Something's Underfoot

When specifying flooring, a commitment to maintenance is just one factor that will help determine how your selection will perform over the long haul.

Appearance, durability, safety and value are only some of the factors schools and universities need to consider when selecting the best type of flooring for their facilities. When it comes to carpeting, the selection process becomes more complex because there are a number of important differences in the types of carpeting available. By understanding these variations, schools can avoid costly pitfalls, while obtaining the right material for maximum durability and the lowest long-term cost of ownership.

The type of flooring recommended depends on where and how it will be used. There are differences to be considered based on whether the institution is a K-12 facility or university.

Flooring for grades K-12 The area and the traffic will determine which type of flooring is most effective for schools servicing grades K-12:

-Classrooms and hallways. This is where a cushioned surface is most desirable for safety, comfort and noise reduction. Elementary students may sit on the floors for story time, rest periods, etc., and special teaching aids-maps, colors, numbers, letters-can be welded into the carpeting to enhance the learning experience. In middle and high schools, the softness of the covering in hallways helps reduce noise as students walk to classes.

-Food-service areas. There is a great deal of activity in food-service areas, including food spillage. If carpeting is selected, it should be impenetrable to moisture and stains from a range of food sources, including standard cafeteria fare, as well as pizza- and taco-franchise offerings.

-Administrative areas. In these spaces, flooring must provide performance, as well as business-like aesthetics, which often leads to the selection of carpeting. Long-term durability is a concern, and it is important to choose carpeting that does not require the use of chair pads for protection. Although a less resilient grade of floor covering could be purchased for administrative areas, which typically are smaller than other areas of the school, little, if any, savings would be obtained by splitting an order. The trend is to use the same or a coordinated product in the administrative areas to create a harmonious appearance with other areas of the building.

-Athletic areas. Gymnasium flooring is predominantly hardwood, with ceramics used in the showers. Sometimes a hard surface is used in the locker room, other times carpet. These areas call for high durability and moisture-resistance. Entryways and hallways in physical-education facilities frequently use carpeting, which often may include school logos and other graphic elements welded into the carpet.

Student housing concerns On average, housing represents the largest square footage of floor covering on most campuses and the area where the most damage is done. Student housing puts any type of flooring to its severest test. Maintenance has to contend with high-traffic wear, dirt, food stains, bleach spills, burn holes from irons and many other forms of damage. Under these conditions, conventional carpeting, which generally refers to latex-backed carpeting, is destroyed in one to two years.

One alternative is to install a hard vinyl-composition tile (VCT) surface in housing facilities and have students bring their own carpets. A problem with this approach is source reduction-the campus is faced with the labor and cost of disposing of most of the students' carpets once a year. Carpet tiles are another choice. The downside is that they can be removed by students, and they are not completely moisture-proof or designed to withstand heavy abuse.

Cushioned vinyl-backed carpet is a resilient choice for student housing, and it offers a simple and cosmetically appealing alternative for repairing damage-welding new sections of carpet in place. Welding in a section of cushioned vinyl-backed carpet only requires a sharp knife and some welding compound. The compound fuses both sides of the backing to provide an integral covering. The repair takes about 20 minutes and is ready for immediate use, with complete curing achieved in about 10 hours or less.

Life-cycle costing The life-cycle cost of floor coverings in schools is the installed cost of the product, plus ongoing maintenance costs. In many instances, a cushioned-surface floor covering is less expensive to maintain than hard surfaces, such as VCT, because it costs less for chemicals and manpower.

Most school maintenance staffs vacuum carpets daily, and manufacturers recommend that extraction cleaning be performed at least twice a year. In practice, however, most schools extraction clean only once a year. Since cleaning occurs infrequently, it is essential to select floor-covering products that can withstand aggressive, even abusive, cleaning.

Conventional latex-backed carpeting was not designed to withstand aggressive, wet cleaning over long periods. Under these conditions, deterioration will show up as edges ravel, the carpet delaminates, seams separate and stains wick, resulting in increased work required for annual or semi-annual maintenance. During cleaning, or if there has been a spill or leak, latex backings absorb moisture. This increases drying time and sometimes can result in musty odors.

In a typical school, conventional carpet lasts five to seven years. However, for carpeting to be more cost effective than VCT, for example, it must last 10 to 12 years. This is how long it takes for the savings from low-maintenance costs to make up for higher installed costs of carpeting.

As a result, the use of conventional latex-backed, broadloom carpets in schools has declined in recent years. Instead, more schools are using structured-back products-polyurethane- and vinyl-backed carpets-with durable nylon wear surfaces. These last 10 to 25 years, depending on quality and maintenance practices.

Making the best selection There are two types of structured backings for carpeting-hard and cushioned. Cushioned products are manufactured through the use of foaming agents or mechanical frothing, which create a cellular pad for comfort, safety and noise reduction. The cushioned floor covering also lasts longer, which is reflected in the warranty.

If environmental concerns are an issue, carpeting made from recycled-content materials is available. As for durability, stain-resistance and moisture-resistance, the recycled product offers the same characteristics as its counterpart. Both the recycled-content carpeting and the carpeting made from virgin materials generally cost the same, are of comparable quality and come with the same type of warranties.

To obtain the most value for its floor-covering dollars, a school must select a product that is going to last. In some school districts, poorly chosen carpeting has needed to be replaced before the bond issue for the school was paid. Warranties protect against this, but the buyer should be aware that there are two types of warranties-prorated and non-prorated.

The prorated warranty will pay for a percentage of a carpet that wears out before its time. If a carpet with a 15-year warranty needs to be replaced after 12 years, the warranty will cover 20 percent of replacement costs. The school then must replace carpeting ahead of schedule and pay 80 percent of the bill.

A non-prorated warranty simply pays all the costs for a new carpet, no matter how little life was left on the warranty. Some non-prorated warranties for cushioned vinyl-backed flooring span 20 years.>SBBuying recycled pro duct

Doing the right thing for the environment is easier than ever before because of the variety of new products featuring recycled-content materials. However, when it comes to choosing flooring, the options and terms can be confusing. Here are a few tips: -Find out if your flooring can be recycled. Sometimes your vendor will take it back, but get a written guarantee that it will not be landfilled, incinerated or shipped elsewhere for storage or stockpiling. -Learn the origin of your flooring's recycled content. Find out what percentage of the product is recycled content. Get all claims in writing. -Ask for written performance warranties on your recycled-content flooring-can your vendor can match this warranty with those offered on its flooring products made with virgin materials? -Check prices. If recycled-content flooring costs more, ask why. Recycled-content and virgin flooring should cost about the same. -Ask to see locations where the flooring is installed. If you cannot visit the site, then call the site manager and find out how the product is performing. -If there are no installations, ask for test reports, preferably tests conducted by independent labs. -Visit the manufacturer's factory.

Do not forget about air quality. Flooring installed with wet adhesives gives off volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Consider dry adhesives where the installer peels off the shipping plastic and sticks down the flooring. This installation takes about half the time as wet-adhesive installation.

When selecting recycled-content flooring, you do not have to settle for less. Apply the same standards of attractiveness, appropriate use, performance and pricing in selecting recycled-content flooring as you would for flooring made with virgin materials. Your choice should provide years of durability, while helping reduce the amount of landfilled carpeting.

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