Beyond Cost: Floorcovering Follows Function
The last decade has been a period of innovation in resilient and hard surface flooring. Whether it’s because of the introduction of new categories of flooring products or renewed interest in older types of products like linoleum, facility executives often find themselves considering a wider range of options than in the past. That’s good news, of course. With a greater number of choices, the facility executive has a better chance to meet specific goals for a space, whether those involve aesthetics, green design, durability or cost.
But sorting through all the options available today isn’t easy. Finding the most appropriate flooring takes diligent research. Time spent researching pays off, however. Choosing the best floorcovering for a space can result in numerous benefits, both for the facility occupants and the facility executive.
Comparing hard surface or resilient floorcovering through life-cycle costing is the most common way to ensure a facility executive is getting enough bang for the buck.
Instead of focusing only on installation and first costs, the life-cycle cost of a flooring product includes all costs associated with maintaining and repairing the floor throughout its life, along with installation and disposal costs.
The problem with life-cycle costing figures is that they don’t include floorcovering benefits that can’t be accurately measured with a dollar sign. To reap the most benefits from a hard surface or resilient floorcovering investment, facility executives should look beyond cost to a range of selection criteria. If a floorcovering is chosen on budget alone, there could be missed opportunities or big headaches awaiting the facility executive down the road.
Selecting appropriate flooring comes down to knowing the space where it’s being installed. “Flooring is not one size fits all,” says Dominic Rice, vice president of commercial resilient flooring for Armstrong. “The particular application of the space and the purpose that space is used for are the first considerations.”
A large department store might have a standard spec for sheet vinyl. But a very chic clothing store might want a wood floor — or a laminate floor with a wood look. And a funky gift shop might want the comfortable feel of a rubber floor to set itself apart. In each case, the space’s particular needs and requirements must be taken into account to choose the most appropriate floorcovering.
To keep a floor looking good, some amount of maintenance and cleaning will have to be done. How much depends, to some extent, on the aesthetic standard set by the organization. Some retail outlets, for example, feel a constant high-gloss finish denotes cleanliness and appeals to shoppers. In this case, a good amount of regularly scheduled maintenance will have to be performed to keep the floorcovering up to standard. If a very high bar is set, the maintenance needed to keep up that aesthetic should be taken into account when choosing the floor. On the other hand, if stripping, buffing and waxing on a regular basis are not in the budget, a floorcovering that doesn’t require much routine maintenance may be a better choice.
If a facility has sustainability goals, there are a wide range of floorcoverings designed to address one or more environmental concerns. Linoleum is made from natural and renewable materials. Cork, another natural, renewable material, has the benefit of being soft underfoot — similar to rubber — for spaces where people are on their feet a lot. Some rubber flooring can be recycled into new product, and some rubber flooring products are manufactured from used tires. Rubber also doesn’t contain PVC. Flooring can be made from sustainably harvested wood or bamboo, a rapidly renewing material. Other green flooring options involve R&D innovations. For example, manufacturers have introduced polymers that don’t contain chlorine, plasticizers or PVC and that are designed to perform as well as or better than vinyl. With one product, the polymer is drawn from corn.
Many green floorcoverings have the added benefit of contributing to a healthy space because formaldehyde and other chemicals that may off-gas are seldom used or limited in the production process.
Design Plays Multiple Roles
Design plays a large role in selecting an appropriate floorcovering. The floor surface goes a long way toward defining the mood and ambiance of the space. Whether it’s relaxing, uplifting or energetic, the feel of a space should be determined by the use occupants will make of that space. “People are at the center of any space,” says Jeff Krejsa, director of marketing, Johnsonite. “The flooring is a significant part of the created environment.”
Beyond aesthetics, the right flooring design may save money down the road. Floorcovering pattern can play a significant role in the perceived appearance of the floor, says Rice. A pattern that is relatively high in contrast and busy will be less likely to show scuffs, scratches, marks and dirt than a more subtle pattern. While a high-contrast pattern may not work with the space’s design, a facility executive can save money by choosing flooring with the most contrast that still looks good aesthetically. Floors that show fewer marks and less dirt may not need to be cleaned as often as floors that show every little scratch.
Another factor to consider is the longevity of the design or pattern, says David Voll, senior marketing manager, Amtico. “Facility executives should be careful when selecting flooring as some long lasting materials can look dated before the material has aged enough to necessitate replacement,” Voll says. To avoid that risk, choose timeless colors and patterns or stick with natural materials, such as wood or stone, or patterns that mimic nature.
If a facility has many different types of spaces with different flooring needs, it’s important to choose a color scheme and pattern that coordinates and translates well into different types of floorcovering. A health care facility, for example, has many different types of spaces. Linoleum could be used in a hospital’s hallways for sustainability reasons, rubber could be used in stairwells and nurses’ stations for safety and comfort, and vinyl sheet could be used in operating rooms where the highest level of hygiene is required, says Krejsa. These floorcoverings will have to butt against each other in some areas, but should work together aesthetically to create an integrated, functional facility.
