Best Practices for Choosing and Installing Flooring in K-12 Schools
The physical environment of a school can have a significant impact on the performance and satisfaction of both students and staff. Flooring plays a key role in that equation.
A common issue for most K-12 schools is of course budget. They don’t have deep pockets for renovations, maintenance and new construction. However, it is vital to not let the current budget get in the way of quality flooring materials and proper installation. If critical steps are omitted to save money, it can cause more costly repairs down the road. And, more importantly, poor installation and materials can have an impact on the air quality in schools and the safety of our children.
When starting a school project, it is important to first look at the flooring history. Study what flooring materials have been used in the past, what has been successful and what has not, what type of maintenance is being used and understand the flooring material preferences. Take a look at the big picture to determine the best product and method. Consider the following five best practices for choosing flooring for schools:
- Keep it quiet. Excessive noise and echo in classrooms has been shown to reduce student comprehension. Selecting flooring materials that help reduce noise and echo can positively impact the learning experience. Durable carpeting can be a good choice for these applications.
- Make it durable. Kids are hard on floors, especially in high traffic areas such as entrances, hallways, and lunchrooms. In these areas, the priority should be selecting flooring that is extremely durable. Vinyl tiles or sheets, or ceramic tile that can stand the abuse may be a good choice for these areas.
- Cleanliness counts. School floors must be able to stand up to frequent cleaning. Areas like hallways, lunchrooms, and kitchens should employ materials that are easily washed and able to stand up to harsh cleaners and disinfectants. For kitchens, rubber flooring or hard flooring with anti-fatigue mats can help ease the strain of standing for staff.
- Keep it dry. Moisture is a constant problem in schools — from spills to boots tracking in rain, mud and snow. Standing water on vinyl or tile floors can present slip hazards. Even small amounts of moisture over time can produce mold and mildew, and dramatically shorten the lifespan of flooring. For this reason, floor materials should be easy to mop and provide a non-slip surface wherever possible. To prevent moisture intrusion from the concrete slab, ensure an appropriate moisture barrier is installed prior to installing finished flooring.
- Think long-term. With school budgets stretched to the limit, decision makers may be tempted to seek out the least costly flooring material to do the job. It’s important to educate school districts and elected leaders on the importance of using high-quality materials. The cost of replacing a floor prematurely due to a shorter lifespan will significantly negate any up-front savings.
Once the ideal flooring materials have been chosen, it is important to carefully examine the installation method. When working on new construction of a school, it is extremely common to have excess moisture in concrete slabs due to accelerated project schedules that may not allow time for the slab to fully dry — a process that can take several months. Mitigating the problem before installing finished flooring is critical to avoid a costly failure. Again, schools often don’t have the budget to mitigate, so they roll the dice, hoping they won’t have to deal with moisture problems in the future. The primary risk of a moisture issue is that children could be walking on unsafe flooring. Consider the costly floor repairs — ripping up the flooring, removing furniture and all potential risks of poor indoor air quality within the school. Safety is something you just can’t put a number on. If a school opts for the cheap short-term option, they should plan on paying for remediation and an overall higher cost of flooring.
A proven moisture mitigation strategy is to apply a moisture barrier like KOVARA™ floor underlayments (previously known as VERSASHIELD®) prior to installing the finished flooring. KOVARA™ moisture barriers are sheet membranes designed to be laid down above the concrete slab but underneath floor coverings including carpet, vinyl, ceramic tile and more. They are designed to protect these materials, as well as their adhesives, from any moisture and alkalinity that causes staining, warping or mold. With no curing time required, these sheet membranes can be applied quickly and thus, can accelerate project schedules, saving time and labor. KOVARA™ moisture barriers do not require messy surface preparation processes or odorous chemicals.
When working on a school renovation, the first step is to look at what is in place now. Many schools will simply re-install directly over old flooring, because they do not want to spend the time and money to demolish the existing one. However, this is just delaying the removal to the next installation, since each new layer will be adhered directly to the layer below it, and you cannot remove one without removing them all. Another option is to place a floor underlayment such as KOVARA™ moisture barriers on to the existing flooring, so that the new layer of flooring is not directly adhered to the layer below and can be easily replaced in the future. As a sheet membrane, KOVARA™ can be removed easily, allowing schools to replace their flooring time and again without ever needing to disrupt the old flooring underneath.
Choosing and installing flooring systems that can stand up to the rigors of education can contribute to student success, health and school budget efficiency, while reducing the risk of a callback for the flooring installer. It is critical to do it right the first time. After all, no one wants to be called to the principal’s office.