Floor It

Carpet sure is popular in college classrooms today‚Ķ and why not? It’s soft and comfortable, absorbs extra noise, and lends a homey touch. It also requires daily vacuuming, holds pollen and other allergens like a sink while putting out VOCs, and usually ends its life in a landfill. For a greener, cleaner solution, schools should look to hard flooring options. From inexpensive vinyl tile to showier terrazzo and warm wood, hard flooring surfaces offer a plethora of choices for a variety of spaces on campus.

Very Resilient

Today, resilient flooring is second only to carpet in floor-covering sales in the United States, according to the Resilient Floor Covering Institute (RFCI). Resilient flooring continues to be a popular choice in almost any application because it is durable, easy to maintain, available in many different colors and patterns, and is easy to install.“It is suitable for high-traffic areas like classrooms, hallways, dorm rooms, libraries, offices, and labs,” said William Freeman, technical consultant, representative of the RFCI.“There is even specialty resilient flooring that controls electrostatic discharge in computer rooms or is slip-resistant in wet areas.”

Maintenance for resilient flooring has evolved as well. “High-performance coatings and new dry techniques reduce maintenance,” continued Freeman. “However, traditional resilient flooring still requires scrubbing and recoating finishes.” These variations in schedules mean a disparity in price as well. “Some floors may initially be cheaper to install but require a more vigorous maintenance programs,” commented Freeman. “Others cost more upfront but save money over their life cycle.”

For schools trying to earn a LEED certification, the RFCI has introduced the FloorScore Certification Program for Indoor Air Quality. “This program tests and certifies flooring products for compliance with indoor air quality emission requirements adopted in the California Section 1350 program,” said Freeman. “FloorScore-certified flooring products are eligible for credits in the U.S. Green Building Council LEED rating system and the GBI Green Globes Environmental Standard.”

Written in Stone or Faking It

For areas that demand instant impact, schools may want to look to a more permanent, monolithic option. Terrazzo and polymer flooring that sets like stone may be a solution. Both offer good-looking solutions for high-traffic areas. Both have their advantages and disadvantages.

“Terrazzo is marble chips held together with a matrix,” explained George Hardy, executive director, National Terrazzo and Mosaic Association. “It’s poured in place, then ground and polished. You see it all over schools in dorms, foyers, and lobbies.” Hardy points to the material’s monolithic properties when he discusses maintenance. “There is no grout or joints to get dirty,” he said. However, the floor must be stripped and resealed now and then. “K-12 schools usually do it once a year in the summer,” Hardy said, “but Chicago’s O’Hare Airport strips and reseals twice a year.”

While Hardy admits that terrazzo isn’t inherently a “green” product, it does contain up to 70 percent recycled material and, as it bonds permanently with the building, it never ends up in a landfill. “Terrazzo is more expensive than other materials and is labor-intensive to install, but life-cycle costs are low,” he said. “You can also create fantastic floors. In fact it’s rare to see a terrazzo floor that doesn’t include a school logo.”

Polymer flooring remains similar to terrazzo in many ways. It is installed on site, but while terrazzo can take a week to finish, polymer flooring can be finished in a weekend. “There are hundreds of collegiate applications for this type of flooring,” said Dan Kiernan, commercial business development manager, Stonhard. “Labs and animal research areas are naturals because the product is seamless, waterproof, and chemical resistant. But we are starting to see the product in high-impact areas like libraries, entrances, and hallways.” Kiernan makes the ultimate point for the product’s flexibility. “It’s specified in both correctional institutions and Armani stores.”

Polymer flooring lasts between 20 to 30 years before it requires a recoat. “It just needs a simple mop or power scrub to maintain,” said Kiernan. “There’s no waxing, stripping, or refinishing.” This ease of maintenance, however, comes at a cost. Kiernan estimates that his product is 30 to 40 percent more expensive than high-end vinyl.

With its long life cycle and low VOC output, a polymer floor can help a school earn LEED points. “Even its packaging is recyclable,” said Kiernan. And if the administration gets bored with a floor, it remains easy to recoat and change the product’s look or simply carpet over if tastes and applications change.

Wood You?

Wood floors add a residential warmth all their own. “We see them being used everywhere in schools,” said Anita Howard, director of communications for the National Wood Flooring Association. “It’s not just a regional thing. Wood floors are showing up all over the country.” Howard points to the green movement in talking about wood’s popularity. “It’s a renewable, sustainable product,” she said. “Products like stone can’t be renewed.”

Choosing the correct kind of wood floor — and the appropriate finish — proves paramount to a successful installation. Solid wood flooring can be used in any room, on or above grade. The product can be sanded and refinished many times and used in a variety of areas. For areas below grade, or climates that see a large fluctuation in humidity and temperature, an engineered wood floor is a better choice. Here, real wood is manufactured with three to five layers of different veneers, each running in opposite directions of each other making the product very stable. This “sandwich” is topped with a layer of high-quality wood. A disadvantage is that this type of floor cannot be sanded and refinished as many times as solid wood.

For high-traffic areas, the National Wood Flooring Association suggests an acrylic-impregnated finish. Rarely seen in residential applications, this process includes injecting acrylic-impregnated finishes into the wood to create a super-hard, extremely durable floor. “Maintenance is easy,” insisted Howard. “Sweep with a bristle broom or vacuum without a beater bar. Wipe up spills immediately and clean with the manufacturer-recommended solution.”

“Wood floors are highly durable,” she continued. In fact, many floors have lasted centuries and still look good. However, all this durability and warmth comes at a cost. Howard estimates that the average solid wood floor runs $6 to $9 per sq. ft., installed. “That is just an average. The cost can go up or down depending on where you are.”