Three Considerations for Specifying Wallcoverings

September 25, 2012

When considering materials for high-traffic wallcoverings, the claims of durability, sustainability, and ease of maintenance can be smothering. The right selection will strike a balance among these factors and features.

Textile and vinyl are the two most common wallcovering choices for high-traffic areas. Let the following characteristics guide your decision.

1] Durability
Vinyl is a plastic-like compound, whereas textile is a woven fabric. Both are highly durable and protect walls from dings, dents, and scratches caused by things like desk chairs, carts, and gurneys in high-traffic applications such as offices, hotels, and hospitals. Your decision will likely be guided by ease of installation and maintenance.

When selecting a contractor to apply a textile wallcovering, look for an expert in paperhanging. “Sometimes a building owner looks for the lowest bidder and hires a painting contractor who isn’t necessarily qualified in hanging wallcoverings,” explains Cliff Goldman, president of manufacturer Carnegie Fabrics. “That can lead to issues with wrinkling and how the seams match up.”

These issues are then interpreted as a problem with the product itself, Goldman says, but are actually caused by mistakes during installation.

With vinyl, the process is more involved. Most wallcoverings are installed with a pasting machine that is rolled onto the back of a material before application.

“We recommend not using that machine with LSI's Type III flexible wall protection because it’s heavier,” says Beth Rich, marketing director of manufacturer LSI Wallcovering. “A heavier, tackier clay-based adhesive should be used.”

Maintenance with either type of wallcovering is very simple. Due to the combination of the exterior surface with a backing, either vinyl or textile stands up to rigorous use and repeated impact. They are also highly scrubbable and require just soap and water or spray cleaners.

“Most owners want products you can get wet and wipe down, and that’s very easy with vinyl and textile products,” Goldman says. “You want to be able to clean them without moisture infiltrating to the sheetrock.”

Compare Wallcovering Characteristics

Be sure to ask manufacturers about their products’ ratings. Type III wallcoverings are specified for high-traffic applications because they are superior to Type I and II regarding qualities that include:

  • Colorfastness
  • Scrubbability
  • Abrasion resistance
  • Breaking strength
  • Stain resistance
  • Coating adhesion

A full list of rated criteria can be found in Federal Specification CCC-W-408.

Although wallcoverings come at a higher initial cost than coatings, the lifecycle of 10 years and higher creates a more attractive payback. “After a five-year lifespan, the costs between wallcovering and paint even out,” Rich says. “When you get to 10 years, it works out to be less expensive than having to repaint every two to three years, and your return on investment is much better.”

2] Aesthetics
Because your selection will likely be around for at least a decade, appearance is almost as important as performance.

Woven textiles present a range of creative possibilities including jacquard weaving, embossing, embroidery, and graphic printing. “Textiles are extremely colorfast,” Goldman says.

For years, vinyl was available only in solid colors with simple stipple or burlap textures, but today decorative prints and heavier embossing are possible. The top fluoropolymer film laminated onto LSI's Type III flexible wall protection – which withstands spray paint, permanent marker, and hair dye – does present aesthetic limitations, Rich says, but color and pattern can be customized.

3] Sustainability
Carnegie’s line of textiles achieved Cradle to Cradle Silver, a certification that considers a product’s full lifecycle.

“Sustainability is a word game, and our approach is to look at the big picture, see it as a whole, and seek out certifications that look at the entire process,” explains Goldman. “Building owners are getting more sophisticated and figuring out that they need to look at the material from beginning to end.”

Versa meets the NSF/ANSI 342 Sustainability Standard, which similarly considers a wallcovering’s impact across its complete lifespan.

“It takes into account everything from raw material extraction, manufacturing process, and distribution channel, all the way through the end of life,” Rich says. “It’s extremely unique because it’s a multi-attribute standard, and most are single attribute.”

No matter your selection, consider the spread of not just your wallcovering, but also your environmental footprint.

“It’s important to take that holistic approach,” adds Goldman, “and not just say, ‘I can be eligible for the IAQ point if I pick this one.’”


Chris Curtland is assistant editor of BUILDINGS.


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Christopher Curtland