You sent us your interiors-related questions, and we dug up the solutions. Manufacturers, interior designers, and consultants weighed in, and the next few pages feature the answers we uncovered.
To those whose questions aren't answered here, don't worry: Your inquiries sparked story ideas and told us about the trials you face every day. We'll keep digging.
What are the recommended timeframes for off-gassing when it comes to flooring, furniture, fabric, and paint?
In terms of flooring, Vern Rich, managing director, Shawmut Design and Construction, Boston, says that carpet and adhesives take 48 hours to off-gas. To be safe, most flooring manufacturers recommend at least 72 hours, according to Eileen Goodman, director of interior design, Columbus, OH-based Moody Nolan Inc.
Latex and acrylic paint take about 2 days to off-gas; epoxy and polomyx can take up to 5 days.
Furniture from manufacturers that employ older production processes may require 2 to 3 weeks to off-gas. But, with the emphasis on green, Rich says that many systems-furniture manufacturers have established sustainable finish processes to minimize VOC emissions (in other words, new furniture systems have virtually no off-gassing). And, some carpet manufacturers now offer carpets that off-gas before they're shipped. "With the big push for the use of more environmentally friendly materials, off-gassing problems should ultimately be eliminated or significantly reduced," says Goodman.
How should I compare the "fake" wood floors in the marketplace?
In general, many of the wood-look vinyl flooring systems offer similar performance characteristics. "Final selection often comes down to an evaluation of initial cost balanced against appearance," says Eileen Goodman, director of interior design, Moody Nolan Inc. "Within the all-vinyl category, there is a wide range of products in an equally wide range of appearances." This flooring can be installed in sheets or planks. Plank systems deliver a more realistic-looking effect, but are more costly in terms of material and installation. There are also products available that replicate specific natural textures and/or milled profiles for an even more realistic look.
Takashi Abe, executive vice president and COO at Carson, CA-based Lonseal Inc., emphasizes that selection should be based on needs. "How will the space be used? How much upfront money can be expended for installation? Some ‘fake' options require more extensive attention to install than others." You'll also want to consider environmental attributes, life-cycle length and cost, warranties, maintenance/cleaning requirements, weight capacity and durability, and color.
What's the most efficient way to light a hallway in a commercial building?
You have a few options when it comes to efficiently lighting your hallway. "There isn't one right answer," says Jean Sundin, principal, Office for Visual Interaction Inc., New York City. But, there are helpful lighting strategies to remember. For example: Brightness on vertical surfaces makes spaces seem brighter while using less wattage. "An efficient way to provide lighting in these areas is to use a linear fluorescent cove along one side," Sundin says. Or use a compact fluorescent downlight with a "wall washer" component.
For ceiling heights of 15 feet or less, two- and three-lamp recessed T8 fixtures are common, says Eddie Hickerson, lighting control specialist, Square D/Schneider Electric, Palatine, IL. "For lighting on schedule-based control, instant-start T8 lamp/ballast systems achieve the highest efficiency." For lighting controlled by an occupancy sensor, Hickerson says that program-start (a.k.a. program rapid-start) ballasts will maximize lamp life.
If your goal is to use as little electric lighting as possible, "the most efficient lighting for a hallway would be daylighting with stepped or multi-level closed-loop photosensor controls of high-efficiency lighting fixtures and lamps," says Jay Enck, principal and founder of Atlanta-based CxGBS. CxGBS' definition of high-efficiency lighting: T5 HO lamps or T8 lamps with a lamp efficacy of 90-plus nominal lumens per watt (based on mean lumens divided by the cataloged lamp input watts).
How can I resolve a ceiling tile issue? The manufacturer no longer manufactures the design we need, and it's not cost effective to change out my entire building.
You have several options to consider in this situation. The first choice: Apply a spray-on product so that all tiles look uniform. It'll cost a fraction of what you'd spend to replace them. If you go this route, Vern Rich, managing director, Shawmut Design and Construction, warns that products like these might damage the tile's acoustic properties, so keep that in mind.
Rich also suggests "harvesting," especially if tile replacement is necessary due to damage. Check the nonpublic areas of your building: If those areas have better-looking tiles, swap them out and place the damaged ones there instead so they won't be seen.
If changing out the entire ceiling is your ultimate goal, Jeremy Verstraete, product management, USG Ceilings Division, Chicago, suggests starting small. "Purchase enough new ceiling tile to install in a specific area of the building that's separate from the rest of the space (an entire floor in a multi-story building, an individual room, etc.). That way, [matching] ceiling tile may not matter as much." He suggests saving the old tiles from that space and using them to replace damaged tile over time. "This activity can continue on a rolling basis until you‘ve replaced 100 percent of the old ceiling product," Verstraete says. He also suggests that, when you pick a new pattern, you pick one with a manufacturer's warranty for pattern availability.
