Flooring: The Hard Way

What do facility managers look for when choosing a hard surface floor? Are initial savings more pressing than overall lifecycle costs? Is performance paramount? Or does style trump all? College Planning and Management takes a look at flooring options and finds something new underfoot.

The Workhorses

Look down. Chances are if you’re in a classroom, hallway or vestibule area you’re standing on vinyl.“We ship a ton vinyl composition tile (VCT) products to colleges,” says Dave Thoresen, direction of commercial resilient product for Mannington Commercial. And why not? Since its invention in 1933, vinyl became the most popular choice for flooring in about any hard-surface application, according to the Resilient Floor Covering Institute (RFCI).

VCT’s benefits are undeniable. Inexpensive to buy and simple to install, the material proves easy to clean and durable. Colors range from pastel to vibrant. On the downside, VCT needs yearly stripping and occasional polishing, both of which add to its lifecycle costs.

Rubber represents another flooring option that has stood the test of time. Debuting in the 12th or 13th Century according to the RFCI, rubber works well in hallways, classrooms, stairwells and atriums.“Rubber is naturally slip resistant,” says Jeff Krejas, director of marketing, Johnsonite. An important fact, considering the 2002’s National Safety Council’s Report on Injuries in America counts 14,500 unintentional injury deaths as a result of falls. Initially more expensive than VCT, rubber cleans with soap and water without yearly stripping. Custom colors and special designs can be created. “If a school wants their logo and mascot in the floor, we can deliver,” says Krejsa.

For a floor that lasts a lifetime, look to terrazzo. Engineered to last 40 to 50 years, terrazzo’s upfront costs usually limit the material’s use to high-impact areas. “Lobbies, student unions and wellness center are great places for terrazzo,” says executive director for the National Terrazzo & Mosaic Association George Hardy. Harsh cleaners and sealers can damage terrazzo so neutral cleaners with a PH factor between seven and ten are recommended.

The Impostors

Traditionally used in industrial and manufacturing areas, most people think of resinous flooring as hard working, long lasting and easy cleaning. And they’re right. Requiring a skilled contractor to mix on site, resinous flooring permanently bonds to the substrate and never requires stripping or waxing. It stands up to heavy demands making it a perfect choice for loading docks, food processing or research areas.

Product innovations, however, has allowed resinous flooring to branch out. “Architects like the look of a shiny, high gloss floor,” says Mark Paggioli, marketing director, Dur-A-Flex, “and installers have found ways to install designs.” As a result, resinous flooring is showing up in higher profile areas like student centers. “You can even get a terrazzo look at a lower cost.”

While carpet is king in residential areas, no one can deny the homey warmth of wood floors. Wood’s high lifecycle costs and its sensitivity to standing water, however, make it an unlikely choice in dorms and apartments. ICore (circle R), an advanced composite flooring from Mannington Commercial, offers the warm look of wood coupled with a heavy commercial rating. “It has a 1,500 psi rating,” says Jennie Selden, business development for education, Mannington Commercial. “Typical laminate flooring doesn’t exceed 250.”

With a 10-year warranty, ICore (circle R) promises to be durable but what about the inevitable liquid spills one can expect in a dorm or apartment? “I like to say you can do the bottom of your pool with it,” reports Thoresen. “That’s not exactly true, but the product is extremely water resistant.” This technology, however, comes with a high price tag--$10-$11 per square foot to install.

The Diva and the Jock

Certain areas require specialized floors. Putting just any old rubber floor in a sports environment may hurt bottom lines and athlete’s backs. “You have to take into account the impact sport areas are going to get,” says Johnsonite’s Krejsa. “Floors in these setting must resist golf spikes, ice skate blades, barbells and more.”

More than just resist wear and tear, specialized sport floors have to give. Shock-absorbent layers offer the correct ergonomics for the human body in motion. Sport floors don’t have to be rubber to perform. Mondo offers a floating maple floor called Air-Zone. Resilient rubber cells optimize shock absorption and vertical deflection, making for a safe playing surface.

Dancers need a floor all their own. “You wouldn’t want to play basketball on one of our floors,” says Claire Londress, marketing manager for American Harlequin Corporation. “They are not suited to sneakers.”

They are, however, suited to dance. With no hard spots, the floor gives just the right amount helping dancer avoid shin splints and knee injurious. Slip resistance helps keep everyone upright in dance shoes. Point area elasticity ensures that dancers jumping in one corner of the room don’t shake the whole floor.

Investing in a highly specialized floor like these means investing in a dedicated space for the activity. Yet the best laid plans always seem to change. “We always hear about dance departments moving into a space promised to them for 10 years and then being moved out six months later,” reports Londress. In response, movable panel floors prove a popular option proving you can take it with you.