates may be connected to the current obesity epidemic in children. It was found that obese children show greater exposure to phthalates than non-obese children. It was reported that the obesity risk increases according to the level of the chemical found in the children's bloodstream.
The specific phthalate, Diethylhexyl phthalate (DEHP), which is used in polyvinyl chloride, is also used in medical devices such as intravenous tubing and bags, catheters, etc. According to the European Commission Scientific Committee on Health and Environmental Risks (SCHER), exposure to DEHP may exceed the tolerable daily intake in some specific population groups, namely people exposed through medical procedures. The American Academy of Pediatrics has advocated not to use medical devices that can leach DEHP into patients and, instead, to resort to DEHP-free alternatives.
A 2012 Swedish study of children found that phthalates from PVC flooring was taken up into their bodies, showing that children can ingest phthalates not only from food but also by breathing and through the skin.
You could spend days reviewing the material that’s available on the adverse effects of phthalates just in our homes! Although it would be impossible to fully eliminate these poisons from our homes, reducing their use would be the first step towards improving the health of family members.
Protect Your Family’s Health by choosing safe finishes. Many materials and finishes in a renovated kitchen have the potential to cause health problems, but there are ways to avoid compromising your family’s health.
Buy used materials when possible. We found a nice tongue & groove wood flooring at the ReUse People in Oakland for $1/board foot. It looks great. We also picked up used cabinetry there for my studio. Their inventory changes frequently, so keep checking back.
Seal Particleboard and MDF
Kitchen cabinets and counters are often constructed of particleboard and medium density fiberboard (MDF). These products often contain urea formaldehyde glue, a known cause of myriad health issues. To reduce exposure to the glue, paint exposed particleboard on cabinets or the underside of the counter top with several coats of a water-based, low VOC sealant. It is much preferred that sealing be completed at the factory or counter shop, prior to installation in your home.
Choose Low-Formaldehyde Products
Cabinets and countertops can be made using exterior grade plywood which is typically held together with glue made of phenol formaldehyde. Phenol is less toxic than urea formaldehyde. The best option is to use formaldehyde-free MDF. Tell your manufacturer and contractor to request this.
Choose Low- or No-VOC Paints and Wood Finishes
Walls are the largest surface area in the house. Use semi-gloss, low or no VOC paints. They are water based and don’t off gas solvents into the living space. If you are finishing wood, like window sills, make sure that the low VOC wood finish is a good water-proofing sealant.