Another option to consider: The creation of a buffer zone between existing and new tile. Drywall soffits or large drywall ceiling sections are often used to do this, explains Eileen Goodman, director of interior design, Moody Nolan Inc. "The goal with this approach is to create an overlay and buffer to intercede between existing and new work."
How do I pick between buying new furniture and refurbishing what we have?
"It should be a much broader consideration than cost per workstation," says Shawn Green, vice president, product management, Green Bay, WI-based KI. "By refurbishing what you already have, you may improve the aesthetics, but you'll be operating within the same functional parameters." To solve that problem, Green recommends that you think about using a combination of new and refurbished products. "For example, by reusing your older, monolithic, basic panels in conjunction with a new spine wall, you can greatly improve power and cable distribution while promoting a totally new aesthetic. That would increase the overall efficiency of your space by allowing a greater density of users."
Eileen Goodman, director of interior design, Moody Nolan Inc., points out that certain types of furniture lend themselves to refurbishment better than others: "Touching up old filing cabinets with electrostatic paint would be quite cost effective. Reupholstering a number of large, fully upholstered sofas probably wouldn't be."
What are some lasting solutions for polishing brass door handles?
According to Bill Griffin, president/owner, Cleaning Consultant Services Inc., Seattle, that depends on how you want the brass to look. When it's exposed to air and everyday use, brass tarnishes quickly and needs regular maintenance to restore shine. If you want a shiny look, you may need to polish daily (or at least once or twice a week, depending on how often it's used). If you don't need the shiny look, wiping daily with a microfiber cloth and a metal, glass, or general-purpose cleaner may be adequate. Periodically, you'll want to polish the brass to a shine: You can use a cream-type metal polish (acid or nonacid), wadding, or a polishing cloth. Don't use abrasives, says Griffin.
You may also want to coat the metal with a clear lacquer to reduce maintenance. This will make the metal easier to clean since the coating protects the metal from contamination; however, the protective coating will wear, scratch, or discolor and need to be professionally removed and replaced. There are a number of companies that specialize in this process.
How should I properly prep a wall for new paint?
In many cases, paint failure can be chalked up to poor surface preparation. Steve Revnew, director of marketing, product development, at Cleveland-based Sherwin-Williams, indicates that 80 percent of all failures can be attributed to inadequate surface preparation. Revnew explains that the method of surface preparation depends on the substrate, the environment, and the coating system's expected life.
Thoroughly clean the surface to ensure proper bonding of the paint (Revnew says it also helps you get the most from your topcoat). Apply primer only to a surface that's dry and void of mildew, dirt, peeling paint, or other contamination.
Using the right primer can mean the difference between washed-out color and a bright, durable finish. "It provides the essential link and bond between the substrate and the final coat," explains Eileen Goodman, director of interior design, Moody Nolan Inc. Whether the surface is drywall, old wood, or concrete, there are ideal primers for each one.
Another important element to consider when choosing a primer is paint color. Research shows that deep colors are best primed with gray-tint shades; for this reason, special primers have been designed to maximize deep hues.
How do I pick the right paint for my application?
The right paint depends on the substrate, says Steve Revnew, director of marketing, product development, at Sherwin-Williams. If high traffic is a concern, your paint selection should offer washability and stain resistance. If you want an environmentally friendly coating, the paint should be low-VOC and low-odor. When choosing paint for an interior environment, Revnew emphasizes that sheen is related to durability. "When comparing a flat finish to a gloss, flats are the least durable. Durability increases as gloss increases." He indicates, however, that technology advances have introduced coatings that are durable in matte finishes.
"High-use spaces that will require constant touch-ups should have a flat finish to reduce the contrast of the new paint," says Eileen Goodman, director of interior design, Moody Nolan Inc. "Where durability is the main concern, an oil base with a relatively glossy finish should be used. Often, a compromise is the best option. A satin-finish latex will provide a happy medium between flat (easier to touch up) and semi gloss (easier to wash off)."
What types of occupancy sensors should I use in my public restroom for easy installation?
For small, private restrooms with no obstructions, passive infrared (PIR) wall switch replacement sensors are the most common solution, says Eddie Hickerson, lighting control specialist, Square D/Schneider Electric. "A typical wall switch replacement sensor quickly and easily installs in an existing wall box. Many wall switch replacement sensors don't require a neutral connection, making it easier to retrofit existing light switches without wiring modifications," says Hickerson.
For larger restrooms with stalls and interior walls, ceiling-mounted ultrasonic sensors are the most common solution - an easy retrofit in restrooms with drop ceilings and drywall construction. (Ultrasonic sensors can be disrupted by high airflow and shouldn't be used near air-duct outlets.) "Typically, the power pack is mounted to the junction box that feeds the light switch and the load. The power pack relay is inserted on the line side of the switch, and 24V power is run out to the ceiling sensor located in the middle of the restroom. In most cities and states, the low-voltage wiring may be run outside of conduit, further simplifying retrofits." For restrooms with masonry walls and ceilings, installation is still relatively simple, says Hickerson.
