With all of the fast-paced hype that green building is receiving throughout the facility management and construction industry, it’s easy to overlook some elements that may not be right in front of a building manager’s nose. In this article, I invite you to keep your head down — straight down — and examine the role floorcovering plays in a green building project.

Flooring is one of the most significant and important building systems in a commercial structure. However, regardless of the quality of floorcovering product, the real worth of sustainable carpet, vinyl, linoleum, wood, ceramic or tile will be maximized and provide a return on investment if installed by a professional who understands the green building process.

In fact, by specifying the qualifications of the floorcovering professional as well as the flooring products, a facility manager can contribute to the accumulation of LEED points for both new construction and existing buildings via LEED’s operations and maintenance categories.

Did you know that products and installation materials contribute to LEED in seven of nine categories, and four of those seven areas encompass flooring? Flooring plays a lead role in Indoor Environmental Quality (IEQ), Materials and Resources (MR), Innovation and Design Process (IDP), and Regional Priority. Flooring can help with LEED points in the categories of new construction, major renovation, existing buildings, commercial interiors, schools, retails, healthcare and homes.


Pick Your Product Wisely

To gain MR credits, look for products high in recycled or rapidly renewable content such as recycled rubber, carpet fibers or cork. MR credits are available if the product is made locally or regionally, meaning materials used to make the flooring are extracted, harvested or manufactured within 500 miles of the jobsite. It’s also possible to capture an MR point if the flooring can help to reach 2.5 percent of the total value of the building materials made from rapidly renewable materials, which include plants typically harvested in a 10-year cycle. Common substances here are cork, linoleum and bamboo.

IEQ credits are found by carefully selecting adhesives, solvents and carpet systems that meet established air quality standards. The South Coast Air Quality Management District’s (SCAQMD) Rule #1168 dictates volatile organic compound (VOC) content limits, which can earn another LEED point for qualifying.

To gain another LEED point for flooring systems, carpet and cushion systems must meet Carpet and Rug Institute (CRI) Green Label program parameters, while hard-surface flooring must be compliant with the FloorScore standard. Wood floor finishes also must meet requirements under the SCAQMD Rule #1168.

In the world of carpet, capturing LEED points is a viable goal in a variety of categories — too many to examine here. But as an example, let’s look at new construction MR. Carpet LEED points can be accomplished by focusing on reuse, such as mandating the use of existing interior nonstructural floorcovering elements in at least 50 percent of the completed building. The premise is to extend product life cycles, conserve resources, retain cultural resources and reduce waste.

Up to two points are available under new construction MR if the project diverts construction and demolition debris from disposal in landfills and incineration facilities. The motivation is meant to redirect recovered recyclable resources back to the manufacturing process, and reusable materials are to be sent to appropriate sites. Building managers can help work toward LEED points regarding the use of carpet by mandating the recycling and/or salvaging of nonhazardous construction and demolition debris, and establishing goals for diversion from disposal in landfills and incineration facilities and adopt a construction waste management plan.

Still another 1 to 2 points can be had in the MR section if flooring materials are reused products. Salvaged, refurbished or reused materials should constitute at least 5 percent of the total value of flooring materials on the project. Materials with recycled content that make up at least 10 percent of the cost of the project materials also help capture LEED points.

Wood products have received a lot of attention lately. For LEED credits, points are available to encourage environmentally responsible forest management.


Installation Matters

A green floor’s performance will reflect how well the building manager and construction team married product specification and installation requirements. The best green product in the world will be useless if installed improperly or without regard to adhering to LEED’s exacting standards. Therefore, it does matter who installs the floors. A mechanic without the knowledge of VOC emissions of open adhesives, for instance, can invalidate a LEED application for indoor air quality.

To shield a LEED project from unnecessary loss of points, facility managers should require that the flooring contractor place trained, certified crews on the jobsite. It is important to always be sure that your flooring contractor is competent and staffed with well-trained installers before they arrive on your jobsite. One way to ensure that is through detailed specification. Mandate that your flooring materials are installed by a certified professional. That specification still keeps your project open to dozens of prospective, qualified contractors, while at the same time weeding out poorly trained, ill-qualified, less reputable or less-equipped outfits.

Regardless of a green project’s size, shape, schedule or budget, it pays to keep a sharp eye on the flooring component. By carefully specifying flooring products and employing equal diligence in mandating the level of competence in the installation crew, LEED points should roll into your program, courtesy of your floorcovering, without fail.