From the floor up…

Richard Sutton of Horbury Property Services considers the options available when refurbishing floors in housing

Choosing flooring for an apartment block or housing project is a decision that should not be taken lightly. If the properties and performance of the floor covering do not match the requirements of the building and its occupants, it could prove to be more expensive in the long run. That is why it is worth considering the lifetime cost of the flooring choice, rather than the initial cost of purchase.

Durability

For many housing projects, durability of the material is the biggest factor in a floor covering – those materials with a longer lifespan usually offer better value for money. Although the initial outlay may be more, this can pay back many times over the lifespan of the building. Flooring therefore needs the durability to withstand the volume of traffic using it each day, otherwise it will start to lose its aesthetics and its lifespan will be greatly restricted.

Higher traffic areas, such as lobbies and hallways, require greater durability in a floor covering than an individual living space. Flooring should always be selected that has robust certification and has undergone rigorous testing procedures to withstand the rigours of that environment.

Slips and trips

In a worst-case scenario, wrongly specified flooring can cause severe injury by introducing slip and trip hazards into high footfall areas.

Floors that do become worn inevitably pose more of a health and safety risk. Slips, trips and falls are often caused by moisture and dirt being brought into buildings on footwear. Entrance matting is one of the best ways to prevent this and many entrance matting products these days have the ability to remove water and grit from shoes, and therefore prevent slip hazards.

As inferior floor coverings age and start to deteriorate, they are more likely to cause slips, trips and falls, especially if entrance matting is not cleaned and maintained properly. There are a number of excellent choices for entrance matting, which should be selected according to the design and use of the building.

The traction of a flooring material is especially important in high traffic areas. It is advisable that floor coverings are tested to offer anti-slip properties, as part of reducing health and safety risks.

Refurbishment & replacement

Another factor to take into account when it comes to selecting a flooring material is that certain types of flooring are easier to repair than others. Carpet and vinyl tiles can be replaced individually, and solid hardwood flooring can be sanded down if damaged.

The cost of works associated with removing a certain type of floor covering should also be taken into account when specifying. The durability of a material has to be balanced against how easy it is to remove and replace. Carpet, for example, wears out faster in high traffic applications, yet it is relatively inexpensive to replace. It is worth considering at the outset how often you would be prepared to replace the floor covering and how much cost would be involved if you decided to completely change the material specified.

Some companies may provide a flooring refurbishment and maintenance service, or even advise on floor suitability and longevity, as part of its overall project management service. Wrongly specified flooring can cause severe injury.

Installation

And, while specification of a floor covering that is fit for purpose should be a priority, installation is equally important. A poorly fitted floor covering can be a major source of issues.

It is important to select a flooring installation or refurbishment partner that has experience working with the type of material specified. Ask for references from other customers to demonstrate that they are skilled in delivering flooring projects of that type to a high standard. The installer should also be able to advise on the suitability of the flooring substrate, as it may be the case that the current substrate is not suitable for the specified flooring, or could shorten its lifespan. This could also be checked with the floor covering manufacturer, if in any doubt, to ensure you receive the performance you expect. The preparation of the substrate is therefore really important as its condition needs to be pre-determined. The reason is that remedial work may need to be carried out before a new floor covering is put in place.

An incorrectly prepared substrate can affect long term performance, which is difficult to spot following installation, so the skill and experience of the installer needs to be evaluated beforehand. Again, working with a flooring installation company with a wide experience of different materials is preferable. Failing to install flooring to manufacturers’ guidelines runs the risk of shortening the lifespan of the flooring and almost certainly invalidates any manufacturer’s guarantee.

Issues that can occur with incorrect installation include, for example, underlay being wrongly specified, as it can create unsightly humps across certain areas of the carpet. This, again, can be a trip hazard and usually only complete replacement of the underlay and re-laying of the flooring can provide an answer.

Maintenance

Maintenance costs can rise substantially when incorrectly specified flooring is installed. Damage can be incurred more easily, leading to a rise in maintenance visits.

Ongoing maintenance is essential to prolong a floor covering’s lifespan, but it is important to take into account the views of the cleaning/maintenance team when it comes to making a final decision. In some cases, a floor covering may be specified for its aesthetics but the cleaning regime may far exceed the capabilities or time allowances of the maintenance team. If this is the case and the regime cannot be maintained, it could mean that the initial investment in the floor covering was not worthwhile.

Allergens

An unseen and often ignored factor at selection stage, but one which is extremely important, is to choose floor coverings which do not cause or exacerbate allergic reactions. For example, older flooring can retain more allergens and particulates, and can harbour living organisms such as dust mites if they are not properly and regularly cleaned. This can result in increased cases of allergies for residents – particularly vulnerable are older people and young children. Correct specification of floor coverings with a low allergy risk is advisable for housing.

Aesthetics

Aesthetics are always going to be an important factor in the decision making process. Floor coverings are usually required that can deliver the right look, but that are also comfortable underfoot. Improving the aesthetics of the interior is the number one reason why floor coverings are upgraded.

Once you have determined the most important characteristics needed for the flooring in that particular environment, then it makes sense to show these to the maintenance staff in order to determine which will be most suitable for the space. It may also be the case that residents of the building are consulted too, if it is a refurbishment, for example on their preferred colour choice. Many carpet and vinyl manufacturers provide samples which a registered landlord or housing association can use to consult with tenants.

So when is a good time to replace a floor?

There are a number of factors that suggest when a floor covering needs to be refurbished or replaced. The obvious ones are rips and tears and patches that appear thinner than they should be. Some inferior types of vinyl flooring, for example, can break apart at weld seams. Discolouration can also occur when flooring becomes contaminated with microorganisms and bacteria.

If a low maintenance flooring solution is being sought, then it is recommend, as with all projects, to arrange a site survey and discuss the options with an experienced project manager. They can then advise on a suitable product to fit the budget and the environment.

Once the correct product is selected, it should last for its specified lifetime. However, this can be drastically reduced if it has not been installed correctly or the fitters haven’t used approved installation products, such as specified underlay and adhesives. On average, floor coverings are replaced every 10 years, however it can be done much more frequently due to change of building usage, planned refurbishment works and poor installation.

Working with a flooring refurbishment partner can help ensure that the floor covering you receive is well specified and installed. This reduces the risk of wrongly specifying a flooring material, which can be an expensive mistake. Durability and performance are the hallmarks of a well chosen carpet and careful consideration at the start can reap rewards over the long term.

Richard Sutton is the general manager of Horbury Property Services