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Building Operating Management

Avoid These Seven Common Flooring Mistakes

By James Piper, P.E.   Flooring


Few surfaces receive as much use and abuse as a facility's flooring, and few surfaces are as difficult or expensive to maintain. And if neglected few surfaces can harm the appearance of a facility more. Yet when it comes time to select new and replacement flooring, more emphasis is often placed on initial costs and aesthetics than on how those decisions will impact long-term performance and costs.

Why the disconnect? A big reason is the natural conflict of interest between the involved parties. Those responsible for construction and renovation want to control construction expenses. They look for ways to reduce first costs. The maintenance staff, by contrast, is more interested in controlling operating costs. To them the time and costs involved in maintaining the floor are more important than what it cost to install it. The facility manager has to consider both initial and life-cycle costs, while ensuring that the floorcovering fits in with the aesthetics of the building.

While it may be difficult to satisfy all three parties, it is important to remember that decisions made both during and after flooring installation will have a major impact on the life-cycle cost of the floorcovering. Short-term savings, either in installation or maintenance costs, may result in major long-term losses over the life of the product. Flooring is a classic case of pay now or pay more later.

Keep in mind, though, that it is not always best to pay more up front. The most expensive flooring does not necessarily mean it will have the lowest life-cycle cost.

Corners Not to Cut

Here are seven of the most common ways that organizations cut corners in their flooring programs and hurt themselves.

1. Selecting the flooring product without considering the needs of the application. There is no universal best type of flooring for all applications. Different flooring types will respond differently to use factors related to the application. If the flooring is to reach its rated life, it is critical that facility managers consider how the space is used and how that use will affect the type of flooring that is to be installed.

Start by talking to building occupants. Identify the tasks that will be performed in the various areas of the building, and how of those tasks will affect the flooring. For each area, facility managers will have to balance a range of factors, including safety, durability, maintenance requirements, and comfort. For example, areas such as restrooms and kitchens need a floor that can be cleaned easily and can stand up to frequent cleaning and exposure to water. Similarly, flooring for corridors should be able to handle heavy traffic, whereas flooring in offices and meeting rooms may not have to.

2. Skimping on installation. One example here is installing too few floor drains in areas that require frequent cleaning, such as restrooms, makes cleaning more difficult. As is the case with other maintenance tasks, if something is difficult, it won't get done as often as it should. And cutting back on cleaning schedules will allow dirt to be ground into the finish of the flooring, decreasing its service life.

Similarly, it does not make sense to install a high-quality carpet with a low-cost adhesive or over a budget pad. Saving a few dollars on installation cost puts the whole installation at risk for increased ongoing maintenance costs and early failure.

3. Not providing walk-off mats. In a typical facility, between 80 and 90 percent of the dirt that ends up on the floor throughout the facility can be eliminated by properly placing walk-off mats at the building entrances. Walk-off mats are effective in keeping dirt, ice, snow and sand out of a building, which reduces how frequently flooring must be cleaned. It also reduces damage to the surface of the flooring, extends the service life of all building flooring and reduces the chances of injuries from slipping on wet flooring.

To gain the full benefit of walk-off mats, they should be designed into the flooring system from the beginning, and should be installed at all building entrances. Mats should be large enough to allow people entering the building to step on them for three to five steps.

4. Cutting back on floor maintenance. When facility managers are forced to look for ways to reduce operating costs, maintenance is usually the area that gets hit hardest. While this may work for most building components for a while, it eventually increases costs because of reduced performance, more frequent breakdowns and decreased system service lives.

Reducing maintenance will hurt flooring systems in exactly the same ways. With floorcoverings, the most common maintenance cutback is to reduce cleaning frequency. The most appropriate cleaning schedule depends on the type of surface installed and its exposure to traffic and dirt. For example, a facility may have high-traffic areas that require vacuuming twice a day. Cutting back on vacuuming schedules increases the chances that dirt will be ground into the carpet, damaging the fibers and resulting in a deteriorated appearance and shorter service life.

The same problem can arise with resilient flooring. Regular dust mopping and damp mopping will help to remove dirt before it has a chance to become ground into the floor's surface, damaging it and dulling its appearance.

Reducing cleaning frequency also produces a false sense of savings. Flooring that is cleaned on a more frequent cleaning cycle takes less time to clean than surfaces on a more extended cycle.

5. Failing to buy the right floor-cleaning equipment. It is not that unusual to spend more money on floor cleaning than on the original floor. Trying to save money by not buying the right equipment or by using whatever the organization already has will increase maintenance costs and may even damage the floor.

Equipment specifically designed for a particular type of floor will deliver more efficient cleaning, reducing costs and improving the appearance and service life of the floor.

Don't stop there. Consider the particulars of the application. How large is the area to be cleaned? Are there obstacles that the equipment must be able to move around? By matching the equipment to the particulars of the application, cleaning costs can be minimized.

6. Cutting training. One of the most obvious times training is needed is when a new piece of floor-care equipment is purchased. Maintenance and housekeeping personnel should be trained to operate the equipment. Effective training goes well beyond showing how to set up and use equipment. It also addresses the specific procedures to be used on each type of flooring material. Not all procedures can or should be used on all flooring surfaces. And depending on the level of use and exposure, different procedures may have to be used in different areas of the facility even if the same type of flooring is installed.

For each area or floor type in the facility, develop clearly written cleaning procedures to be followed. Those procedures must spell out what chemicals are to be used, what equipment is to be used, what steps should be taken before and after cleaning, and how often the cleaning is to take place. The procedures should be in writing and should be posted where they are readily available to cleaning and maintenance personnel.

Facility managers should also have some form of ongoing training. Flooring materials and the methods to maintain them are changing quickly. Facility managers must work to stay up-to-date with these changes and procedures if they are to get the most out of their existing flooring systems and see that the most cost effective ones are installed in their next construction or renovation project.

7. Failing to perform a life-cycle cost analysis. Typically, first cost is the determining factor in the type of flooring installed during a construction or renovation project. It is all too common that facility managers get quotes on different floor types, then go with the lowest cost. But over the life of the flooring, more money is typically spent on cleaning and maintenance. Selecting a product with the lowest first cost may end up costing more in the long run.

The only effective means of comparing flooring costs is to perform a life-cycle cost analysis on all suitable flooring options. What is the expected service life for the product under the conditions found for that particular application? What is the total installed cost of the product, including all surface preparation? What will it cost to clean the product over its service life? What are the maintenance costs over this same service life? What will it cost to have the product removed at the end of its service life? Only by examining these and other factors related to the application can facility managers determine the most suitable and cost-effective flooring for their application.

James Piper, PhD, PE, is a writer and consultant who has more than 35 years of experience in facilities management. He is a contributing editor for Building Operating Management.

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  posted on 2/15/2010   Article Use Policy

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