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Say the word “linoleum,” and the image that comes to mind for many people is the richly-patterned kitchen floor they had in their home when growing up. Or maybe they think of the checkered floor in their grade school classroom or gym.
This product, developed in 1855, is a durable type of flooring known for its colorful designs that have not always aged well. Ironically, the material is suitable for over 40 years, but the surface is yellowed and dated, making many homeowners eager to rip their old linoleum or lino floors out. How do you remove linoleum? Is it difficult? What should you watch for?
Linoleum became popular as a flooring material because it is long-lasting, inexpensive, soft underfoot, yet durable. Made of natural material such as linseed oil made from flax seed mixed with compressed natural resins, cork dust, wood fibers, and mineral pigments, the flooring product was free of chemicals and VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds) often associated with vinyl flooring or carpeting.
The color and pattern saturate the material, which only appears yellow after years of cleaning with products that interact with the sealant covering the linoleum. The characteristics inherent in linoleum, now available in modern patterns and textures, make it an eco-friendly and desirable floor covering for new installations.
Removing the product put down in the past can be challenging. Well into the 1960s, when it lost ground as a floor covering to vinyl or hardwood, linoleum was applied in jute or paper-backed sheets or sometimes as tiles. The material was either completed glued down (full bonded) or fastened with adhesive only around the edges (perimeter bonded). Especially if it is fully bonded, removal can be slow and painstaking.
For this reason, some homeowners prefer to install a new subfloor over the old, but this raises the floor line by ¼” and also adds unwanted costs. A raised floor in one room can cause problems at thresholds between rooms and with doors and baseboards.
But there is another problem with removing old floors. The lino, the backing, or the glue may contain asbestos, which was often added to make the flooring more robust and durable. Left undisturbed, asbestos used in flooring cases no harm, but when the flooring is removed, asbestos fibers infiltrate the air and can cause lung diseases if breathed.
Between 1970 and 1989, a series of measures banning certain uses of asbestos became law, so the ways of dealing with asbestos removal changed. Based on local regulations now in force, a homeowner might have to send some of the flooring installed before 1980 off to a lab for testing. If asbestos is found, must hire a licensed contractor to remove this dangerous material.
Since the contractor must use special vacuums, keep the asbestos in a viscous slurry, or use sheeting to isolate rooms, removing this material can be very expensive.
Installing a new subfloor over an asbestos-laden floor is an option, albeit costly. Whether there is asbestos on the floor or not, another option is to lay new flooring over the old if the floor is in good condition. As long as the floor does not require sanding that might disturb the asbestos, it is acceptable to cover it with new material.
If the subfloor is unstable, however, the old floor should be removed and the weakness fixed. Putting a layer of vinyl or linoleum over the old will raise the floor about 1/8″.
When starting the actual removal, have a plan for how to tackle the job. If you cut out a section in the center of the floor, you will find out whether the old linoleum was fully bonded or just glued around the edge. Especially if the floor was perimeter bonded, you might be able to remove the center sections of the floor quickly. Once the center is done, systematically start on the edges.
Here’s how to remove linoleum:
Once the floor is free of old linoleum, the next step is to prepare the subfloor for its new floor covering. The subfloor should be clean, dry, smooth, and as flat as possible for best results. Then a layer of underlayment goes down before the flooring product.
Verify that the subfloor is in good condition, without soft spots, mold, dents, cracks, rough patches, or other imperfections that might compromise a new floor. If only part of the subfloor is bad, you may be able to patch it; use a pneumatic stapler for tight seams if you put in new board pieces. Fill severe cuts and dents with a cement-based patching compound. Once the product is completely dry, sand any rough spots.
Cover remaining dents or imperfections with a liquid leveling compound that you apply to the floor with a putty knife to make sure the floor is flat and level. Some products do not work well with new flooring products, so make sure that the one you select is right for wood, vinyl, linoleum, or whatever new floor covering product will replace the old.
Once the subfloor is ready, sweep or vacuum up dust and debris, prepare to put down the required underlayment, and start installing your new floor. While the steps involved in removing linoleum and preparing the subfloor for its new covering may seem excessive, your prep work will not be in vain when you see how well the installation goes with your new floor covering.