Flooring Selection: Why First Cost Shouldn't Be Most Important

  December 23, 2021

By Mackenna Moralez, assistant editor

Flooring can make or break a facility when it comes down to the budget. Long-term maintenance can make affordable material cost two to three times more over a period of time than a more expensive product with fewer maintenance requirements. There are several trends that are taking over flooring, but pricing still remains a concern for facility managers. 

“Unfortunately, clients are often more concerned about the upfront cost of materials because they are trying to work within a limited project budget,” says Amy Harrell, principal, JCJ Architecture. “In these cases we have found that material life cycle costs are even more important to show to your client. Even on a limited budget, we can use life cycle cost comparisons to guide a client to a material that both fits their budget and saves them money — and headaches—in the future. Products that differ by $0.25-0.50 per square foot on day one can be thousands of dollars different in one or two years. With today’s current labor shortages, this exercise has become even more important to our clients. Showing a client that they would need fewer staff members to maintain a product is critical right now, when employees are hard to find and maintain.” 

Choosing the cheaper option can also put employees at risk. Inappropriate flooring material choices are the leading causes of slips, trips and falls, making it one of the leading causes of claims in commercial spaces, Harrel explains. These claims can be reduced by paying attention to both the coefficient of friction rating and the transition between flooring materials. Most commercial rating flooring will have at least a .42 DCOF, however, many high traffic areas are now considering .6 DCOF to better maintain safety. 

“Transitions between flooring materials need to be less than a quarter inch in rise to meet ADA standards in commercial spaces,” says Harrel. “Often, this is only closely considered in areas where the public will be. It is critical to maintain this standard for back-of-house transitions as well, not only for ADA compliance but for employee safety. Transitions that are too high are trip hazards for employees and also make it hard to roll carts or equipment over them, which can also lead to employee injuries. By simply paying attention to the height and style of transitions throughout a facility, risks are reduced for all users of the space, whether employees or patrons.” 

Still, flooring trends for one facility may not be the right for the next one. The tile industry is seeing more introductions of new shapes and larger sizes. Just five years ago, 12x24 tile was the most common format, but now they have increased to 24x24 and 24x48.  

“As tile sizes increase, it is critical for designers and contractors to remember the importance of proper floor preparation. These larger sizes offer greater creativity options in flooring patterns but they are susceptible to cracking if the subfloor is not level and sound,” says Harrel. 

Meanwhile, Luxury Vinyl Tile (LVT) is also on the upswing because of advances in printing technologies make the materials look more realistic. In addition, 5mm LVT tile offerings are also increasing as they offer enhanced acoustical properties and transition more evenly to carpets and other adjacent materials. However, this leads to more competitive pricing. 

“With more and more LVT to choose from it is important for designers and facility managers to pay attention to the wear layer,” says Harrel. “With wear layers ranging from six mil. to 20 mil., you need to pay attention. The higher the wear layer, the more durable and less scratch resistant the tile will be. Even $0.05-0.10 more per square foot can get you a much more durable wear layer, which will drastically prolong the life and appearance of your LVT.” 


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