Understand the Variables, Pick the Right Floor
By Lew Migliore - July 2010 - Flooring
A flooring project never comes at a good time. When it's part of a major renovation, facility managers will have other major projects competing for time and attention. Even if that isn't the case, there are always reports to be completed, other projects to be managed and day-to-day crises to be resolved. Either way, important parts of the flooring project can get shortchanged if the facility manager doesn't carve out the time to be involved. And the later in the process that the facility manager gets involved, the bigger the risk of long-term problems.
It's essential for the facility manager to play an active role from day one, when floorcovering products are being selected. No one knows the building or space better than the people who manage the facility on a day-to-day basis. They understand how it is used, they know the highest traffic areas, and they are familiar with the methods and challenges of maintaining the flooring. What's more, they're the ones who feel the pain when the flooring doesn't live up to expectations, whether because it wears out or because it prematurely "uglies out."
To control the fate of a space, the facility manager should be involved in every aspect of selecting new flooring and the installation. And there are things to know to ensure a product will work best and won't present problems in the future.
To achieve those goals, the first step is establishing criteria for the product and for installation. Those criteria can be straightforward. The product installed should be capable of living up to the use and abuse it will be subjected to. It should be easily maintained. With proper care, it should last as long as expected. It shouldn't fail prematurely even in the areas of heaviest traffic. And it should contribute to the aesthetics and functionality of the building.
If, for example, the facility is a school, the budget may dictate a somewhat utilitarian product. Even so, it will have to withstand high volumes of traffic and be easy to maintain. If the space is an office building, the flooring materials have to complement the furnishings, be comfortable and aesthetically pleasing, and hold up to heavy traffic as well as food and beverage spills. It is likely that in this type of environment, the facility manager will be working hand-in-hand with a designer. But even if the facility manager isn't very much involved in the process, he or she will still have the responsibility for dealing with what's installed. It is imperative to be actively involved in the floorcovering selection, or risk being railroaded into years of dealing with a product that was destined to fail from the outset.
The vast majority of facility managers are in charge of multiple buildings, even scores of locations covering several million square feet in the case of major corporations, retail chains or educational facilities. So how is it that a facility manager is supposed to know all they should about the floorcovering in each space and how can they feel comfortable selecting new floorcovering? Paying attention to these five points can simplify the job.
1. FOOT TRAFFIC The first step is to know how the product will be used. All foot traffic can be categorized as light, moderate, heavy or extra heavy. Light traffic might be an executive office, moderate could be work stations, heavy would be break rooms, waiting areas or main hallways, and extra heavy being cafeterias, service areas, entry ways and even elevators. Also consider how close the area is to outside foot traffic and the elements. In doorways or entry areas from the street, some type of walk-off system or mat must be used to minimize the track-off of soil into a building.
The heavier and more abusive the traffic load, the higher performance the flooring product must have. This does not necessarily mean more expensive. For example, a high traffic-load area might better be served by a hard surface flooring material than carpet. If carpet is used, then it should be very dense and in colors that will hide soil. In fact, carpet tiles would be the best choice because they could be replaced more often and easily. Carpet tiles are actually the most highly engineered of any carpet product and, if specified correctly, can be the best value in soft floorcovering.
2. EXPERIENCE AND HOMEWORK Is the product being considered for use capable of delivering the performance and longevity expected, regardless of what it is? Personal experience will and should help answer this question. But with more new, better and different flooring materials and technology entering the market, some research is also necessary.
The greening of flooring materials may present some challenges, for example, because not all flooring products are as green as they may claim to be. The best way to be green is to make sure the right product gets used, installed correctly, and maintained properly so that it stays on the floor for as long as possible. Prematurely replacing floorcovering is environmentally irresponsible and wasteful on many fronts.
Flooring reps can provide information, but remember these are sales people not technical people. Designers may be helpful but their job is to design the space aesthetically, not always practically.
3. COLOR AND GLOSS Light colors show soil and traffic more than dark colors. Dark colors will show dust and lint. Medium colors will work best but again the traffic load comes into consideration. But even a solid medium color can still show soil. So the best thing to do may be to incorporate a pattern and, with carpet, some texturing.
With hard surface and resilient flooring, be aware of how it is going to be used. The more gloss put on a vinyl floor, the more imperfections of the substrate and also the adhesives beneath the material will show.
Wood is beautiful, but in many respects it is still a tree on the floor. It will expand and contract when subjected to changes in temperature and humidity in a space. It will dent with traffic, especially if walked on with spike high heels. So if the occupants subject wood to everyday and typical use that the product has no chance of performing in, it's in trouble.
Wood is a game-changer. Although wood can't be wet mopped and it scratches and dents, the right product can age gracefully. Just understand that it develops "character" with use and age and be comfortable with its appearance. Never expect wood not to change in appearance and reflect the type of use it receives.
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