Editor’s Note: The following article is taken from the Fall 2016 issue of FCICA’s The Flooring Contractor. View the full issue at: http://digitaladmin.bnpmedia.com/publication/?i=336131.

Building owners are regularly being asked to do more with less. In many cases, this means replacing expansion plans with renovation projects, upgrading a space to improve its appearance and, sometimes, to accommodate additional functions. It can also mean replacing floor coverings, often with the goal of selecting products that offer a long lifecycle to avoid frequent and expensive replacement.

The choices building owners face when selecting replacement flooring can be overwhelming—anything from high-performance rubber, vinyl, wood (including synthetic wood products), tile and carpet to bamboo, granite, slate and marble. As a result, flooring contractors often assume a role that goes beyond that of installer to one of trusted resource in the search for the perfect replacement floor.

Be aware of flooring standards and budgets.

To be that resource and help with the selection process, contractors first need to know whether the customer is working with a flooring standard. ASTM International provides a number of resilient flooring standards that address everything from practices for sealing seams to evaluating the effect of dynamic rolling loads. These standards are instrumental in specifying and testing the physical and mechanical properties, as well as providing the installation procedure for resilient flooring. Additionally, some organizations opt to write their own standard to support a variety of goals specific to their business.

In addition to flooring standards, contractors need to know the budget assigned to the flooring project. This information will likely narrow the choice of floor coverings. However, when discussing the budget, it also makes sense to review a floor’s total cost of ownership with the customer, explaining that the installed cost of a floor covering does not necessarily reflect the floor’s true cost of ownership. Things like maintenance, durability and life expectancy also impact the price of the floor; a floor covering with a higher initial cost may actually cost less over the life of the floor if, for example, the floor requires less maintenance, fewer maintenance products and/or is expected to last longer than a less expensive option.

In any case, contractors should supply their customers with a detailed and thorough quote that lists everything included in the installation. A good quote should address: responsibility for moving doors, furnishings and appliances; removal and disposal of the existing floor; costs associated with subfloor preparation and matching floor height to adjoining rooms; reattaching old moldings or installing new ones; application of any required finishes; status of unused materials; and guarantees of product and work.

Identify performance requirements.

Once a budget has been agreed upon, it is important to learn how the space will be used. A building lobby or corridor, for example, requires a durable, slip-resistant floor covering that will stand up to heavy foot traffic, while a laboratory or production area demands flooring that is chemical- and stain-resistant. In a healthcare setting, multiple functions occurring under one roof create a need for a variety of performance features in a floor covering. For example, bacteriostatic/fungistatic properties, sound dampening and indoor air quality features are important to patient recovery, while staff appreciate underfoot comfort and ease of maintenance. Educators have similar expectations of their flooring—comfort underfoot and good indoor air quality for teachers and students; good acoustics for pupils to hear and absorb lessons; stain resistance in cafeterias, art rooms and science labs; slip resistance in lobbies and corridors; and a simple cleaning regimen that limits disruptions to classwork and programs.

Some areas of a building may require specialized properties for the floor covering. For example, spaces that house computers and other sensitive electronic equipment require flooring with static dissipative properties that reduce the incidence of electrostatic discharges and protect electronic data. Floors that help prevent biological contamination and offer disinfected flooring surfaces become important in research labs and pharmaceutical manufacturing plants. In locker rooms and stairwells, slip resistance is especially important, and in areas where heavy equipment, wheel chairs and/or supply carts regularly roll across the floor, durability and resilience become critically important in the flooring selection process.

Consider the maintenance regimen.

It is also a good idea to consider a floor covering’s maintenance requirements during the selection process. Some floors require sealants and wax as part of their regular maintenance routine, which means extra hours spent stripping, cleaning, reapplying wax and waiting for the floor to dry before it can be walked on. It also means the added expenses that accompany the purchase of stripping, cleaning and waxing materials. On the other hand, some floors require little more than a mop and water to retain their like-new appearance, saving the end user both time and money.

A complicated maintenance regimen may also require closing down large areas of a building. In the case of hospitals, this might mean moving patients—a major inconvenience that no-wax flooring helps to avoid. In schools, it often means having to delay flooring maintenance until summer months or extended holidays, when students are out of the building.

Think about sustainability goals.

Sustainability goals should also be considered when selecting a replacement floor covering. This begins with looking at a floor’s content and the manufacturing process that produced it. Of critical importance is the floor’s emissions and the contributions it makes to indoor air quality. If the floor requires an adhesive, consider whether the adhesive is environmentally compatible. The floor’s lifecycle should also be considered, and when the floor is removed, know whether it can be recycled. It also means learning whether the floor contributes to Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) points and discerning what impact, if any, the floor’s maintenance regimen has on indoor air quality.

Make aesthetics part of the decision.

Aesthetics, too, can play a key role in the selection of replacement floor coverings. After all, the floor is often the stage that supports furnishings, window and wall treatments and lighting. As such, the right floor can set the mood for the space, welcoming visitors, impressing clients, relaxing patients or encouraging students.

In addition to knowing what types of materials the customer prefers, it is important to review the proposed design and help the customer find a floor that best supports the new look. At the same time, the floor should complement the décor of any older spaces that adjoin the new space. It also pays to know whether the customer hopes to incorporate a design element in the floor or personalize it in any way—perhaps a border of some kind, a stripe or other pattern, or a directional or measurement feature or a logo. Some materials lend themselves better than others to inlays. The variety of colors, patterns and textures within a product offering will also dictate a floor covering’s ability to provide these design features in an attractive, cohesive way.

When these issues are addressed, the selection of a floor covering should become less complicated for the building owner. Then, the role of the flooring contractor moves from one of flooring consultant to flooring installer. With that role comes responsibility for checking the moisture content of the subfloor, making any necessary preparations to the subfloor, laying out the new floor, installing it and completing any finishing work the floor requires.

Even though most flooring contractors probably think of themselves in these terms, it is important that they recognize the other skills they bring to their work. The experience they gain working with customers and the product knowledge they possess make them an important resource in the selection of replacement flooring and ultimately, a contributor to the long-term success of the flooring and the building.