Getting the Most From the Floor
Once a floorcovering is chosen, there are steps that facility executives can take to ensure they get the most out of their investment.
A long-lived floor starts with proper installation. “Installation needs to take into account things like subfloor and condition, and address those issues in the appropriate way,” says Rice. Ideally, the HVAC system should be operating in the space where the flooring is being installed. But Rice says he’s seen situations where flooring was expected to be installed even before the building envelope was complete. Flooring adhesives need to cure in a stable environment, preferably one that will be the same as when the facility is operating normally.
Promises of a maintenance-free floorcovering may be tempting as a way to reduce life-cycle costs, but buyers should beware such claims. “There are no maintenance-free products,” says Tammy Weadock, marketing manager for Wilsonart. Some hard surface and resilient floorcoverings require less routine maintenance than others, relatively speaking. Vinyl composite tile, the resilient standby, can last decades, but chances are it won’t look very good unless it is routinely buffed and waxed. Some laminate floors, on the other hand, require little or no waxing or polishing. Either way, extremely high-traffic areas will probably need more maintenance than areas with less traffic.
To research the maintenance requirements of flooring, go to the manufacturers themselves. “The most important thing a facility executive can do is follow a routine maintenance program based on the manufacturer specification,” says Voll. Manufacturers know their products and have researched the best ways to take care of them.
The manufacturer’s ideal routine maintenance plan can be used as a jumping-off point for specific facilities’ needs. “Maintenance is not one size fits all,” says Rice. “What’s needed depends on a number of factors: the use of the space, resources available to maintain it and the aesthetic expectations of the owner or occupant.” While upping the amount of routine maintenance is a good idea in some situations, decreasing routine maintenance below manufacturer’s recommendations is inviting trouble. Not keeping up with regular maintenance will shorten the life of the floor.
Some floorcoverings, like vinyl and linoleum, benefit from buffing. Buffing doesn’t clean the floor, but it does increase the floor’s longevity, says Rice. The purpose of buffing is to restore the sheen in places where it’s been dulled by traffic. A good example is a hallway corridor. The center of the hall is often dulled to a matte finish from traffic, whereas the floorcovering along the wall is usually still glossy. Buffing will restore the flooring to its original state and is better at removing scuff marks than cleaning alone. Be sure to clean the floor before buffing, cautions Rice, or dirt will just be buffed into the floor.
When spills occur, they should be cleaned up immediately to prevent the liquid from staining and seeping into the floorcovering or seams. If allowed to sit, spilled materials could damage the flooring enough to warrant spot replacement or even cause subfloor damage.
Walk-off mats are sometimes only thought of in terms of safety for facility occupants. They can reduce the number of times people coming into a facility with wet shoes slip and fall, says Weadock. However, they play an important role in minimizing life-cycle costs of hard surface flooring as well.
“Walk-off mats allow for the removal of most dirt and grit brought onto a floor from outside before the person comes in contact with the flooring,” says Voll. Mats are often placed directly inside any entrances, and sometimes also on the exterior side of the entrance. They should be as wide as the doorway and 8 to 12 feet long, Rice says.
With a high-friction open surface designed to trap debris , walk-off mats can only do their job if they have space in them to trap the road salt, dirt and grit. It’s important to routinely clean the mat so it remains an effective first line of defense.
Protecting the Floor From Abuse
Even facility executives who keep up with maintenance and install walk-off mats sometimes overlook another important precaution: protecting the flooring from objects being moved across it. Sliding furniture or other heavy objects without some sort of protection can scratch or gouge the floorcovering.
This is often a problem in school classrooms. The typical metal-legged chairs usually have a rubber foot or protector, but through normal wear and tear, this often peels off. When that happens, the bare metal leg is repeatedly dragged across the floor.
When moving other furniture, desks and cabinets in an office, for example, it’s best to use furniture pads, protectors or even a sheet of plywood to cover the floor before sliding the objects. Furniture — particularly heavy, metal objects such as filing cabinets — can scratch the floor’s finish, or the flooring itself, resulting in costs to replace, repair or refinish the floor.
Any equipment on casters, such as medical devices or computers on rolling carts in a hospital, should have appropriately sized casters. Generally, the wider the caster surface that makes contact with the floor, the better. Casters that are too narrow for the load will cut into the floor, leaving wheel marks and an uneven surface. Wider casters will distribute the load over a larger surface area to avoid marking the floor.
A hard surface or resilient floorcovering investment should benefit the facility over the entire life of the product. A floor that no longer lives up to the expectations of the occupants or the facility executive will serve no benefit, regardless of life-cycle cost analyses or rated service life.
“A facility executive needs to look at financial return over the lifetime of the space,” says Krejsa. “But to maximize this return, you must weigh costs versus lifetime benefits. That’s more than just life-cycle costing.”