Strategies for Success: Flooring/Carpeting

To carpet or not to carpet? That is the question many school and university facility managers must wrestle with when they are upgrading facilities.

The right answer will vary from location to location, depending on how a space will be used. Carpet can provide better acoustics and usually is thought to be more comfortable than resilient floor covering.

Resilient floors can stand up more effectively to heavy traffic and in areas where spills are likely.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) Indoor Air Quality Tools for Schools Program says administrators choosing floor coverings for schools should consider several factors:

  • Initial cost (purchase and installation).

  • Life-cycle cost (maintenance and longevity).

  • Effect on indoor air quality (toxicity of material, volatile organic compound (VOC) content, which cleaning products and methods will be used).

  • Effect on the learning environment (acoustics, lighting, thermal comfort, safety).

“The EPA recognizes there are advantages and disadvantages to any flooring system,” the EPA says. “Regardless of floor covering type specified, regular and effective cleaning and maintenance is essential to keep the floor covering dry and clean.”

Resilient flooring

The EPA says schools choosing resilient floors should select products that:

  • Have been tested for VOC emissions under the Resilient Floor Covering Institute's FloorScore program (www.rfci.com/int_FloorScore.htm).

  • Can be easily cleaned and maintained with low-VOC cleaners and finishes. •Can be installed with low-VOC adhesives and coatings to minimize indoor air pollution.

After a school has installed resilient flooring, the space should be aired out for at least 72 hours.

Flooring with high-performance coatings will require less maintenance and lower costs associated with cleaning and finishes. Schools also should consider using low-VOC cleaners and finishes.

Carpeting

Schools should select carpeting that:

  • Has been tested for VOC emissions under the Carpet and Rug Institute's Green Label Plus program (www.carpet-rug.com).

  • Is constructed to prevent liquids from penetrating the backing layer where moisture under the carpet can result in mold growth.

  • Can be removed easily without the use of toxic chemicals.

To alleviate odor problems associated with new carpeting, schools should require suppliers to unroll and air out the carpet in a clean, dry warehouse.

Carpets that use adhesives may off-gas particles for extended periods of time after being installed, the EPA says. To minimize off-gassing, installers should use the smallest amount of adhesive necessary. Schools also can specify tack-down carpet to eliminate gluing.

In most cases, schools should install carpet when a building is not in use. An exception can be made for small installations in which the space can be exhausted directly to the outdoors.

Avoid installing carpet near water fountains, sinks, showers, pools or other places likely to get wet.

The EPA stresses that regular and thorough carpet cleaning and maintenance will help schools avoid health problems.

“Inadequate maintenance can allow large quantities of dust and debris to build up in carpet,” the EPA says. “Some studies indicate that poorly maintained carpet can release significant quantities of particles into the air during the course of daily activity.

NOTABLE

72

Minimum number of hours a school should be aired out after new flooring or carpeting is installed.

24

In hours, the timeframe for cleaning and drying a spill on a carpet to avoid mold growth.

Source: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

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