Design Considerations

Section Contents:

Product Characteristics
Technical Data
Maintenance Requirements

Product characteristics. Many factors should be taken into consideration when determining which flooring material to select for a specific application. For example, the flooring may need to stand up to rolling carts or support standing (static) loads. Moisture resistance may be critical, or resistance to fading. Each manufacturer can provide detailed information on the performance characteristics of its flooring, as well as proper installation and maintenance to avoid damage. You should expect long-lasting beauty from properly installed and maintained vinyl floors.

Design flexibility. Vinyl sheet flooring and tile are available in myriad styles and colors. Vinyl tile is available in shapes that can be custom cut and laid out in patterns using different colors or finishes. Tiles can be arranged, for example, to depict a corporate logo or to guide traffic in a hospital or retail setting. Virtually any look can be obtained to suit any decor, including classic looks that simulate wood and ceramic. Custom-made designs are easily created using sheet vinyl flooring.

Resilience. Vinyl flooring reduces noise and provides comfort underfoot. Unlike such hard surfaces as wood, laminate, terrazzo or ceramic tile, vinyl floors have "give" and thus are referred to as "resilient" flooring.

Durability. Vinyl flooring is durable and time-tested, maintaining its beauty under heavy foot traffic and use. It is moisture and stain resistant, so spills can be easily removed. When compared with alternative materials, vinyl offers an attractive installed cost with economical maintenance over the life of the floor.

Aesthetics. Today's vinyl floors are made to enhance the aesthetic features of an interior environment. While often mimicking the look of other hard surfaces, they are "warmer" than ceramic tile. Designers can use pattern and color to make a large room seem smaller or a small room more expansive. And since vinyl is durable, the color and original appearance will last longer with routine maintenance.

Safety features. A wide range of both tile and sheet vinyl floors is available with enhanced slip-retardant surfaces. These floors are suitable for a variety of commercial and institutional applications. Because they are vinyl, these slip-resistant surfaces can be easily cleaned. Check with manufacturers for vinyl floors designed to meet other special needs like static control.

Healthcare applications. Vinyl flooring is frequently used in healthcare facilities because it is nearly impervious to water, offering a significant sanitary advantage over carpeting. These characteristics are particularly important in hospital rooms, extended care facilities, nursing homes and day care centers. Many commercial sheet vinyl floor installations offer sealed or welded seams that prevent contaminants from being lodged in the seam area. And with fewer seams than most other hard surface floors, bacteria has fewer places to hide and grow. Disinfectant cleaners can provide a sterile surface without damaging the floor. In addition, most stains can be easily removed. Check with the manufacturer for complete maintenance instructions.

For hypersensitive populations, where mold allergies may be a problem, vinyl flooring offers advantages as well. Researchers at the University of Nevada at Las Vegas have found that carpet can produce high airborne mold counts, which can actually be aggravated by vacuuming. Vinyl flooring, on the other hand, can be cleaned without dispersing high levels of mold into the air.

Sports facilities. Sheet vinyl flooring products can provide an attractive alternative to expensive wood flooring systems in gymnasiums, exercise rooms and other recreational areas. The no-wax stain-resistant surfaces of these floors mean lower maintenance costs and greater usage than traditional floors - and these surfaces will accept paint lines for use as a basketball, racquetball or volleyball court. High-density vinyl foam cushion backing systems provide a shock absorbing surface that reduces impact shock and leg fatigue. Many of these surfaces are protected by a clear wear layer and a high-performance, polyurethane surface and comply with NCAA basketball rules for bounce, rebound and hardness.

Limitations. Vinyl floors are not recommended for use in most commercial kitchens, although vinyl composition tile is commonly used in light duty kitchens and both tile and sheet vinyl floors are the leading choice for residential kitchens. Some vinyl floors can be susceptible to tears when heavy or sharp objects (such as cans or knives) are dropped. In addition, they can be subject to permanent indentation from static loads or damage from rolling loads. Vinyl flooring also may not be recommended for automotive maintenance areas or automotive showroom areas unless the flooring is protected from oil spills and contact with rubber tires. In addition, vinyl flooring is not recommended for outdoor installation, where excessive heat, cold or sunlight may cause fading and discoloration.
Technical data. Manufacturers of vinyl flooring measure a variety of physical data, including the following. Manufacturers will vary their formulas to produce floors that meet standards in these areas. A single formulation may not meet all performance requirements, so specifiers must check with the manufacturer to determine the best flooring for the situation involved.

Loads. Impact loads, which are momentary indentations like those produced from walking traffic; static loads, which are any loads remaining in a stationary position for long periods of time; and rolling loads, which may damage resilient flooring especially immediately following installation.

Moisture resistance. May be critical depending on the type of subfloor, since moisture conditions may affect adhesive performance. In most cases, resilient floors may be installed in areas where water might be spilled on the floor, providing the correct adhesive is used and the floor has a minimum of seams. (Spills should be mopped up immediately.)

Colorfastness. May be affected by exposure to strong sunlight.

Stain and reagent resistance. Will vary by product and manufacturer. Special formulations are available for use in areas where exposure to chemicals and staining reagents is likely to occur. In general, vinyl floors are resistant to alkalis, acids, alcohols, oils, greases and aliphatic hydrocarbons. Ketones, esters and chlorinated and aromatic hydrocarbons may cause softening. Check with the manufacturer for more specifics.

