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Specifying and Caring for Specialty Flooring

Oct. 1, 2009

Learn the basics on linoleum, cork, bamboo, and more

There’s a growing interest in installing environmentally friendly flooring materials. Choosing the right type (and caring for these specialty floors) may be a challenge, however, if you’re not equipped with the facts. Keep this helpful information on hand when considering specialty flooring for your buildings.

One type of specialty flooring, linoleum, is experiencing renewed popularity. It’s made of renewable raw materials – linseed oil, cork powders, tree resin, wood flour, and clay pigments, with jute backing. Linoleum has been around for decades (remember it in your grandmother’s kitchen?), but recent improvements in the manufacturing process, installation, and maintainability – and its performance in commercial and industrial installations – are significant.

Linoleum is relatively easy to maintain (as long as it’s kept well polished to avoid scuff marks), and it provides a quiet, warm, cushioned surface underfoot. Add to this a lengthy life-cycle, inherent coloration, and good durability, and it’s clear that linoleum presents a good flooring option for many environments.

Expert Advice

Use these tried-and-true tips when specifying and maintaining specialty flooring:

  • Always follow the manufacturer’s suggestions when maintaining specialty flooring. Too often, flooring goes down and those responsible for the maintenance don’t get the right information, and in-house, off-the-shelf products and equipment are used. The right cleaners, polishes, etc. are generally very affordable, and there is no reason to substitute and jeopardize the flooring warranty.
  • With regard to using water to clean the floors, less is more.
  • If you don’t have the budget to maintain the flooring through its life, pick a different item. A product should fulfill another purpose besides beauty. For example, cork is a rich-looking product, and it’s also a natural insulator and can warm up a room in appearance and minimize the transference of cold through a slab.

Cork is a pure, natural material that doesn’t out-gas or shed microfibers, thus causing no negative impact to indoor air quality (IAQ). It comes from a tree commonly known as the Cork Oak – its bark splits naturally every 9 to 15 years and can be safely harvested, causing no harm to the tree. The bark regrows, and the cycle continues for many years; some trees have been known to continue producing for 250 to 500 years.

Cork flooring is not only warm to walk on and extremely quiet, with natural sound-absorbing qualities, but also hypoallergenic and naturally resistant to mold and mildew. Installation is similar to that of hardwood flooring, and cork flooring can be finished off with urethane, vinyl, wax, or oil.

Assumed by many to be a byproduct of trees, bamboo is actually a fast-growing grass. Since it matures from sprouting to harvesting in 3 to 5 years, an acre of bamboo can provide significantly more flooring materials than an acre of trees. And when bamboo shoots are cut, the roots remain intact – so bamboo’s growth is cyclical.

Bamboo is an attractive alternative to hardwood: It’s eco-friendly, flame resistant, dimensionally stable, harder than many popular wood flooring species, and more impervious to moisture. Sold in planks, bamboo flooring is installed much like engineered hardwood floors – it can either be nailed or glued down, or floated over a wide variety of sub-floors.

There are many other materials that can be used for flooring, including fibers like seagrass, coir, jute, and sisal, all derived from natural and renewable resources. All of these come with latex backing (synthetic or natural), making them usable in heavy-traffic areas.

Another major consideration for designers and facilities managers where the manufacture, assembly, or use of sensitive electronic components is ongoing is the installation of electrostatic discharge (ESD) flooring. The transfer of even imperceptible static electric charges can damage memory chips or micro-circuitry, with the potential for rendering millions of dollars’ worth of equipment inoperative.

Manufacturers and users of computers, photocopying machines, medical instruments, communications, and defense-related equipment face this concern on a daily basis. ESD flooring – like vinyl, epoxy, carpet, and rubber – grounds static charges from the human body to the earth before they can damage sensitive equipment or create a disastrous spark in a highly flammable area. This ensures that body voltage potentials are kept at very low levels.

Randall D. Weis is president at Port Chester, NY-based RD Weis Companies.

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