As the latest addition to the University of California system, UC Merced is at the forefront of design and sustainability—even down to the floor. The carpet and the polyurethane backing system were carefully selected by the University for their high-performance and environmental attributes. The success of the flooring at UC Merced starts with the carpet backing made with polyurethane technology from The Dow Chemical Company.
In September 2005, UC Merced opened as the 10th campus of the renowned University of California system and the first American research university to be built in the 21st century. The school, which offers a range of undergraduate and graduate programs, is projected to grow to a 25,000-student enrollment at full build-out by approximately the year 2030. One of the first buildings to be completed in the extensive design and construction process was the Kolligian Library. This building not only houses traditional library services, but also includes administrative offices, conference rooms, student government, student services, a book store and even a coffee shop. All of these spaces require flooring that offers sound absorption, comfort and durability—but still with a sophisticated style.
"To meet our specific needs, the carpet backing system was very important," said UC Merced Project Director Min Jiang. "We explored several options, but in the end went with polyurethane backing, primarily for its environmental, sound absorption and cushioning qualities. As the result from ‘UC Merced's 2003 Carpet Request for Proposal,' Bentley Prince Street and Milliken had the highest value per quality points. We believed both manufacturers would provide good quality, and high performance, as well as high recycled content products. Above all, the University is proud to announce that we are PVC-free in carpet."
The UC Merced campus utilizes principles of sustainability in building design, construction and operation, and serves as a model for development in the San Joaquin Valley. They have even formed an Environmental Stewardship Program that is developing specific goals and policies to set the standards for sustainable use of energy and other scarce resources. The type of flooring used throughout the campus is contributing to the University's environmental goals. All carpet is required to be PVC-free and made of recycled content. In the Kolligian Library, the broadloom and cut pile carpet from Bentley Prince Street, as well as the carpet tile from Milliken Contract, all meet these environmental requirements.
As a busy campus library, the Kolligian Library must balance student noise with the need for quiet study and reflection. The addition of a cushioned backing made with DOW™ ENHANCER™ Technology plays a key role in the space's acoustic properties. ENHANCER™ Technology creates a unique molecular structure, forming a polymeric bond between the primary and secondary backing. The result is a unified composite material that improves the performance of carpet, including sound absorption and ergonomics. An effective noise reducer, cushioned carpet backing made with Dow polyurethane technology minimizes the sound of foot traffic, absorbs airborne sound and reduces sound transmission to nearby rooms. Made of high-density polyurethane, the cushioned backing is also designed to add comfort underfoot. It reduces heel-strike force and leg muscle response, two prime causes of standing and walking fatigue. This is a key concern for facilities like Kolligian Library, where staff members are on their feet for long periods of time.
Besides offering comfort underfoot, the library's carpet needed to retain its appearance and performance for years to come. University Librarian Bruce Miller was so adamant about these requirements that he put the carpet to the test during the specification process. He purposefully spilled coffee on a carpet sample and found that even after a quick cleanup with paper towels, there was no permanent staining.
"We do not have the funds with which to replace carpet on a regular basis," said Miller. "That's why carpet in the library must function well and look good for a very long time. And so far, normal cleaning has kept the place looking good." Resistance to stains and odors from spills is critical to longevity and newness retention of commercial carpet. With conventional backing, removing the spill on the surface is frequently ineffective because residual liquid can continue to wick back and reappear on the carpet pile over and over again. This can cause serious appearance problems, sometimes more pronounced than the initial stain. With the polyurethane backing at Kolligian Library, a functional liquid barrier is designed to impede liquid and dirt from penetrating the subfloor, thereby reducing the occurrence of wick back staining and odors due to spills. Plus, it allows for aggressive cleaning programs including hot water extraction.
"The primary problem I have encountered with carpet at other campuses is that it snags, runs and frays at room entrances, on stairs and at seams," added Miller. "Time will tell about the performance here at room boundaries and seams." Fortunately, the carpet backing system at Kolligian Library is designed to handle such punishing conditions.
Polyurethane's strong adhesion properties allow the carpet yarn to maximize the tuft bind for the life of the carpet. This helps minimize edge ravel, disfiguring snags and pulls, and pilling and fuzzing. It also reduces the likelihood of delamination, a common problem in settings with rolling traffic. To further protect the appearance of the carpet, polyurethane allows the carpet and cushioned backing to absorb the pounding motion of foot traffic and support the heavy weight of furniture, without bottoming out. The library's backing system is designed to reduce pile crushing and matting over time, which is especially effective in high-traffic areas like entryways and hallways. Ultimately, improved durability and performance extend the carpet's life and the library's budget.
By carefully selecting the right carpet and backing system for their needs, UC Merced ended up with a flooring that can withstand the intensive use situations of a university, and still offer sophisticated style and sustainability. Polyurethane backing made with Dow technology helps maintain the appearance of the carpet for years to come. The students who come to the Kolligian Library may not take notice of the carpet. But that's the beauty of a high performance carpet and backing system.