Challenges & solutions to high-traffic areas

by Tania Wannenburg
New High traffic feature Jnl 6 15

We highlight the challenges and offer possible solutions for high-traffic specifications when selecting the right flooring for these applications.

Specifying flooring for high-traffic areas can be particularly challenging. The wrong product could lead to an early failure, resulting in mammoth expenses for parties involved. Whether you’re specifying flooring for a busy shopping centre, an international airport or a busy public area, you need to meet the aesthetic goals while ensuring that you’re using a product that is functional and durable.

A building’s appearance and ambience says something about its owner, but more focus needs to go to the floor specification when entering a building. Design professionals and clients are often more focused on other high-impact building design elements instead of the flooring, which is a crucial element of a high-traffic building.

As a contractor or specifier, you need to balance the aesthetic needs of designers, architects and clients with the functionality that the maintenance and facilities managers will benefit from. You need to consider how the building will function, how the occupants will move within as well as use the building, and how you can carefully weigh all the options available in order to ensure the long-term success of the building. FLOORS in Africa magazine has listed some of the key challenges that flooring contractors and specifiers face and how they can be overcome:

Dirt mapping
High-traffic areas are prone to dirt and grime. While clients want flooring that looks good and lasts a long time, they also need something that is easy to maintain. Determining the dirt distribution in large spaces makes it easier to plan the flooring solution that you need to supply.

Certain areas, such as food courts in shopping centres or baggage reclaim areas in airport terminals, will receive higher levels of traffic than areas such as corridors with boutique clothing stores. Working with a client during the design phase of a project will help you estimate the dirt distribution in an environment, giving you the opportunity to advise on the best flooring products for the area.

Making predictions about the dirt distribution has also become easier in some places thanks to technological advancements such as cleaning robots like iRobot Roomba, Neato XV and the Samsung Navibot. Cleaning an entire floor isn’t always required seeing as some sections become dirty very quickly while others will stay cleaner for longer. These robots use simultaneous localisation and mapping (SLAM) to clean the floor in a systematic fashion and studying their patterns on similar buildings can give you the insights you need to determine the dirt mapping routes of your current and future projects.

While you might not need state-of-the-art technology to determine whether the entrance flooring will need more regular cleaning than other areas, using dirt mapping techniques and tools can put you ahead of your competitors in terms of the consulting and advisory benefits you’re able to offer clients.

Noise and acoustics
In a world full of noise, acoustic performance is important. Modern, high-traffic buildings are inherently noisy and flooring specifiers need to research all types of sound reduction benefits that any flooring product would be able to provide their clients.

Talking, foot traffic, announcements throughout the building and other trade activities can have a significant impact on the sound levels in a building. Certain floorcoverings, such as carpet, act as a natural sound absorber while many other flooring manufacturers (including linoleum or vinyl suppliers) are engineering products that can offer sound reduction benefits.

Similar to dirt mapping, acoustic performance is something that needs to be considered during the design phase, as certain areas will have higher noise reduction needs than others. Adjoining eating areas and public areas, for example, should minimise noise for neighbouring shops or meeting rooms where less noise is a requirement (such as consultation rooms or banks). While product selection is important, correct installation is also vital. Gaps around protrusions need to be sealed or else the noise can be transmitted through these spaces.

If your client has listed sound reduction as a key requirement, then acoustic performance will lead your specification, but don’t lose sight of other needs when selecting a product.

Performance and durability
As a specifier, you know that performance and durability in high-traffic flooring encompass a variety of needs, such as being hardwearing, slip-resistant, scratch-resistant and maximising the design’s protection. When quality products are selected for high-traffic buildings, the lifespan of the floor will increase dramatically.

The flooring options at your disposal are far superior to those that were available three or four decades ago. Carpet, vinyl, wood, stone and synthetic manufacturers continue to improve on the solutions they’re able to offer. Repair needs in high-traffic areas like corridors should be considered. In this case, understanding how foot traffic movements will need to change in the event of a repair will help guide you during your flooring selection. If the source of the traffic is equipment instead of foot traffic, you will need to select from very hardwearing surfaces that will withstand heavy machine traffic for years.

Maintenance and downtime
Discussing facilities management and maintenance resources with the client ahead of time is key to specifying a flooring solution that meets his needs. In order to narrow your options, you need to consider aspects such as the function of a space. If spills happen on a carpet, they will need to be removed as soon as possible, so the client will need to consider whether those resources will be available during the building’s operation.

High-performance flooring will also require periodic maintenance – marble could need polishing and terrazzo might need regular buffing for example. This type of maintenance might not seem like a significant investment from the client, but the cost of the labour could outweigh the initial flooring installation after a few years.

When maintenance needs to take place, how will the client deal with the downtime? Besides managing the needs of the building’s tenants and their clients, you would also need to consider how this will impact the building as a whole. Some flooring, adhesives and fibres have higher levels of volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which would render certain areas or even entire sections of a building unusable during maintenance. Certain buffing and polishing procedures could increase noise pollution significantly.

Choosing a flooring product that makes sense during the design phase won’t always benefit the client in the long run, which is why long-term maintenance and downtime considerations have to be at the forefront of product selection decisions.

Demarcation of areas can significantly improve traffic flow, safety and functionality in a building. Flooring can be used to incorporate demarcation, so investigating how the design relating to demarcation will work with the flooring product is important. In airport and industrial buildings, for example, you will need to proactively seek information relating to traffic prioritisation, priority queuing and safety procedures to incorporate demarcation into your flooring product selection and installation.

Balancing the abovementioned needs and advising clients on the appropriate options require years of experience, insight and technical expertise. Flooring contractors and specifiers are always advised to engage with the manufacturers regarding the technical properties of their products in order to make sure the solution they are selecting will meet the needs of the client and ensure long-term success of the project.

Acknowledgement and thanks go to the following for the information contained in this article: www.contractflooringjournal.co.uk, www.facilitiesnet.com.

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