Carpet and resilient flooring are the two most commonly used floor coverings used in school facilities, and each type has the potential to affect the air quality in learning spaces.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency offers guidance to schools for selecting and maintaining floor coverings so that they do not impair air quality.
“Regardless of floor covering type specified, regular and effective cleaning and maintenance is essential to keep the floor covering dry and clean,” the EPA says. “Designers should explicitly consider cleaning and maintenance issues when specifying flooring finishes for various uses in schools.”
- The EPA recommends that schools installing carpet in a space should select a product that has low emissions of volatile organic compounds (VOCs), can be cleaned and maintained easily, is constructed to prevent liquids from penetrating the backing layer, and can be easily removed without the use of toxic chemicals.
- Once a carpet has been put in place, schools should air out the area for at least 72 hours. Installation should occur only when a school building is not in use. Carpet should not be installed in areas where it is likely to get wet—near water fountains, sinks, showers or pools.
Because carpet may become a reservoir for dust, dirt, pollen, mold spores, pesticides and other materials, keeping it clean is critical.
“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.”
Regular vacuuming with a well-functioning vacuum cleaner equipped with strong suction and a high-performance filtration bag will help a carpet last longer, keep its appearance, and maintain good indoor air quality
Moisture trapped below a carpet may result in mold growth that harms indoor air quality and poses health risks for students and staff. Before carpet is installed, the concrete below it should be sufficiently cured and dry, the EPA says.
Like carpets, resilient flooring materials may emit VOCs that worsen air quality. Adhesives used to install the flooring and materials used to maintain it also may add to VOC emissions.
The EPA urges schools to use flooring that has low VOC emissions, can be installed with low-VOC adhesives and coatings and can be easily cleaned and maintained with low-VOC cleaners and finishes.
“The impact of resilient flooring on indoor air quality varies by flooring material, installation method and maintenance procedures,” the EPA says.
Schools should require floor installers to use the smallest amount of adhesive necessary to fulfill performance specifications for that product. To minimize the effect of VOC emissions, spaces where resilient flooring has been installed should be aired out for at least 72 hours.
Selecting flooring with high-performance coatings will enable a school to use less cleaners and finishes to maintain surfaces. Using low-VOC cleaners and floor finishes also will help maintain good air quality.
Cleaning staffs should make sure they are using maintenance materials specified by the manufacturers, the EPA says, because use of the wrong maintenance materials can damage resilient flooring.
Whether a surface is covered with carpet or resilient flooring, schools should place walk-off mats at building entrances to trap soil, pollutants, and moisture that otherwise would be dispersed throughout a school facility.
Kennedy, staff writer, can be reached at [email protected].