While the best floor type for educational facilities depends on the application, the health impacts of flooring are twofold:
1) Intrinsic impacts of the floor material itself, and
2) Maintenance impacts.
Intrinsic Health Impacts
While inert flooring materials such as terrazzo, ceramic tile, quarry tile or stone generally do not outgas volatile organic compounds (VOCs), health impacts may be linked to:
• Noise as harder surfaces reflect rather than absorb sounds, and
• Slips and falls as falling on a stone or terrazzo floor is more likely than falling on carpet, assuming both surfaces are in good repair.
The Carpet and Rug Institute’s (CRI’s) Green Label Plus (GLP) program recognizes “carpet, adhesives, and cushion with very low emissions of VOCs”. Other material-related health considerations relate to:
• Emissions from newly installed GLP carpet that largely dissipate within 48 hours with good ventilation,
• Sound reduction as carpet absorbs sounds,
• Fewer slips/falls with related injury.
Sheet vinyl and vinyl composition tile (VCT) contain phthalates and or other plasticizers to provide flexibility, and phthalates have been linked to serious health issues. While phthalates are not VOCs, they can be abraded or rubbed off the surface and ingested by young children. They can also end up in airborne dust.
GREENGUARD Gold certification − featuring VOC emission standards to protect children in school, and complying with California 01350 − certifies floors, ceilings, furniture, counter-tops, doors, and other building-related materials for VOC emissions.
FloorScore (SCS Global Services) certifies low emissions for 35 Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) also in compliance with California 01350 for:
• Sheet Vinyl
• Vinyl Composition Tile (VCT)
• Rubber Flooring
• Vinyl Tile
• Luxury Vinyl Tile (LVT)
• Other Floors
Some facilities install interlocking carpet tiles to enable repair of damaged areas by replacing tiles, but moisture and spills could enter the backing from above and or moisture from below may create indoor air quality issues.
Vinyl Cushion Tufted Textile (VCTT) combines the benefits of smooth flooring with carpet. VCTT permanently bonds a textile or carpet-like surface with a closed-cell cushion layer impervious to moisture. VCTT is widely used in newer schools and in flooring upgrades as it looks like carpet, seals like vinyl, wears better than both, and solves the moisture incursion challenge often linked to flooring installation over concrete slab. CRI’s GLP program applies.
Maintenance Health Impacts
Most health issues associated with installed flooring have more to do with maintenance than materials.
Clean and dry surfaces do not harm health, but dirty and damp ones do.
Carpet becomes allergenic or contributes to respiratory illness mainly when not well-maintained by frequent vacuuming. As it loads with dust, walking across the surface drives particles airborne.
Follow the 80/20 rule when vacuuming, focusing on the 20% of carpet that gets 80% of the foot traffic. Color-coding traffic areas to identify high, medium, and low traffic zones, plus places prone to spills or spots, will help target vacuuming and other maintenance.
CRI has rated vacuums for ability to clean, protect indoor air quality, and reduce carpet wear.
Carpet can contribute to other indoor air quality problems when “cleaned” using the wrong chemicals or methods, or when left too damp after extraction. CRI has also weighed in on approved cleaning chemicals, methods, and systems.
Ultimately, follow the carpet maker’s recommendation for care, as they know their product best. For example, the maker of a leader VCTT floor-type advises the following to prevent excess moisture, and possible mold growth, after cleaning:
“Operate [the] heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning (HVAC) system during, and for at least 24 hours following, periodic cleaning with Hot Water Extraction. Utilize air movers, in conjunction with HVAC operation, to expedite drying.” Good advice.
Prevention is Best
The best preventative advice is to install and maintain generous entry mats.
One carpet maker recommends not two but three levels of matting:
1. Entry-exterior scraper matting to remove gross soil and moisture
2. Entryway vestibule matting to remove additional dirt and wetness
3. Entry-interior matting to complete shoe sole cleaning and drying.
Of course, mats need daily vacuuming, weekly cleaning, and periodic replacement to keep working properly.
Mats are also vital in hard or smooth floor cleaning and care programs.
Soil Removal is Key
Hard or smooth floors also need proper care, and as with carpet cleaning, the key to healthy cleaning is soil removal.
Consider vacuuming floors rather than relying solely on dust mopping. Vacuuming removes more soil from surfaces and grout lines than dust mopping, lightening wet cleaning tasks, and extending intervals for deep cleaning, stripping and refinishing. A well-filtered vacuum also improves indoor air quality by capturing more dust than dust mops.
Replace oil-based dust-mop treatments with green-certified water-based treatments.
Stop the Mops Where Possible
An emerging, cost-conservative trend in healthier floorcare is reducing or eliminating wet mopping by using spread-and-vac units that are similar in size to mop buckets, but eliminate redepositing dirty water by dispensing only clean solution to floors, agitating, then vacuuming away the sullied liquid to leave floors almost dry.
Reduce Reliance on Chemicals
Another trend enabled by newer technology is reducing the need for wholesale use of chemicals by focusing on improving the process of cleaning, notably through prevention, clean water application and near-total extraction.
Water remains the universal solvent, and using water more intelligently is reducing the need for reliance on petrochemistry, although effective chemical cleaners have their place, especially when they are green-certified for low emissions or toxicity.
Train Don’t Strain
Lastly, it is vital to train custodians in advanced processes.
On specialized floors, such as wood or synthetic gym floors, follow the manufacturers’ recommendations for the maintenance process, training, and cleaning.