Improving the longevity and performance of floors

by Ofentse Sefolo
Improving the longevity and performance of floors

What pain points do facility managers have concerning floor care? What do building owners wish designers and specifiers knew when specifying floors? What goes wrong with flooring installations after the project has been handed over to the client? In this article, we delve into the issues surrounding the longevity and performance of floors and what concerns facilities managers face when it comes to maintaining and cleaning floors.

Fanie Malan, CEO of facilities management consultancy FMFM, says specifying the correct flooring material for each application during the design phase will make a huge difference in a facility manager’s ability to extend the life of a flooring system.

“You have various applications for various floors, so it is essential to identify the floor material for the type of application such as office floors, retail shopping mall, floors for warehousing and so forth. The correct selection of flooring material can significantly extend the life cycle of your floor. The quality of the flooring product you choose is arguably the most important factor in how long the floor will last,” says Fanie.

Ellian Peterson, Group Facilities Manager at Discovery, says that flooring will last much longer if the correct maintenance processes are followed. “Many times, flooring can last even longer than the specified life expectancy if it is properly maintained and the correct floor care requirements are met. Using the right type of chemical or treatment also plays a huge role in maintaining your floor.”

Major pain points of floor care

Rudd van Deventer, Architect and Facility Planner at SpaceWorx, says the top three pain points when it comes to floor care are experience and its state of repair in the case of carpets; access to clean hot water in the case of cleaning floor sheeting, epoxy and concrete floors; and the lack of training of the maintenance staff.

“It can happen that cleaning materials start to build up on a floor, leading to damage. In this case, it is usually the maintenance staff who have not received adequate training on the correct floor care and best practices with regards to cleaning,” says Rudd.

Fanie agrees that as facility managers, they run into a number of challenges that are largely related to inadequately installed flooring and the hiring of unskilled labour to maintain and clean the floors.

“In many cases, you will find that your cleaning company staff are not properly trained and do not know what cleaning chemicals to use on different types of flooring. In say an office building, there can be a mix of carpet, ceramic tiles and wooded floors. The client may find that chemicals from the tiles have penetrated the wood flooring, which will permanently damage the floor. Wood flooring and ceramic tiles in high traffic areas also tend to be a major issue, as are applications where porcelain tiles haven’t been properly sealed, which leads to dust and stains penetrating the tiles and making them difficult to clean,” says Fanie.

Ellian adds that finding product suppliers can be difficult. “Besides cleaning companies having limited knowledge of floor care, we also run into problems when flooring needs to be replaced and the product line has been discontinued. Flooring has a long life expectancy and the attic stock supplied by the main contractor or developer is rarely sufficient to cover the replacements that are needed over the years. A major frustration in availability is finding the flooring product in the same colour because suppliers often discontinue stock long before the floor has reached its lifespan. This makes replacing tiles particularly problematic.”

Dean Ashmore, Director of Operations at AcryliCon South Africa, says the biggest challenge they face is specified floors that not fit for purpose in the long-term. “Most clients’ needs are dynamic and change over time and their floors often can’t withstand the change in mechanical, chemical or thermal loads they were originally designed for. Ideally the long-term vision of the company should be considered, but tight budgets often prevent this from happening.”

Dean continues that often the contractor or sub-contractor’s execution and quality control when installing flooring products are also inadequate, resulting in surfaces and floor detailing that fall short of specification but are signed off anyway. “The long-term cost implications of a poor installation are significantly higher than spending the money upfront and appointing an experienced consulting firm to manage and enforce design outcomes. There is seldom a contract in place that addresses the relationship between the contractor, sub-contractor and materials supplier as well as each party’s accountability for the design outcomes. Most contractors/sub-contractors and their material suppliers offer a split responsibility agreement that offer the client no recourse past 12 months leaving them on the receiving end of a sharp stick thereafter,” says Dean.

What architects and designers should keep in mind when specifying floors

Rudd says that architects are essentially driven by the type of environment when choosing a floor finish. “There are many criteria to consider and we need to arrive at a solution that balances the environment, expected life, wear resistance, maintenance criteria, tactile presentation, acoustic performance and customer expectations. This will lead us to a decision between, for example, broadloom carpet, carpet tiles or tiles that are full bodied or glazed, smoothed or textured, glossy or matte, etc.; or sheet flooring that is either with or without backing, with sealed or welded joints, in varying thicknesses; or liquid applied floors, epoxies and sealants to prepare surface beds or screeds. An underappreciated aspect of any specification is the installation of adequate and cleanable walk-off mats at all the entrances,” says Rudd.

Geggus Outdoor Entrance Mat

Fanie adds that there are certain things that architects and designers should keep in mind, including the footfall, the weight of elements that the floor will be subjected to, as well as environmental conditions.

“Retail centres and shopping malls have much more foot traffic than a corridor in an office, so the durability of the products being installed needs to be able to withstand the footfall. The weight that the flooring will handle is also an important consideration. A warehouse, for example, will be subjected to several tons, which means you also have to consider the screeding and expansion joints along with the flooring that is being installed. Some big anchor tenants in shopping malls, such as Game and Shoprite, might use forklifts in a retail environment, which means that flooring with an industrial grade performance needs to be specified. The ambient temperatures and weather conditions that the materials will be subjected to is also a key consideration,” says Fanie.

Ellian adds that form shouldn’t outweigh function when designing a floor. “All too often, the most important consideration for designers and architects is aesthetics, but the work environment, the floor traffic, maintenance specifications and the availability of the product in the event of the flooring being damaged also need to be at the forefront of flooring design. Maintenance requirements is a key factor that needs to be considered in the design process and all key stakeholders must be informed about the requirements upfront so there are no surprises when having to pay extra for special chemicals or treatment. These costs need to be budgeted for. Many times, cleaning companies apply the incorrect cleaning methods which results in damage to the flooring, terrible aesthetics, ultimately shortening the lifespan of the floor.”

The drawbacks of waiting too long between maintenance and cleaning sessions

When asked what the drawbacks are of waiting too long between maintenance and cleaning sessions, Rudd replies: “Depending on the environment, many materials will fail early if they are not cleaned regularly, for instance, sand can be ground into the finish or build up in the pile in carpets.”

Fanie says that the cost of cleaning can skyrocket if clients procrastinate too long on cleaning their floors. “The longer you wait, the more labour and cleaning materials you will need to clean the floors, which can significantly ramp up the costs associated with cleaning and maintenance.”

Ellian points out that it can also lead to an unhygienic indoor environment. “Total build-up on the floors not only increases the cost of restoration and cleaning, it can lead to an unhygienic situation for workers and visitors on the property.

Pro tip: The correct selection of the flooring material you are going to install can significantly extend the life cycle of your floor.

Full thanks and acknowledgement are given to www.safma.co.za, www.spaceworx.co.za, www.fmfm.co.za, www.discovery.co.za and www.acryliconpolymers.com for their contributions to this article.

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