Light reflectivity. A measure of the percentage of light reflected off a surface, which may play an important role in the illumination of institutional, commercial and industrial facilities. The Illuminating Engineering Society of North America recommends that floors have a reflectance factor of 20-40 percent in offices, 30-50 percent in educational facilities, 20-30 percent in hospital operating rooms, and greater than 20 percent in industrial settings. Retail settings will vary according to the effect desired by the designer.

Acoustics. Of special importance in areas with heavy floor traffic. Resilient flooring, in general, will cushion impacts and thereby reduce traffic noise or noise from dropped objects more than other hard-surface floors such as wood, marble, ceramic or concrete. In addition, underlayments are available to further reduce impact noise and sound transmission.

Fire retardance and heat performance. Most resilient floors are manufactured to be safe from normal fire hazards. In large-scale experiments that have been run to simulate actual fire conditions, vinyl flooring products have not been significant contributors to the spread of the fire or resulting hazards. In fact, vinyl flooring resists burning and typically does not continue burning when an external flame is removed. However, a resilient floor surface can be permanently damaged or scarred by burning cigarettes, matches or very hot items.

Installation. For specific product information related to installation and maintenance, contact the manufacturer or visit the manufacturer's web site. In general, resilient flooring should be installed after all other finishing or construction trade operations, including painting, have been completed. Vinyl floors can be installed over wood, concrete or, in some cases, existing flooring. However, subflooring should be clean, smooth, of high quality and as flat as possible.

After installation, rolling loads and heavy traffic should be avoided until the adhesive sets hard. Plywood or hardboard panels must be used to move furniture, appliances or equipment onto a recently installed vinyl floor. Rests, glides or casters are recommended for permanent use under heavy furniture and appliances.

Following is a brief overview of other installation requirements for most vinyl floors:

•Room temperature of not less than 65 F (18.3 C) and no greater than 85 F (29.4 C) for at least 48 hours previous to, during and 48 hours after installation or until flooring has become thoroughly bonded to the subfloor.

•Dry subfloor with temperature approximately the same as the air in the room. Flooring materials, adhesives and accessories at the same temperature as the air in the room. (In winter, flooring should be stored in a warm room for at least 48 hours before installation.)

•Room well ventilated to carry off any excess moisture in the air.

•Low relative humidity.

Unless the above conditions can be met, it would be advisable to delay the job and wait for better conditions.

Cost. Vinyl is a cost-effective flooring material when considering both initial and lifecycle cost. Vinyl lasts considerably longer than carpet and can, therefore, save money on repairs and replacement installations.

According to Flooring Magazine (November 1999), vinyl flooring typically costs less than other hard-surface floors. Typically, commercial vinyl composition floor tile has an installed cost of anywhere from $1.38 to $8.70 per square foot, depending on the thickness and pattern. (This includes materials, equipment and labor.) Commercial sheet vinyl has an approximate installed cost of $2.64 to $5.50 per square foot. (Source: RS Means, Building Construction Cost Data, 57th Annual Edition, 1999.)

This compares to square-foot costs of $3.84 for wood parquetry flooring (oak, standard, 5/16" thick, not including finish); $7.00 for ceramic tile (natural clay, thin set); and $7.75 for terrazzo (1-3/4" thick, bonded to cement). Commercial grade carpet ranges from $18.20 per square yard/$2.02 per square foot (nylon, level loop, 26 oz., light to medium traffic) to $70.00 per square yard/$7.77 per square foot (patterned wool, 48 oz. heavy traffic). Maintenance costs for carpet add $.17 to $.24 per square yard per steam cleaning. (Source: RS Means, Building Construction Cost Data, 57th Annual Edition, 1999.)

Maintenance requirements. Overall, vinyl is tough, resistant to scratching, scuffing, staining, indentation and other daily abuse. This durability is especially critical in commercial settings where routine wear and tear take their toll on floors. Vinyl floors maintain their good looks even in heavy traffic areas.

The thickness of a vinyl floor's wearlayer is an important element in determining its performance and ease of maintenance. The thickness is generally measured in mils, or thousandths of an inch. Higher-quality vinyl floors may also utilize a urethane wearlayer, for special property enhancement, while lower-priced floors generally feature a vinyl wearlayer to protect the underlying pattern. In general, a urethane wearlayer makes the floor easier to clean and more stain-resistant.

Some of the most abusive substances to any floor are tracked-in dirt and grime, which can wear away the surface of the floor. As with any material, proper cleaning and maintenance are critical to the long life and beauty of a vinyl floor.

Regular maintenance should include daily sweeping or dust-mopping, as removal of gritty dirt is extremely important. Floors should be damp-mopped with a neutral detergent. Spills should be wiped up before they dry with a clean white cloth dampened with warm water. To control tracked-in dirt, grit or stains from asphalt and oil in driveways, non-staining doormats should be placed at entrances. (Some rubber or foam-backed doormats can cause surface staining.)

Commercial floors will require periodic spray-buffing and application of a high quality commercial floor polish, which will help the floor resist staining and enhance its appearance. If staining does occur, the floor should be stripped, following the manufacturer's instructions. Consult the manufacturer for stain removal instructions.