Laying the Groundwork

April 1, 2001
Real tools for selecting carpet that lasts
Aesthetics that work, our new tagline for BI, represents a trend that has been building for years. Good looks, cutting-edge design – they still remain important, but in the interiors market more and more facilities managers and designers are asking for information about product performance, appearance retention, relocation costs, maintenance costs, and so on. And it’s not just first cost that’s driving these changes. Huge corporate churn rates and eye-popping rental rates have made workplace utilization a major item for corporate and institutional America. Quick change, low maintenance, access to power, voice, data, components, climate control – these are among the elements that are at the top of the priority list for facilities managers and designers.

With this in mind, the editors of Buildings and BI are initiating a series of roundtable discussions within the various product segments of the interiors industry to develop performance guidelines. Our first session commenced in Washington, D.C. in mid-January on the topic of carpet performance. Graciously hosted by Robert Frazier, director of facilities and support services at the Federal Reserve, this roundtable get-together featured facilities managers, interior designers, architects, and representatives from the carpet fiber and carpet manufacturers industry.

In the Beginning …
Early in the discussion, the participants all agreed there was a great deal of confusion in the marketplace concerning carpet selection. According to the carpet manufacturing representatives, the industry recognizes it created some of this confusion among end-users. To correct this problem, the carpet industry is moving toward offering easy-to-understand, performance-based attributes.

In the past, marketing information from the carpet industry focused on carpet construction specifications. Facilities managers have found it difficult to keep up with the rapid technological advances within the carpet industry. However, quality carpet construction is only part of the story when it comes to choosing high-performance carpet – especially in terms of appearance retention. By describing performance attributes of carpet rather than product construction, we believe the carpet industry can provide accurate information without overloading the specifier with complicated technical details.

Toward this end, the Dalton, GA-based Carpet and Rug Institute (CRI) is creating a carpet appearance retention evaluation standard. This tool will allow facilities managers to rate appearance accurately and detect wear patterns. “We’re trying to get a consensus among all of the manufacturers, but what we do have is a master guide that covers what is important in appearance levels, what kinds of areas do the customers rate as heavy traffic, and how do you develop a performance specification,” says Tom Welsh, market manager, at the Bel Air, MD office of Milliken Carpet.
The CRI organization has also facilitated meetings between facilities professionals and manufacturers to increase understanding about carpet performance. By forming partnerships among the carpet mills and fiber manufacturers, design teams, and installers, facilities managers can avoid future headaches caused by miscommunication.

The First Step
“Nobody knows a space better than the people occupying it, the people who live there — the facility manager,” says Welsh. Welsh encourages facilities professionals to determine their unique carpet needs and then set requirements based on those needs; for example, defining what is considered a heavy-traffic area in a particular facility. “Once you understand those parameters, then you can start working out from that for the aesthetics,” explains Welsh.

“Region has an impact and so does clientele [in carpet selection]. The carpet you would put down in a call center wouldn’t be the same carpet you’d put in a reporting center with linemen coming in and out wearing muddy boots,” notes Kevin Bates, manager of engineering, Federal Reserve Board, Washington, D.C. Strategic use of color, texture, and patterning, as well as cushioning and a comprehensive maintenance plan, can extend a carpet’s life.

During the roundtable, facilities professional participants also discussed relying on yarn manufacturers for information on yarn performance: yarn testing on flammability, anti-microbial properties, soil resistance, static electricity control, and more. At the same time, carpet manufacturers encouraged facilities managers to ask for references to find out how a particular carpeting option fared in a similar site.

Uglying Out vs. Wearing Out
“This stuff, it’s going to last forever, but lasting forever doesn’t count,” says Maury Keiser, a facilities industry professional based in Lake Ridge, VA, when referring to his past experiences with carpet. “It’s how long it looks good in the facilities.”

Across-the-board, roundtable participants also agreed on a need for redefining current definitions of carpet performance. Adds Dan Asperger, technical specialist, J&J, Dalton, GA, “I think the carpet industry has been guilty of creating confusion. We’re out there talking about 10 years of wear, but people don’t understand that that’s an abrasion characteristic. It’s not an appearance retention statement.”

