The University of Colorado, Boulder, used rubber flooring in its Jennie Smoly Caruthers Biotechnology Building labs to protect against staining from chemicals and other substances.

School Flooring Matters

Feb. 12, 2013
Rubber flooring offers a variety of performance and sustainable benefits to education facilities.

In education facilities, from preschools and K-12 schools to colleges and universities, most decisions are made with the well-being and development of students in mind. A positive learning atmosphere contributes to student happiness and productivity, so using sustainable products with efficient maintenance profiles can play a big role in achieving a healthful space. 

Architects, designers, facility managers, principals, superintendents and other building officials typically do not consult students directly to see what their preferences would be for a renovation or expansion. However, there are products that can please students’ senses and help them develop in a healthful and prosperous environment.

Flooring needs

One such product, rubber flooring, is a dense, durable material that offers a variety of performance and sustainable benefits to education facilities. The flooring helps reduce footfall noise and can lead to a quieter learning environment, allowing for greater communication among teachers and staff, as well as higher levels of student concentration and knowledge retention. Also, rubber flooring’s resilience provides excellent underfoot comfort for teachers who are constantly standing and moving throughout classrooms. One of rubber flooring’s most important benefits is its role in keeping a facility clean—a neverending challenge for maintenance and custodial staff.

When outfitting a school of any level, planners have a plethora of material options that can be used in a variety of areas. From carpeting to linoleum, vinyl composition tile (VCT) to rubber, school administrators must evaluate what kind of flooring works best in accommodating the specific needs for each area of the school. 

Maintenance challenges

One major component of the material selection is the flooring’s cleaning requirements and how efficiently it can be maintained given limited manpower and time. Some rubber floor coverings can be maintained without applying any waxes or finishes, an attractive benefit for schools looking to save on labor time and costs: 

•In areas such as entranceways and corridors, floors are cleaned on a regular basis, whereas in other areas like classrooms and laboratories, maintenance can be sporadic, leaving those spaces dirty and in need of attention.

•Classrooms are busy areas that endure frequent changeover of students and teachers. With desks, chairs and other obstacles present in classrooms, achieving a clean floor is a great challenge. Often, classrooms are cleaned thoroughly only during semester breaks or the summer because many floor coverings require the time to clean, strip, buff and wax the flooring—a process that can take days. 

To conduct this comprehensive maintenance regimen, all furniture and other items on the floor need to be removed from the classroom, leaving it completely empty. Classrooms that install no-wax rubber flooring require less time and commitment, enabling custodial staff to focus their efforts on other projects. Also, by never having to introduce waxes and finishes, a classroom will experience a high level of indoor air quality (IAQ), which contributes to a more healthful learning atmosphere.

•Corridors receive more maintenance attention, because they can be cleaned more frequently and without having to displace any furniture. Whether it is an atrium in a student union building at a university or a main hallway in a populated high school, corridors are highly trafficked areas that need to possess the durability to hold up to heavy footsteps and tracked-in elements. 

Corridors using rubber flooring can be cleaned efficiently with just water, a mild cleaning solution and an autoscrubber machine. Few chemicals are introduced into the air, keeping students, teachers and visitors free from harmful toxins and other substances like volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Having corridors that look clean is an important aesthetic benefit to a school or university.

•Cafeterias and food-service areas require a clean profile in education facilities. Not only are they busy areas that experience a lot of frequent changeover, but also the likelihood of food and drink spills makes having a proper floor covering that much more crucial. 

What happens when a first-grader drops a chicken nugget at lunch and accidentally steps on it? If durable rubber flooring with a dense surface is installed, then the answer is probably nothing, as the food can usually be cleaned away with a wet mop and cleaning solution. However, if a college student spills a soda and does not bother to clean it up, long-term ramifications may result. With carpeting or a more porous floor covering, that liquid could seep into the surface and become difficult to remove, and may result in permanent staining. With rubber flooring, the liquid or foreign substance cannot penetrate the surface, making cleanup easy and residual staining almost non-existent. 

Some flooring products require the application of waxes or finishes to protect their porous surfaces from absorbing foreign substances like juice, mustard or other potential staining agents. However, without having to apply any finishes and equipped with a surface that almost repels these substances, rubber flooring holds up well to residual staining.

•The importance of cleanliness in areas such as classrooms and cafeterias cannot be understated, but in education settings, there may no area more imperative to keep clean than laboratories. In biology and chemistry labs, students and staff conduct experiments and projects with potentially volatile chemicals. It is essential to find a maintenance regimen that will limit the amount of toxins and VOCs introduced into the air, as adding waxes and chemicals into labs for maintenance purposes can possibly affect the outcomes of experiments. 

Additionally, labs generally are cluttered with supplies and are busy throughout the day, so trying to schedule and execute maintenance can be a challenge. With no-wax rubber flooring, custodial staff can get in there quickly with a wet mop and a minor cleaning solution to make sure the space is disinfected quickly yet thoroughly—all without disrupting lab students, professors, researchers or processes. 

Applying floor finish in a lab is impractical and too labor-intensive. Rubber flooring holds up well to staining and with potential harmful chemicals like betadine and dangerous acids prevalent in a laboratory setting.

Green considerations

The overarching goal of school and university officials is to generally create an atmosphere that is healthful for their students and teachers. Some rubber floor coverings are GREENGUARD certified, which are product designations that promote a high level of healthful indoor air quality. 

Flooring products can even achieve a GREENGUARD Children & Schools designation, the highest GREENGUARD certification for indoor air quality.

With rubber flooring’s low-maintenance requirements, the impressive indoor air quality is a benefit that positively affects the learning atmosphere by helping with student health and preventing absenteeism from sickness—particularly in preschool and K-12 settings where younger children are more susceptible to pollutants. 

Simoneau is a marketing specialist for nora systems, Inc., Salem, N.H., a designer and manufacturer of high-performance rubber flooring. 

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