Facilities (Learning Spaces)

Higher Marks for School Floors

School Media Center / Library flooring

PHOTOS COURTESY OF FANNING HOWEY

When facility managers fall asleep at night, they dream of a flooring system that requires minimal maintenance, lasts the life of the building and fits within their limited budgets. In reality, there is no such perfect system. However, new advances in flooring products like Luxury Vinyl Tile (LVT) and carpet tile give educational facility owners the closest thing to a dream product: relatively-inexpensive flooring systems that require little long-term maintenance and, as an added bonus, are friendly to the environment.

Luxury Performance on Limited Budgets

The name Luxury Vinyl Tile is a misnomer, as this increasingly popular flooring product is actually affordable, especially when taking into account total life-cycle costs. For years, Vinyl Composition Tile (VCT) and Enhanced Tile (ET) products have dominated the educational market, primarily due to their low initial cost. However, educational facility owners who choose VCT or ET are forced to put up with extensive maintenance regimens and relatively short life cycles. Unlike VCT, LVT floors are pre-finished at the factory. This reduces the need for maintenance staff to strip and re-wax the floor on an annual basis. LVT is also much more durable than VCT, giving the floor a longer life span. The extra cost associated with the purchase of LVT flooring is more than offset by the reduced maintenance costs over the life of the system. While LVT is about $2.50 a square foot more expensive to purchase and install, it gives owners an $8.65 a square foot cost savings compared to VCT over a 10-year life-cycle.

School carpet in flexible space

PHOTOS COURTESY OF FANNING HOWEY

Defining Space. Strategic transitions between tile flooring and carpet are a good way to create small learning environments within a larger space.

In addition to the long-term cost savings, LVT floors provide exceptional aesthetic flexibility. LVT products are available in a variety of looks, including wood flooring, stained concrete or carpet tile-like patterns. The durable nature of LVT makes it an especially good choice for school cafeterias and other high-traffic spaces, while the product’s wide range of patterns allows designers to provide that extra visual oomph in spaces that can sometimes have an institutional feel. But LVT is not just a good choice for high-use spaces. The different texture options provide owners with an effective way to separate quiet areas from louder areas and small learning environments from large collaboration spaces.

While LVT represents a fairly new product in the school market, the evolution of an old standby, carpet, is also offering owners exceptional value.

The Case for Carpet

The benefits of carpet tile are well documented. No flooring product is easier to maintain. There is no need to worry about stripping wax, microbial growth or scratched floors from furniture. But new advancements in carpet tile are making the product an even better option for educational facility owners.

Durable and flexible school floors

PHOTOS COURTESY OF FANNING HOWEY

Durable and Attractive. LVT flooring provides the look of a wood flooring system with reasonable first costs and minimal maintenance costs.

For carpet tile installation, some innovative new products eliminate the need for a fully adhered, full caustic adhesive spread. Instead, design and construction teams are able to take advantage of a “floating floor” approach with less adhesive spread. This strategy uses less adhesive product and allows installation of the carpet tile on a wet slab with high moisture content. These sustainable, environmentally friendly adhesives are cost effective and allow construction teams to meet tight construction schedules and strict installation timeframes.

As school environments have evolved to a more open concept in recent years, carpet tile has also changed. For the longest time, carpet tile sizes were relegated to the traditional 24 inches x 24 inches dimension. But manufacturers are now introducing carpet tile in hexagonal tile shapes, plank shapes (9 inches x 36 inches, 6 inches x 48 inches, etc.) and even broadloom carpet with cushioned-resilient backing for comfort and acoustic control. Working with a more diverse pallete of options, design teams are able to provide better visual differentiation among learning environments in large, open spaces.

Getting Sustainable

Sustainability is a large focus in the ever-changing flooring industry, and there are some basic best practices from which every owner can benefit. For example, old methods of maintenance have become somewhat obsolete with the introduction of resilient flooring products that come premanufactured with a final finish coat (rather than owner waxing), have higher recycled content materials and promote a more healthy and energy-efficient facility. However, every flooring manufacturer has their green story to tell, and it is important to evaluate each product individually to identify the solutions that will truly make an impact on learning and the bottom line. Make sure that your designer obtains proper documentation from each manufacturer. This will aid in deciding which claims are greenwash and which are value-driven.

BENEFITS OF LVT FLOORING

  • Increasingly budget friendly
  • Long lifetime/warranty period
  • More choice for colors, patterns and appearance
  • Greater ease of maintenance and cleaning
  • Promotes collaborative learning environments

For educational facility owners looking to combine pragmatism with environmentalism, there are good options currently available. First, try to focus on using products that are able to be recycled after the end of their normal life. Several popular flooring options can be repurposed into high-recycled content carpet tile or resilient flooring. Next, consider using products from manufacturers that have a smaller carbon footprint. Several smaller flooring manufacturers offer quality products, without the infrastructure of large corporate, mass producing companies. Finally, don’t forget about that venerable option, terrazzo. Terrazzo is seeing a resurgence in use, as many owners are making a bigger up-front investment to gain a virtually maintenance-free floor that will last the life of any building.

Having it All

Flooring is often the place where educational facility owners are quickest to compromise. Yet with new products like LVT and new advances in carpet tile, this does not need to be the case. Today, cost-conscious owners are still able to reduce long-term maintenance expenses and create environmentally friendly buildings that promote student health and wellness. The answer is closer than you think. In fact, it is right under your feet.

This article originally appeared in the June 2016 issue of School Planning & Management.

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Has interest in sustainability initiatives—from alternative energy and water conservation to “green” landscaping, recycling, fossil-fuel divestment, local sourcing, and more—waned in your district?


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