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The right stuff

Richard Sutton, General Manager at Horbury Property Services, explains why it can be false economy to cut costs when specifying and installing flooring

Choosing flooring for a building is a decision that should not be taken lightly. If the properties and performance of the floorcovering do not match the requirements of the building and its occupants, it could prove to be more expensive in the long run. That is why it’s worth considering the lifetime cost of the flooring choice, rather than the initial cost of purchase. Driving down costs can lead to poorly specified products.

Durability is often the biggest factor in choosing a floorcovering – materials with a longer lifespan usually offer better value for money. Although the initial outlay may be more, this can be recouped many times over the lifespan of the building. The purpose of the building is also important – a showroom in a retail outlet will have very different requirements to a high traffic hallway. The flooring needs to be durable enough to withstand the volume of traffic using it each day.

Higher traffic areas, such as lobbies and hallways, require greater durability than an individual office space or meeting room. Flooring should always be selected that has robust certification and has undergone rigorous testing procedures to withstand the rigours of the environment.

Wrongly specified flooring can cause severe injury by introducing slip and trip hazards into high footfall areas. Slips, trips and falls are often caused by moisture and dirt carried into buildings on footwear. Entrance matting is one of the best ways to prevent this, and many modern entrance matting products can remove water and grit from shoes. Forbo has entrance matting which is available with scraper bars and bristle infills for heavy traffic areas.

Traction is another important consideration in high traffic areas. Polished marble floors are attractive, but when buffed can be slippery. Facilities managers concerned about health and safety risks should seek floorcoverings with proven anti-slip properties.

Certain environments present additional health and safety factors. Floorcoverings for use in healthcare, for example, must take account of issues such as infection control. Protecting the safety of service users, visitors and staff is a top priority.

When should you consider refurbishing or replacing a floorcovering? The appearance of rips, tears and thin patches is an obvious sign that action is required. Some inferior types of vinyl flooring can break apart at weld seams. Discolouration can occur when flooring becomes contaminated with microorganisms and bacteria.

Certain types of flooring are easier to repair than others. Carpet and vinyl tiles can be replaced individually, and solid hardwood flooring can be sanded down, if damaged. The costs of removal should be taken into account when specifying. The durability of a material has to be balanced against how easy it is to remove and replace. While natural stone has great aesthetics, it is also quite difficult and expensive to remove. On the other hand, carpet wears out faster in high traffic areas, yet it is relatively inexpensive to replace. It’s worth considering at the outset how often you are prepared to replace the floorcovering and what cost would be involved if you switch to another material.

Facilities managers should ensure they select a flooring installation or refurbishment partner with experience of the type of material specified. Ask for references from other customers to demonstrate that they are skilled in delivering flooring projects of that type to a high standard.

Before installation the condition of the substrate should be inspected. The current substrate may not be suitable for the specified flooring – or could even shorten its lifespan. Remedial work may be needed before a new floorcovering is put in place. Incorrectly prepared substrate can affect long-term performance.

It’s important that flooring is installed to the manufacturer’s guidelines. Failure to do so risks shortening the lifespan and almost certainly invalidates any manufacturer’s guarantee. Potential issues include wrongly specified underlay, which can create unsightly humps and trip hazards and may require complete replacement of the underlay.

Incorrectly specified flooring can lead to increased maintenance time and cost. Major repairs may have to be limited to out of hours and weekend working, increasing the cost still further.

Ongoing maintenance is essential to prolong a floorcovering’s lifespan, but it is important to take into account the views of the cleaning and maintenance teams when making a decision. A floorcovering specified for its aesthetics may be beyond the capabilities of the cleaning regime to maintain, leading to deterioration over time. Expert advice should be sought if low maintenance flooring is a particular requirement.

Some materials, like polished concrete, tiled or resin floors, are relatively easy to clean but do not offer the aesthetics or comfort of ‘softer’ choices, such as carpet. Carpet is usually easy to clean and can simply be vacuumed on a regular basis. Materials such as natural stone require more time and specialist techniques for cleaning and buffing in order to maintain their appearance. Even with regular maintenance, many very high traffic commercial flooring materials will wear out and need replacing after, on average, seven to 10 years.

One often overlooked factor at specification stage is the importance of selecting floorcoverings which do not cause or exacerbate allergic reactions. For example, older flooring can retain more allergens and particulates and can harbour living organisms, such as dust mites, if they are not properly and regularly cleaned. This could lead to health issues and time off for affected staff.

Aesthetics is always going to be an important factor in the decision-making process. Floorcoverings must reflect the overall look and feel of an organisation and create a good impression with visitors, while providing the appropriate comfort underfoot. Improving the aesthetics of the interior is the number one reason why floorcoverings are upgraded. The state of the flooring can also affect staff morale and mood.

Once the most important characteristics have been established for the flooring, it makes sense to consult both an interior designer and maintenance staff to narrow the choice down. In some cases, building owners or FMs will test out a floorcovering by installing it in a single room, allowing it to be evaluated in use without committing to an expensive purchase that might not be suitable in practice.

It’s a good idea to build up a portfolio of information on each flooring material you’ve selected for future reference. This will help to determine the best materials for use in any given application.

About Sarah OBeirne


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