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High-Traffic Areas

by Darren
High traffic Jnl 6 14

High-traffic areas have unique attributes that have to be considered in terms of aesthetics and performance.

As a result of their very nature and unique characteristics, commercial floors demand varying types of wear resistance to withstand high traffic, whether in the form of equipment used or foot traffic.

The various floor types available have resulted in a phenomenal number of choices available to the professional commercial market – choices intended to effectively service the industry in terms of quality and quantity. However, this prompts the question: How does one combine visual appeal with functionality?

Aesthetics versus Performance

The look and feel of a selected floorcovering plays a paramount role in servicing a certain facility’s needs; however, the aesthetics of a floor cannot be separated from its performance characteristics. Certain floor types are specified to withstand various commercial conditions yet, at the same time, colour, pattern and even texture are also specified to service aesthetic needs, so the goal should be to balance a floor’s visual appeal with its performance needs.

Balancing these needs entails taking a holistic approach when considering both aesthetic and performance characteristics. Both need to be equally considered as the one affects the other; without this balance between visual appeal and functional performance, the final floorcovering may pay the ultimate price – literally and figuratively.

For example, retail spaces will have to withstand heavy foot traffic while, at the same time, incorporating flooring colours, sizes, patterns or textures that are inviting to the consumer. However, a floor can be visually appealing and perhaps even withstand wear and tear over a long period of time, but if functional aspects such as maintenance and safety in terms of slips and falls haven’t been taken into consideration, then the final floor cannot perform to suit the needs of its intended use.

In turn, a floor that is suited to high traffic, easy to clean and maintain, safe and cost-effective over a long period of time, yet is insipid in terms of colour, size and texture, will most likely not service the consumer in terms of creating a certain feel or experience that encourages him/her to spend more time within the retail environment – once again resulting in a floor that fails to perform according to initial intentions and client expectations.

Pretty performance

Before any decision regarding floor type is considered, the function of a given space, whether it is indoors or outdoors, has to be thoroughly investigated in order to obtain a clear vision and list of objectives for the selected space. This function will invariably affect the final choice made. Traffic levels will have to be identified, and the floor type specified accordingly. For example, a factory warehouse will have to cater for extreme wear and tear due to the types of heavy machinery used, such as forklifts, whereas in the case of an office different degrees of traffic must be considered, where high-traffic areas continuously exposed to staff and visitors are limited.

Beyond traffic, other factors also need to be considered, such as moisture levels and whether the floor will be exposed to wet conditions or spills, not to mention the need for looking at reparation and what this would entail. For example, if carpet tiles are installed, repair is very easy in that one particular damaged carpet tile can be removed and replaced, which is not necessarily the case when using wall-to-wall carpeting. (However, continual advancements in technology have resulted in more efficient means of maintaining and repairing certain types of flooring products manufactured to service particular environments.)

Just because a high-traffic area is exposed to heavy machinery, as is most often the case with industrial facilities, it doesn’t automatically translate into a floor that is grey, dull and lacking in lustre. As already noted, advancements in technology have resulted in a significant influx of decorative floorcoverings within each floor category bringing a wealth of options that suit every specification for every commercial flooring type. These products offer numerous options in terms of colour, shade and hue, patterns, fibres, and even sizes, and are manufactured to concurrently offer various functional needs, resulting in a floor type that is both visually appealing and focused on performance.

It would be a challenge indeed to try and find a floor type, coating or product that doesn’t combine aesthetics with performance (even though there is a perception that one can’t have both), especially as the flooring industry is continuously exposed to various trends and innovative offerings. Architects and interior architects/designers, in their task of successfully meeting the needs of their clients, rely on the knowledge of manufacturers who strive to supply products that cater for every possible need for every possible environment and customised request in terms of design and décor.

Maintenance and lifespan

The manner in which a product is maintained will directly affect and influence its lifespan. Should a specific floor type be neglected, not only will that dramatically decrease its duration of service, but could also cause the floor to either fade or look worn, becoming unsightly and distracting. Furthermore, the greater the amount of traffic a floorcovering is exposed to, the faster it will decline in terms of performance and looks.

This is but one of several reasons why the maintenance of any floor after installation should be dutifully followed in accordance with the guidelines of its manufacturer, who has the knowledge and expertise to ensure a quality floor. It should be noted that the life expectancy of any floor is dependent on several factors that cannot be predicted by a manufacturer, one of these being the level of maintenance.

A commercial environment is especially in need of a floor that will last while exposed to high traffic; and, being on display to potential customers, it has to maintain its beauty. Nobody installs a floor with the intention for it to fail in its purpose, especially as budget restrictions are key when specifying a floor. However, failure is inevitable unless care is taken to clean and maintain the selected floor to ensure that it performs and looks good not only each day, but for several days and years to come.

Budgeting for beauty

Architects and designers have to often specify floors according to stringent budgets. They have to deliver without fail, and without any extra expenditure that would exceed initial budget allocation. This pressure may cause the temptation to opt for cheaper flooring products. However, the question arises: “At what cost?”

A cheaper alternative may service immediate needs, however, in the long term it will not only increase costs due to having to repair or replace floors, but at the same time will decrease the performance of the floor, dramatically decreasing its visual appeal.

Often, cheaper floor types are manufactured without the latest technological advancements, such as stain-, water- or UV-resistance. Even though this may not be cause for concern at the outset, it could accelerate floor damage, and a poorly performing floor often translates into an unattractive floor.

That being said, specifying an “expensive” floor type doesn’t necessarily imply that it will perform more effectively or that it is more attractive than its cheaper alternatives. The key is to ensure that one is thoroughly informed and educated on the products available. Then use this knowledge to make informed decisions without sacrificing on looks and performance, while staying within budget. (Read the feature article on Cost-Effective Flooring Solutions for an in-depth look at cost implications when selecting a floor type.)

Technological Innovations

As already touched upon, technological advancements in the flooring industry are rife, ranging from digital and inkjet printing, stainproof and water- and UV-resistant options, eco-friendly and sustainable floor types, to name just a few currently available. Technology has broadened the range of innovative flooring products in the industry, adding a touch of excitement for the unending possibilities going forward.

Innovative technology has concurrently resulted in floorcoverings that can significantly enhance the performance characteristics of a chosen floor type and that are in fact formulated to broaden flooring functionalities and increase the range of visual offerings. This is clear when looking at South Africa’s numerous commercial floorcoverings available to the industry, be it interior or exterior installations.

Taking all of the above factors into consideration, it becomes apparent how intertwined the performance and aesthetic characteristics of a floorcovering are. They cannot be viewed independently of each other, and as the flooring industry continues to be propelled forward at a rapid rate, this will become even more evident and may reach a point where a floor’s functionality and visual appeal will be seen as a singular concept. Simply put, a floor cannot be selected on looks or performance alone and, as the sector’s flooring products clearly demonstrate, they are manufactured with both of these attributes in mind.

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