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Covering all Options

Covering all Options

Exploring how to handle school flooring needs.

The day a school opens its doors for the first time, the flooring will be new and untarnished. When the flooring is in such pristine condition, many flooring materials—carpeting, vinyl, terrazzo, wood or some other surface—will look good.

But school and university planners who decide what kind of material covers the floors of their facilities have to be able to see into the future and visualize what the surface will look like after thousands of students have trampled across it each day, after it has been mopped or scrubbed or vacuumed hundreds of times, after it has endured the cycle of seasons and the ups and downs of temperature and humidity.

Before choosing the type of flooring for a specific space in an education facility, school officials have to determine whether a surface is compatible with the function of a space, whether it is durable enough to stand up to heavy use by students, whether an institution’s staff has the training and time to clean and maintain the flooring properly, and whether flooring will affect the health and safety of students and staff.


Carpeting isn’t appropriate for every area in a school facility, but for classrooms and libraries, a carpeted surface can improve acoustics and provide added comfort, especially in spaces where young children will be sitting on the floor frequently.

To avoid indoor air quality problems, schools should make sure that carpet is installed properly and cleaned effectively. Some carpet may emit potentially harmful volatile organic compounds (VOCs), especially when it is newly installed. Education institutions should choose low-VOC carpets, and should install carpet when students will not be present. The Collaborative for High Performance Schools (CHPS) recommends that installation take place at least two weeks before a school is occupied.

The area that has been carpeted should be aired out for 72 hours, CHPS urges, to enable emissions from the carpeting to dissipate.

Once installed, a carpet has to be cleaned regularly to prevent dirt, allergens and other unwanted material from accumulating.

"If kept very clean from the time it is installed, carpet can trap a significant amount of particles, which can be removed through regular and effective vacuuming," the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says in its IAQ Design Tools for Schools. "However, inadequate maintenance can allow large quantities of dust and debris to build up in carpet."

The Carpet & Rug Institute recommends several ways to maintain carpets effectively:

•Soil containment: isolation of soil entering the building using walkoff mats at entrances.

•Vacuuming: the frequency should be determined by the amount of traffic an area has. Typical high-traffic areas are entrances, hallways, break rooms, cafeterias, corridors, elevator lobbies, stairways, main aisles and waiting areas. Moderate-traffic areas may include secondary aisles, research areas, conference rooms, classrooms and atriums. Light-traffic areas are offices, cubicles, storage rooms and executive areas.

•Spot and spill removal using professional spot-removal techniques.

•Restorative cleaning: deep cleaning to remove residues and trapped soils.

Schools can reduce replacement costs by using carpet tile. Small sections of damaged or wornout carpet can be replaced instead of an entire carpet.

Resilient flooring

Areas of school facilities with heavy traffic where acoustics are not a key concern are good places to install resilient flooring, such as vinyl composition tile (VCT), linoleum, rubber or cork, the CHPS says. Those areas include hallways, kitchens, cafeterias, art rooms, toilets or anywhere that liquid spills are likely.

Some environmental activists have raised concerns about the safety of VCT flooring because it is composed of polyvinyl chloride (PVC). It is produced from petroleum, the production process can be highly polluting, the CHPS says.

"While some environmental organizations have serious concerns about its environmental impact, PVC also has some beneficial properties that have made it a widely used material in schools traditionally," says the CHPS.

Those benefits include a low initial cost, durability, a low maintenance requirement, and moisture-resistant properties. After weighing the pros and cons of PVC products, the CHPS says it "neither recommends nor discourages their use."

As with carpeting, proper cleaning and maintenance is essential for resilient flooring to perform as expected. The Resilient Floor Covering Institute, which promotes the use of such flooring, recommends these cleaning steps:

•Wipe up any spills with a damp cloth or mop as soon as possible.

•Vacuum, sweep, or dust regularly to remove dirt and debris that could scratch or scuff the flooring.

•Damp mop and spot clean the flooring as needed for a deeper clean.

Strategies may vary depending on the type of product, so maintenance workers should follow the manufacturer’s recommendations.

Preventive maintenance that the institute recommends:

•Place protective rubber castors or felt glides under furniture to prevent scratching or other damage.

•Use mats at main entrances to trap dirt and prevent tracking.

•Make sure rugs and mats on top of resilient flooring have a slip-resistant backing.

•Choose rugs and mats made with breathable materials so that they do not discolor the flooring.


Wood flooring sometimes is used in classrooms, but more often is found in specialized areas, such as gymnasium floors, stages or dance studios. As a renewable and recyclable resource, wood is environmentally friendly, but it can be more expensive that other flooring options, the CHPS notes.

The Maple Flooring Manufacturers Association (MFMA) offers tips to keep a school’s wood floor in top condition:

•Sweep the floor daily (or more if it is heavily used) with a properly treated dust mop.

•Wipe up spills or any moisture on the floor surface.

•Remove heel marks with a floor cleaner approved by the floor finish manufacturer. It should be applied with a soft cloth or dust mop.

•Regularly inspect the floor for tightening or shrinkage. During wet weather, check for water leakage around doors and windows. Remove debris from expansion voids.

•Always protect the floor when moving heavy portable equipment or lifts. Ensure portable equipment does not have crowned wheels or wheels with center ridges remaining from the molding process. These types of wheels can create very significant point loads.

•Never shut down the ventilation system in a facility for a prolonged period of time.

•Never clean a maple wood floor using scrubbing machinery or power scrubbers that use water under pressure.

•Never use household cleaning products or procedures. They can be harmful to the floor finish and to the wood, and may also leave floors sticky or slippery and potentially harmful to athletes.

Kennedy, staff writer, can be reached at [email protected].

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