With more than 50 years’ experience in the local and international flooring industry, Denver Coleman, Chairman of Polyflor SA, answers questions posed by installers, architects and readers. In this issue, he discusses the pros and cons of using vinyl flooring in educational environments.

I have a client in the education sector looking for good flooring for a school environment. Could you please explain to me what the advantages and disadvantages are of using vinyl flooring in schools? – Gavin Richards, Cape Town

Fundamental shifts in education modelling have led to new architectural, building and fitting requirements for the buildings and spaces that house schools. Needs differ between the various age groups of learners. The early years (pre-primary) may prioritise use of colour, warmth, vibrancy and easy cleaning over slick, modern, subtle and acoustic or “protection of electrostatic device” requirements.

However, there are some fundamentals that apply across the entire age range of schooling. Global best practice guidelines for flooring in schools suggest that a number of factors, such as durability, resilience, slip resistance, low VOC, colour and patterning as well as sound absorption and transmission, for example, should be considered.

But floors should also, wherever possible, enhance the learning environment. Insight into factors that enhance learning and creativity and inspire young minds has added enormous value to school environments in the last 20 years.

Naturalness
Light colours and a warm floor surface enhance the learning environment. A floor with acoustic properties also helps minimise noise and maintain the attention and focus of the learners.

Floors with low VOC emissions and excellent hygiene properties ensure good air quality.

Stimulation
A range of flooring with different colour options allows design that is stimulating and creative.

Individualisation
Floors that allow designs of school badges, school colours and other bespoke images promote a sense of ownership, belonging and pride in the learning environment.

Multi-functional purpose
Another important consideration in school floors is multi-functionality. With highly differentiated curricula now available in most schools, classrooms often need to cater for multiple functions. Carpets may work in a classroom for reading and writing but will not work well in a science laboratory. A floor that can host both functions would be the preferred choice. Some areas of a school (wet areas or those with high risk of spillage) may need a slip-resistant safety floor. The same applies to the sports floors in a school, as in most cases, one sports floor needs to cater for a variety of sports.

The overwhelming advantage of modern day vinyl flooring is that it meets all the performance, design and flexibility requirements listed above and contributes to a superior learning environment.

The disadvantages of laying vinyl flooring in a school environment are most likely to be the initial cost as well as the installation time involved.

Initial cost
It may be that high quality vinyl (meeting the various bespoke, performance, hygiene, acoustic and aesthetic needs of a school) may have higher up-front costs than other floor coverings. However, when considering this disadvantage, we do have to factor in a) the lifespan of the product (generally about 20 years for a good quality vinyl product that is well-maintained) and b) maintenance costs. Many vinyl floors include technology that ensures that chemical usage, energy intensive cleaning and water consumption are significantly reduced, so a decrease in life cycle maintenance costs of up to 60% is achievable over a 15 year period when compared to untreated flooring.

Installation time
For good performance, laying of vinyl floors requires an excellent quality, moisture-free screed and this can increase installation time. That said, once complete, well laid vinyl floors are long lasting and require minimal cleaning and maintenance.

Choosing the right floor for the right learning environment can be a complex decision but we hope this answers your questions and gives you some guidelines to follow.

For more information, contact Polyflor SA on +27 (11) 609 3500 or via www.polyflor.co.za.