For larger restrooms with two entries and a three-way lighting circuit, installation is the same (with one exception): According to Hickerson, the power pack relay should be installed on the line side of the first switch in the three-way circuit. The sensor will shut off lighting without affecting the three-way operation of the lighting circuit when the restroom is occupied.
Jay Enck, principal and founder of CxGBS, recommends combining infrared and ultrasonic technologies. "Unless otherwise recommended, factory-set occupancy sensors should be set for medium to high sensitivity and a 15-minute time delay." If the lights turn off when someone's there, Enck suggests increasing the time setting by 2 minutes on infrared sensors and raising sensitivity by 20 percent on ultrasonic sensors. "If the lights false trigger ‘on' with ultrasonic sensors, check for high airflow near the sensors. If the sensor isn't in a high-airflow area, adjust the sensitivity down by 20 percent."
How do "fake" wood floors compare to real wood floors?
Engineered wood products can outperform real wood in many respects, says Eileen Goodman, director of interior design, Moody Nolan Inc. "Most are designed for an upfront savings in both material and labor, and an additional life-cycle savings in maintenance and durability."
If it's made of vinyl, the product installs just as easily as any other resilient flooring, and needs no additional finishing after installation. "[It] can be easily installed on a clean, dry substrate," says Takashi Abe, executive vice president and COO at Lonseal Inc., "whereas real wood requires a much more intensive procedure." And, in terms of how it looks, in most cases, you can't tell much of a difference between real wood and engineered wood.
With these floors, regular cleaning is simple. In most instances, using a damp mop is sufficient. And, they'll never need to be sanded or refinished like a real wood floor, says Goodman. "Additionally, they can be installed in conjunction with other flooring (vinyl tile, carpet, etc.) without creating troublesome height differentials." Another benefit to this type of flooring: When it's installed correctly, it's perfectly suited for areas where dampness or microbial growth is a concern.
One characteristic that real wood floors offer is their ability to be recycled at the end of their useful lives; however, "fake" wood floors, such as vinyl, can provide sustainable benefits, too, and can be manufactured from pre-consumer recycled materials. "The real beauty of the authentic wood-like aesthetic is that [it] pays tribute to the environment without ever taking from it," says Abe.
What's the recommended floorcovering for an extremely high-traffic environment?
In busy spaces, Vern Rich, managing director, Shawmut Design and Construction, recommends wood, VCT, sheet vinyl, or sealed concrete. "I wouldn't use tile due to grout joints, which can become soiled, or soft wood-floor species that will show heel dimples or dolly tracks after extended use." Once you've made your selection, Rich says the best way to keep it looking great is to perform the recommended regular maintenance.
"The classics are still the best," says Eileen Goodman, director of interior design, Moody Nolan Inc. "Nothing can beat a well-installed terrazzo floor for holding up to extreme traffic." She indicates that certain types of ceramic tile (integral through-color) do well (just remember what Rich noted about grout joints), as do resilient sheet products, such as linoleum. But, she points out that, depending on which flooring you choose, there will be tradeoffs. "Harder surfaces, like terrazzo, will be more durable, but may offer less protection against slipping in damp or wet conditions. Sheet goods may have a higher slip resistance, but might show more wear if exposed to heavy wheeled traffic."
What are the differences between budget-priced and high-end furniture?
There are several differences between budget-priced and high-end furniture besides the price tag, says Vern Rich, managing director, Shawmut Design and Construction. "Lower-end pieces typically use plastic laminate in lieu of wood veneer, and wood trim instead of painted metal trim. They use less expensive fabric, which could limit design options, and also have less built-in functionality (task lighting, storage units, and organizational systems) than a higher-end piece."
Eileen Goodman, director of interior design, Moody Nolan Inc., agrees with Rich. "More than any[thing], it's the quality of construction. In wood furniture, that would include the primary and lesser species used, and the type and quality of the joinery. In metal, that would include the specific gauge of steel used and the quality of the welded connections."
Price points can also determine the technical/innovative features offered. Lower-end products may not deliver certain features, or may force you to make aesthetic and/or functional tradeoffs. Shawn Green, vice president, product management, KI, says the focus for lower-end products is often functionality: "Less expensive solutions tend to be more of a commodity that supports basic, functional needs with acceptable quality; however, they offer fewer finishes and options."
There is well-constructed, budget-oriented furniture that may not be competitive when it comes to design, says Goodman. There are also high-end, designer pieces that might not be suitable for applications that demand durability and strength of construction over aesthetics.
What's the best way to clean carpet tile - wet or dry extraction?
