Specification of Carpet: Finding Balance Between Performance and Aesthetics

Aug. 30, 2005

Proper specification of carpet can be challenging, given the array of choices available and the factors that must be taken into consideration. You must identify the criteria of the project to find the right product. Considerations include amount and type of traffic, length and type of lease or ownership of the space, amount of open and closed offices in the plan, and shape of floorplate. The budget and preferences of the end-user are essential. Also, determine how the floor “plane” will anchor the space - will it be a backdrop or an important design element? Should the pattern reflect architectural components? Is it used to define specific areas or for wayfinding? Answers to these and other questions will lead to correct pattern and texture choices that give a floor its identity.


Carpet selection criteria starts with the face fiber. There are four main fibers used in carpet. Nylon is the most prominent fiber in carpet today. It has continually been modified since its introduction in the 1940s to improve the look, feel, soil-hiding ability and flexible dyeing characteristics. Most premium-branded nylon is considered optimum for commercial interiors. Wool has been used since earliest times and is the point of reference for manmade fibers. It ages gracefully under light traffic and is inherently fire resistant, so it is preferable for airplanes and cruise ships. Since wool is a natural fiber, it does not have the performance characteristics of some synthetic fibers. Olefin and polyester are not as resilient as nylon. Though they can offer some value, they generally are not considered appropriate for commercial use.


More than 90 percent of commercial carpet today is tufted, a manufacturing process that allows enormous flexibility in pattern and texture options. Tufting creates textures that can be level loop, textured loop, cut/uncut, or cut pile. The texture of carpet is directly affected by the amount and type of traffic. In general, loop textured carpet will withstand the most traffic and retain texture longer than other constructions.

A good balance between aesthetics and durability can often be achieved with cut and loop textures. These give aesthetic softness and depth with nearly the durability of a loop construction. Cut pile carpets should not be considered for heavy traffic unless they are richly patterned and will mask traffic lanes. They are excellent for light-use areas such as executive offices, and for defining or creating transitional areas or borders.

Woven carpet is another alternative. Woven carpet has a reputation for beauty, and precise patterns can be created in many textures. However, budget, lead times, and installation complications may eliminate woven options.

Dyeing and Color

Tufted carpet can be colored by a number of procedures. The yarn is either dyed before or after the tufting process. Of the two pre-dyeing methods, skein dyeing is the most flexible for creating certain color effects. The yarn is wound onto skeins, or large bundles, and dyed a particular color in a water bath, then dried and rewound onto cones for tufting. Though labor-intensive, this process allows for unlimited color variables and clean, clear hues. Depending on face weights and amount of color, dye lots can be large and very consistent. This is important in large open offices where seams are readily visible and color consistency is important.

The other pre-dyed method is solution-dyed yarn. Pigments are added in the form of plastic pellets, and the fiber is extruded in the desired color. This option offers excellent color and lightfastness, as well as resistance to harsh cleaning chemicals. Solution-dyed yarns are particularly appropriate for healthcare and hospitality installations. This process also offers the benefit of unlimited dye lots. The downside is that color flexibility is limited to the selections provided by the yarn manufacturers, and subtle shades of difference in color are often not available.

In post-dyeing methods, the carpet is tufted with white yarn and dyed after construction. The undyed carpet is called “greige.” In beck dyeing, the greige is loaded into a dye bath with chemicals and dyestuff. It is agitated for a certain period of time where the dye attaches itself to the fiber; then it is moved to a dryer to extract excess water. This is an excellent method for relatively small dye lots. Continuous dyeing is an economical method where carpet is spread out and passed under a dye applicator that distributes dye across the width of the greige. While continuous dying efficiently produces large dye lots, it can be difficult to create color consistency, raising some color matching issues at the seams.

The final post-dying method is printing. Printing is a variation on the continuous dye method, where multiple applicators apply different colors.

There are virtually thousands of patterns and textures available to the designer today, from the very intricate multi-color effects to simple and elegant solid textures. Again, traffic is a factor in selection. Mid-tone colors, moderate to heavy patterns, and barber pole or heather tweeds mask traffic lanes. The “shape” of the installation, both the floorplate and the walls, is also important in matching some patterns at corners in hallways or aligning a grid or stripe along a crooked wall. Choose patterns that minimize any imperfections, such as non-directional patterns for irregular floorplates, or allow for these conditions by transition in accent pieces or borders. Always review patterns prior to selection. Large patterns can decrease the apparent size of a space, while smaller patterns tend to diminish in large expanses of space. The myriad of pattern constructions and colorations available should allow many options to fulfill the vision of a given project.

Other Concerns

Installation is a critical consideration in carpet selection. It must be properly planned, estimated, and executed or even the most beautiful design can be ruined. The Carpet and Rug Institute provides guidelines for proper installation in the CRI-104 Standard for Installation of Commercial Carpet. CRI also certifies qualified installation contractors.  An important part of the specification is to state that these guidelines be followed, as well as those of the carpet manufacturer. A manufacturer’s representative can be most helpful with many installation questions, including type of adhesives, proper seam placement, and suitable constructions.

Maintenance is a contributing factor to the useful life of carpet. Proper maintenance, including regular vacuuming to remove abrasive particles, prompt attention to spot removal, and scheduled cleanings should be part of a plan to extend the useful life of the carpet.

Remember, carpet is a textile, and, just like apparel or upholstery fabric, must be pieced together to become a finished product. The quality is in the material itself, as well as in the assembly. Take into account the aspects of the specific job type and use the criteria to find appropriate pattern and color choices. Proper specification will assure the best of both performance and aesthetics.

To read this paper in its entirety, visit (www.fortunecontract.com).

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