Interior designers present at the discussion agreed that most carpet complaints from corporate clients were based on carpet appearance. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and so is ugly carpet. Qualifying what makes an carpet ugly is subjective and difficult to pin down. Design teams evaluate carpet based on everything from case construction to pile characteristics to yarn count – measurable things. “I’d like to understand the criteria a design professional should use when standing in a lobby or corridor with their client, to determine when a carpet has uglied-out,” says George Middleton, Middleton Associates, Naperville, IL.

One consensus: Participants came to the conclusion that appearance retention is space specific. End-users in a government office facility with a low churn rate will (and should) have an entirely different perspective on carpet appearance than tenants in an office space with a short-term lease.
“It is hard to define what we mean by life-cycle many times. I think it is up to the owner to define that,” says Rick Elliot, project manager/engineering facilities, at the Federal Reserve. During the selection process, building owners and facilities managers need to decide in advance how they want their facilities to appear – whether a carpet must look brand new or consistently maintained for high quality, or whether it will be allowed to ugly out before it is replaced. The industry has tests that measure how the surface of the yarn changes due to traffic, a part of uglying out.

To help predict how a particular carpet will perform in terms of appearance retention, interior designers often visit their clients’ current buildings to analyze their work habits, corporate culture, and general cleanliness. “One of the things that I do when we’re doing a new space for a client is I always go and look at the old space first. [I] look at people’s offices and see how many coffee stains are on their floor,” says Cathy Jones, a designer at New York City-based HLW.

Adds Ruth Jansson, IIDA, an associate at Gensler, Washington, D.C. “One of the questions I ask is, ‘How long is the lease? If it’s a 10-year lease, the occupant will probably be willing to spend more money in the beginning for carpeting. But if it’s a three-year lease, the tenants know they are not going to stay long and they want the most inexpensive carpet they can get away with.”

Bates concurs with this assessment, noting that trends in style and color are factors, too. “Here’s an interior design question,” he says. “Even if you got carpet to look good forever, how long before burnt orange, lime green, or mauve are out of style?”

While some facilities, such as media companies, are defined by trendy interior design, other facilities thrive on classic interiors. Since timeless design relies on neutral colors and looks good for a long time, facilities managers with cutting-edge designs in their buildings must factor in that these interiors will become dated sooner and need to be modernized.
For facilities that have an interior design that will not change much over time, replaceability is another performance-related issue. Keiser encourages facilities managers who will be using the same carpet in their facilities for long periods of time to choose manufacturers that will guarantee to produce a particular color or style choice for a set period.

Additionally, a wider selection of patterning and textures in carpet selection helps mask wear patterns and stains. “Remember: Carpet is the largest textile in a facility. It drives everything else,” says Jones. The sophisticated use of color, patterning, and texture can greatly enhance the aesthetics of a commercial interior.

High Maintenance
Nothing helps a carpet ugly out fast like a poor, inconsistent maintenance program. Asperger believes if facilities and design professionals choose the correct carpet for a particular area – factoring in the right yarn system, proper carpet construction, and patterning – and the carpet still fails, the failure is probably due to improper maintenance. “The owner has to commit to a maintenance program that will enable carpet to perform,” cautions Asperger.

Roundtable participants agreed that there needs to be a major overhaul in how facilities managers view the importance of maintenance. Unfortunately, many noted, carpet is often neglected when it comes to maintenance because it forgives a lack of maintenance longer than other flooring options. “There is a rough rule of thumb that, in 10 years, your maintenance costs are going to run what you’ve paid for the building,” explains Keiser.

“If we’re saying that maintenance is such a critical issue, then I believe there are ways to incorporate that into a specification as well,” says Tim Pierse, market manager, DuPont, Kennesaw, GA. Following the proper maintenance procedures recommended by carpet manufacturers is a crucial part of extending the life of a product. The Federal Reserve, for example, had their in-house maintenance staff trained by the manufacturers that supplied their carpet to ensure long-lasting, good results.

Carpet backing and cushioning also play a crucial part in appearance retention. In fact, noted roundtable participants, carpet created with the proper composite technology can be revived with an aggressive maintenance program if it has been neglected. In addition to helping carpet maintain its appearance despite heavy traffic, cushioning provides improved comfort for end-users.