Scott Rives, director of modular development, The Mohawk Group, says that a combination of the two will maximize life-cycle. "Hot-water extraction is ideal on occasions (monthly or quarterly) when more thorough cleaning is needed. Perhaps more important, however, is daily vacuuming, which typically takes care of more than 80 percent of carpet tile maintenance needs."
Bill Griffin, president/owner, Cleaning Consultant Services Inc., notes that the best way to determine correct maintenance procedures is to follow the manufacturer's instructions (most have websites with downloadable maintenance instructions and/or a technical support line where you can obtain this information). Failing to follow these instructions may void warranties, damage the product, or cause less-than-desirable results. If you're unable to contact the manufacturer, follow the standard maintenance procedures for carpet in public areas (see below).
What's the proper regular maintenance for carpet in public areas?
According to Bill Griffin, president/owner, Cleaning Consultant Services Inc., these steps should be followed to keep your carpet looking good and lasting longer in heavily trafficked areas:
Vacuum the traffic area (daily or when serviced).
Remove spots when visible (daily or when serviced).
Vacuum high-traffic areas with a pile-lifter vacuum. (Heavy-traffic areas should be done quarterly, medium-traffic areas should be done twice per year, and light-traffic areas should be done once per year.)
In high-traffic areas, interim clean with a low-moisture system to remove visible soil. Remove dry soil with a pile-lifter vacuum prior to cleaning. (Follow the frequencies listed in No. 3.)
Deep or restorative clean with a flushing or extraction process. Remove dry soil with a pile-lifter vacuum prior to cleaning. (Medium- to heavy-traffic areas should be done twice per year, and light-traffic areas should be done once per year.)
Repair pulls, tears, and split seams when they're first noticed.
How should I pick cubicle walls to minimize sound transmission?
When it comes to planning the acoustics in an open-office environment, Jonathan Webb, product manager, KI, says that cubicle walls are just one part of the recommended "ABC (absorb, block, and cover)" approach to minimizing sound transmission. "Choosing the right workstation materials can only aid in improving acoustics throughout the workplace; it cannot be an end-all solution. Unlike full-height walls, there's simply too much space above a typical workstation panel to prevent 100-percent blockage of noise," he says.
Experts agree that cubicle walls just don't play a huge role in reducing noise. "The most important aspects of a work setting are actually the acoustical qualities of the ceilings and floor surfaces," says Kim Williamson, interior design director, Ellerbe Becket, Minneapolis. "However, when considering the cubicle wall as part of the equation, you need to consider not only the height of the panel, but also the materials on the surfaces. The acoustical qualities of a cubicle panel above the worksurface are probably the most important to consider. Utilizing sound-absorptive fabrics or tackable surfaces in this zone can help with the acoustics."
If you're facing the challenge of selecting new wall panels, Eileen Goodman, director of interior design, Moody Nolan Inc., provides these tips: "First, you should make sure that absorptive materials (not hard materials, such as metal or wood) are used across the seated-height zone (29 to 54 inches). Next, you should select a product that has a high NRC or STC rating." She indicates that all manufacturers list these ratings. And, if the panel height can be increased, that's something to consider as well.
Are demountable walls more cost effective in the long run over drywall?
"There's no question that demountables are far more expensive than basic drywall partitions on a straight, one-time cost comparison," says Eileen Goodman, director of interior design, Moody Nolan Inc. "They can be cost effective, however, if they're used in an application where frequent reconfigurations of hard-wall landscapes justify the initial expense." She also points out that, if wall reconfiguration is outsourced, economic advantages will shrink.
Michelle Anderson, founding executive at Calgary, AB-based DIRTT, emphasizes keeping all wall-system pieces in mind (glass walls, doors, hanging capabilities, electrical and data requirements, etc.) when making this decision. "Add any higher-end detailing to these walls, or electrical, and your price gap will close dramatically (and occasionally reverse), allowing the movable product to be less expensive at first cost."
Think about churn rate, your organization's growth rate, etc., as Anderson suggests. Can you take advantage of the tax benefits associated with purchasing demountable walls, which are classified as tangible personal property (with a fast tax depreciation schedule), vs. an asset that's considered real property with the same rate of depreciation as the building? These factors affect how lucrative movable walls will be.
Anderson explains that a movable wall with a painted interior, solid doors, and built-in electrical can be at a 10- to 30-percent price premium vs. drywall, depending on construction costs. "Being conservative, you could recover that premium in about 3 years." A more typical mix of painted walls, glass walls, doors, and electrical components would be a 3- to 5-percent premium, with recovery in the first year. A higher-end aesthetic would be less expensive by about 10 to 20 percent.
"Demountable walls offer the ability to meet ever-changing business needs and space allocations with minimal time and disruption," says Rob Wittl, general manager, architectural walls, KI.
Leah B. Garris (firstname.lastname@example.org) is senior associate editor at Buildings magazine.