Carpet Myths

July 1, 2003
Maximizing Building Performance Through Environmental Strategies - PROCESSES

A growing number of people in the flooring industry want facilities professionals to sidestep years of misinformation and give carpet high marks as a viable option in their commercial building installations.

“There are a lot of urban myths in the marketplace,” says Werner Braun, president of the Dalton, GA-based Carpet & Rug Institute (CRI). “They get in the way of folks making the appropriate flooring choices. If you don’t have the right information, if it’s outdated or erroneous, you might not make the best choice you can for floorcovering in your area.”

CRI and its members and another grassroots industry group, Carpet is Good, want to set the record straight with their message: If properly maintained, carpet is as viable a flooring choice as hard-surface options for nearly any commercial facility.

“We feel strongly about making sure soft textiles stay in schools, as well as other commercial buildings,” says Alison Woolford, market segment manager, education and government, at DuPont Antron in Wilmington, DE, and a founding representative of Carpet is Good. “There are so many scare tactics, like the news reports you see on TV. We know the facts and sometimes things unfortunately get twisted and turned.”

While the use of carpet in school buildings has garnered the most attention, representatives from both CRI and Carpet is Good note that the same arguments in favor of carpet in schools can be carried over into any commercial facilities segment.

Carpet and IAQ
Over the years, the carpet industry has worked very closely with academic institutions, the government, and independent laboratories to evaluate carpet’s role in the indoor environment. And, according to CRI, scientific evidence throughout those evaluations has indicated no links of adverse human health effects to VOC emissions from carpet.

First, it’s time to put the off-gassing myth to rest, Braun says, noting that of all things installed in an indoor airspace, carpet has the lowest amount of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and – contrary to popular belief – contains no formaldehyde. “We see that myth reported all of the time,” Braun says. “Carpet does not emit formaldehyde. Period.”

According to CRI, new carpet’s emission level will drop significantly within the first 24 hours of installation, and with fresh air ventilation, the emission level will dissipate to an undetectable level within 48 to 72 hours.

Second, “the reality is that carpet creates a healthier indoor environment because it acts like a filter and sweeps particles from the air,” Braun says. “We have measured the air concentration of allergens between carpeted rooms and non-carpeted rooms and there are 10- to 100-times more particles in rooms without carpeting.”

Why does this occur? Because with carpet, the particles get trapped down in the fibers and don’t get stirred up, Braun says.

A 2001 study at Cornell University, Ithaca, NY, supports this claim. Researcher Alan Hedge, a professor of design and environmental analysis at Cornell, determined concerns that carpet in schools is contributing to an increase in respiratory problems, allergies, and asthma in schools are unfounded. “As long as schools keep floors clean and use high-efficiency microfiltration vacuum bags, carpets can be a healthy, safe, and economical floorcovering in schools and daycare centers,” Hedge says. “Microfiltration bags will trap very small particles, such as dust mites and feces, so that these will not become airborne.”

Next target: Mold. Simply put, properly maintained carpet will not sustain mold growth, experts say. “Mold can grow on any surface,” Woolford points out. “All it needs is a food source and moisture.”

If you look at clean, properly maintained carpet, there is no component within the synthetic that mold can use for food, Braun says. Keep the carpet clean and dry, and you won’t have mold.

In fact, Braun notes, because clean carpet offers nothing organic, it is one of the “very last places” where mold grows in a stricken building.

Preventive Maintenance is Key
It all comes down to proper maintenance, carpet industry experts say.

“Building owners and managers must take responsibility for maintenance and quit blaming IAQ issues on the finishes,” Woolford says. “If you are maintaining your building, it keeps the allergens out of the breathing zone for the students or the workers. Anything that gets trapped in the carpet gets vacuumed up, and you have a clean surface again.”

Cornell’s Hedge concludes both smooth floorcoverings and carpets have advantages and disadvantages.

Smooth floors can provide an easy surface for cleaning up spills, but some chemical cleaners can provoke asthma symptoms, and reused bucket water (which accumulates biological contaminants that are then spread on the floor) can contribute to air quality problems. And dust and allergens on the floor get airborne very easily. Microbial growth can occur under smooth floorcoverings if the floor stays wet, and this can cause problems.

“We’ve had this problem even in our own department at Cornell,” Hedge says. Synthetic carpets are easy and economical to clean in the long run, and, like any other floor surface, providing they are kept dry and clean, they will not promote microbial growth.”

Another benefit is carpet’s life-cycle cost benefit. A 2002 study performed by Jeff Bishop, certification board chairman of the Institute of Inspection, Cleaning, and Restoration Certification in Vancouver, WA, provided life-cycle cost analysis between carpet and vinyl composition tile (VCT) floor over a 22-year time period in school facilities.

Bishop’s study reveals that hard-surface floors require two-and-a-half times more cleaning time than carpet, while cleaning supplies cost about seven times more for vinyl floors than those covered in carpet.

“Upfront purchase and installation costs for VCT are actually less than those for carpet, but at the end of the 22-year time period, carpet expenditures prove to be more cost effective than VCT,” Bishop concludes.

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