Best Practices for Carpet Specification and Maintenance

Specifying carpet in schools continues to be the subject of great debate among administrators and facility managers who are interested in making the best flooring selections for their buildings. Finding a carpet style that meets all of the design, performance, budget, and sustainability objectives for a renovation or new construction project can seem like an overwhelming, if not impossible, task.

Larry Eisenberg knows that carpet brings several practical and aesthetic benefits to the learning environment. But, like so many school facility managers, he has in the past specified carpet that did not live up to his performance expectations. It all started more than 20 years ago when Eisenberg, then director of procurement for the State of Wisconsin, became frustrated at his annual expenditure to replace carpeting. Since more than 80 percent of the State of Wisconsin’s space was carpeted, and most was lasting only five to seven years at best, Eisenberg was spending too much money on carpeting.

“I recognized we weren’t sophisticated at selecting carpet and wanted to find out what we were doing wrong,” said Eisenberg.

Eisenberg turned to experts in textiles at the University of Wisconsin - Madison to help him write three standard carpet specifications that would stand up to performance expectations for light, medium, and heavy-duty traffic. After researching the chemistry and performance of the carpet fiber and the manufacturing process for fiber and carpet, Dr. Majid Sarmadi, professor of materials science and design studies, advised Eisenberg on how to specify carpet to ensure the right carpet was selected for the right application.

Today, Eisenberg, executive director for facilities planning and development at the Los Angeles Community College District (LACCD), is managing a record-breaking $2.2B bond for sustainable construction and renovation. New carpeting will account for more than $83M of the total spend over the next five years, the largest contract in the history of the flooring industry.

With such a large investment in carpeting, Eisenberg knew he needed a standard specification for carpet to ensure that his staff of more than 100 facilities professionals would select carpet with outstanding appearance retention, stain resistance, and durability. Along with outstanding performance criteria for the carpet, Eisenberg also had new, stringent sustainable standards for how the carpet was manufactured.

Eisenberg took an unprecedented approach to achieve the design, performance, budget and sustainable objectives he outlined. He began by challenging the carpet industry to manufacture a product that would stand up to a 30-year non-prorated warranty. This was the first time any facility manager challenged carpet manufacturers with long-term performance goals backed by a warranty. In effect, Eisenberg was creating a new sustainable standard for carpeting.
“I turned once again to Dr. Sarmadi to study the basic performance characteristics of all available fiber types because we knew that how well a carpet will perform is based on a set of highly complex factors, which now includes sustainability,” said Eisenberg. “Based on Dr. Sarmadi’s research, he concluded that type 6,6 nylon with a hollow filament was the best performing carpet fiber due to its unique fiber cross section and construction. He also concluded the most sustainable carpet fiber was solution dyed nylon 6,6 fiber with recycled content.”

The specification developed by Dr. Sarmadi stipulated Solution Dyed, Nylon 6,6, continuous filaments, with modification ratio of 1.5 for soil release capabilities.

The final sustainable criteria for the standard carpet specification was about a 200 page document that included the following key points:
  • minimum 40 percent recycled content in face fiber;
  • minimum 100 percent recycled content for the backing;
  • 100 percent fully recyclable at the end of its useful life (no burning for energy);
  • eliminates the use of many chemicals to reduce the VOC to improve IAQ;
  • to reduce the carbon foot print and save energy, solution dyed fibers were specified, saving 50 gallons of water per square yard of carpet and a tremendous amount of energy;
  • third-party certification that products are environmentally preferable; and
  • third-party certification that no antimicrobials have been added to products

“This was a ground-breaking process because there weren’t any carpet products currently on the market that met our performance and sustainable criteria,” said Eisenberg. “Several manufacturers stepped up to the challenge. In the end, we awarded our contract to the company that provided the best combination of price, performance, and sustainability.”

“We use the industry’s only type 6,6 carpet fiber with a hollow filament and high-recycled content (HRC) in a significant portion of our product mix, and selected it for this specification because we knew it would exceed the performance and sustainability criteria outlined by LACCD,” said Ralph Grogan, COO, Tandus. “With the recent expansion of its color line, we also had great design flexibility to create timeless carpet styles.”

Product designers Suzanne Tick and Terry Mowers worked with LACCD to design and colour eight carpet styles manufactured with a hollow filament solution dyed type 6,6 nylon that met all of the criteria
Eisenberg outlined. Meeting LACCD’s stringent sustainable specifications, the products are 100 percent closed-loop recyclable back into new flooring, contains 25 percent recycled yarn content, and is third party certified as an environmentally preferable product.

The manufacturer also included maintenance equipment, custodial training, and cleaning chemical audits as part of the contract. They recommended maintenance equipment for hot water extraction and vacuuming that would be easy to use and perform efficiently in large and small areas alike.

“Even with the industry’s best carpet, we know how important it is to have a comprehensive maintenance program so the carpet doesn’t ‘ugly out’ prematurely,” added Eisenberg. “We relied on the experts to assist us with the proper cleaning equipment, chemicals, and training.”

Having a maintenance program gives Eisenberg the assurance that once flooring is installed in a building, the cleaning equipment would be available and the proper maintenance techniques could be used to ensure the long-term durability and appearance retention of the carpet.

Eisenberg was pleased with the results achieved after following the carpet specification. It saved more than 50 percent of the administration’s budget for carpet and increased the life cycle of the carpet from 15 to 30 years backed by a warranty.

Citing the benefits of having carpet in the classroom, Eisenberg said he hopes other facility managers will take advantage of the valuable information learned from LACCD’s extensive research effort into carpet performance. “Carpet has distinct benefits versus other floor covering options including comfort, safety, thermal insulation, and acoustics. The two main reasons carpeting fails, improper specification and lack of maintenance that causes carpet to ‘ugly out’ prematurely, can be easily avoided,” said Eisenberg. “We’ve made our contract ‘piggybackable,’ so other public entities across the United States can simply order off of our contract.”

Eisenberg is a great example for using research to make finding a carpet style that meets design, performance, budget, and sustainability objectives much easier.

Kieren Corcoran has worked in the building products and flooring industry for close to 14 years in sales, management, and marketing. He is currently the Education Segment leader at INVISTA. For more information,  contact Kieren at 770/420-7748 or [email protected]