Upcoming Meetings

Blog

The Pandemic Is Changing How Facility Managers Deal With Floors

The Pandemic Is Changing How Facility Managers Deal With Floors

It's no secret that facilities that see a lot of traffic pose the highest risk of infection, whether you're talking about the common cold, or something as serious as COVID-19. Many sanitizing procedures deal with common contact surfaces, like countertops, door handles, and plumbing fixtures, with the understanding that people are very likely to touch a surface and then accidentally rub their eyes or touch their faces. Floors pose their own dangers, however, as dirt, bacteria, and viruses get tracked in from outside. One study found that pathogens could easily be transmitted from a contaminated floor to adjacent furniture, particularly after people removed their footwear and proceeded to touch objects in the room. Facility managers are responding to this by changing the way they handle everything from floor cleaning to the flooring itself.

Why switch to non-porous floors?

Anyone who has ever had to pull up carpeting can vouch for the fact that it's often deceptively dirty. Even well-maintained carpets can end up with dirt or liquids trapped where regular vacuuming and shampooing can't reach them, only to release particles back into the air. Bacteria also love places with ample surface area to grow on, and carpeting provides plenty of it. For this reason, many facility managers are making the switch to hard, non-porous flooring. With less surface area and fewer tiny spaces to trap grime, they are an easier-to-maintain and more hygienic option. That said, the type of non-porous flooring matters.

Seamless vs. Tiled Floors

Some flooring is seamless, meaning that it consists of one piece. Other flooring types, like tile, has to be pieced together. The difference might seem small, but it can become significant -- while all non-porous flooring is easy to clean and sanitize on the surface, the tiny gaps between pieces can be very difficult to keep clean. Tile flooring is attractive, but it requires grout, which is porous and notorious for trapping grime. Textured tile can also have small gaps or spaces worked into the design of the tile itself, which increases its surface area and creates spaces that trap debris. While all of these options are still less porous and easier to sanitize than carpeting, seamless flooring is less hospitable to germs than pieced-together flooring. Unlike many other types of floors, tile can be applied to walls as well. This can create a less porous surface than wallpaper, fabric, or eggshell paint, but, as mentioned above, still has some areas that are vulnerable to harboring pathogens.

Scrubbing, Disinfection, Wear and Tear

Another thing to consider is the amount of wear and tear a given floor is likely to receive. Under normal conditions, most floors get a regular mopping and an occasional scrub, but the COVID-19 pandemic has changed that. Now, facility maintenance workers have to clean more often, using disinfectants that prioritize germicidal activity over gentleness. For some floors, particularly vinyl and laminate, that can mean that the flooring ends up worn down faster. The coating can also strip off, leaving a more porous surface behind.

The Case for Epoxy and Urethane

Resinous flooring made of epoxy or urethane creates a seamless, non-porous surface that can even be extended to walls, making an entire room easy to sanitize. It's very easy to maintain, with virtually no small spaces to trap germs or dirt -- even gaps between the floor and the walls can be covered with cove base molding. In addition to liquids, epoxy floors are also resistant to shock and fire. Because of its durability, resinous flooring is very often used in factories, warehouses, garages, and the like. This gives it an industrial connotation that may not be aesthetically desirable in other facilities, though it is possible to change its appearance by mixing in various pigments. Urethane and epoxy can also be slippery unless they are texturized, but adding too much texture creates areas for bacteria to hide.

When to Choose Carpeting

Carpets still have their place, even if they do require some extra care. Soft surfaces help soften the acoustics of a room and give it a warmer, cozier appearance. For this reason, it may benefit hotel rooms, waiting rooms, and other areas where people tend to spend more time. For areas where the pros of soft flooring outweigh the risks, it may be a good idea to switch from wall-to-wall carpeting to a large area rug. Unlike carpets, rugs can be picked up and professionally cleaned, and won't trap grime between the backing and the subfloor. Post-COVID-19, facility managers are looking for options that make things as safe as possible for their tenants, visitors, and employees, and as easy to maintain as possible. Considering how often surfaces needed to be cleaned, flooring that takes hours to thoroughly disinfect isn't a viable option. Switching to non-porous floors of any type provides several advantages over carpeting, though carpeting will always have a home where it's softening, warming, and sound-dampening properties are desired.

If you're an IFMA-LI member, please log in so you can comment on this article.

Return to list