The measurable ergonomic advantages derived from cushioning translate into improved worker productivity. According to roundtable participants, the facilities management community needs more information on the bottom-line benefits of carpet cushioning and end-user contentment. According to Jane E. Gustafson, ASID, NCIDQ, interiors department manager at URS Corp., Washington, D.C., “As a designer-specifier, [I believe] there needs to be more flexibility on the part of manufacturers to produce the proper carpet needed for a specific project. We have books and books [about carpet products] in our library, and half of it is all the same.”

Participants also recommended forming a partnership between design and facilities professionals and carpet mills to create successful projects. Pierse encouraged specifiers to address performance in terms of measurable, largely generic, characteristics. He noted the following example: Testing by CRI addresses durability or anti-microbial properties.

Sample This
One point the roundtable participants focused on was the importance of the Web for gathering interior products information. Beyond delivering up-to-date product characteristics, some Internet-based companies are offering the design community a wealth of options.

For example, at Durham, NC-based BlueBolt Networks its creators are establishing a new industry standard. “We are creating a standard by which imagery will be digitally represented and we are creating a standard for the text for the search attributes that coordinate with these images,” says Al Kabus, president and CEO, BlueBolt Networks, Atlanta.

Adds Jeffery Sears, chief operating officer, BlueBolt Networks, “We are industry neutral. That’s important to the brands/suppliers and the design community. There is no agenda other than helping people work at a more productive rate, more effectively.” These new Internet companies allow interior designers and facilities professionals to streamline the process of selecting interior products by viewing a vast database of interior finishes, requesting samples, and sharing storyboards on-line.

“[At BlueBolt], the process of ordering sample boards is extremely intuitive and melds with the way designers work today,” says Michelle Moore, director of market development, BlueBolt Networks, Atlanta. The application is scheduled to launch at the end of March at (

The Buck Stops Here
A carpet is only as good as its installation. This message was a hot button among roundtable participants. Facilities professionals stressed the importance of ease of installation and limiting employee disruption when choosing carpet options. Adds Charlie House, project manager, engineering/facilities at the Federal Reserve, “With carpet tile, we can get more done with a lot less disruption, a lot less angst and gnashing of teeth, a lot less people coming to me and saying their offices weren’t put back properly.” Facilities managers need to also consider indoor air quality issues, such as off-gassing from adhesives during and after installation.

Another important part of performance guidelines is choosing a certified installer. The Floor Covering Installation Board (FCIB) offers a two-year certification on installation performance, and Kansas City, MO-based International Certified Floorcovering Installers (CFI) also has a hands-on certification program (information that can also be obtained through CRI). “I know price is important, but you have to look at the total cost. If you get somebody who doesn’t understand the manufacturer and installs your facilities’ carpet the way he did the last job, you may have a problem,” says Welsh. To avoid installation mishaps, facilities managers are increasingly encouraging installers to work with carpet manufacturers or dealers.

Of course, having specially trained installers does not solve all installation issues. “I’ve had a lot of problems where the contractor comes on the job and he’s got his own installer he wants to use,” says Jones. This is one of the common battles that plagues those involved in selecting carpet options. Adds Keiser, “It goes back to who’s paying the bills. The people paying the bills are the ones who have to tell this guy, ‘This is what we want, and this is how it’s going to be done.’”

Although it places more of a burden on the facilities professional, Keiser encourages facilities managers to consider the whole life-cycle of carpet. Consider the cost of quality carpet and quality carpet installation over the long haul, not merely first cost. By carefully evaluating product characteristics, installation techniques, and space usage up front, facilities professionals can reduce the chance of carpet failure. One point that the participants returned to again and again is the need for increased communication and partnerships. “The facilities manager, the owner, the design firm, the architectural firm, and the manufacturer have to be partners. Once you turn [a project] over to somebody else, who is going to determine what he thinks you want based on cost, you become the lamb led to slaughter,” says Welsh.

As a group of partners, concerned parties can develop an understanding of a particular space’s needs and form an useful criteria – a consensus – for selecting high-performance carpet.

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