Healthcare Facilities Solutions February, 2012 -
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Flooring Products Selection for Medical Practices

Selecting appropriate flooring for a medical practice can be an overwhelming task with today’s marketplace options.  Varying classifications of medical facilities & projects which consist of an array of clinical applications and support areas can complicate the process.  This highlights how important it is to make flooring selections based upon application and tasks in a space on a room by room basis.  Consideration to durability, cost, aesthetics, infection control & access for wheelchairs/walkers all need to be taken into account in the evaluation of materials.  As well, ease of maintenance and environmental impact should be weighed heavily to promote environmental stewardship.

There are generally 4 types of flooring commonly seen in medical offices.  There are as follows:  carpet (tile or broadloom), VCT (vinyl composition tile or a version there of), sheet vinyl or vinyl tile, and ceramic tile.  There are many offshoots from the category of sheet vinyl & vinyl tile with the trend focusing on renewable materials and environmental impact.  Some of those materials are linoleum & rubber.

Since application should drive the initial consideration for material selection, it is important to understand the tasks performed in any given area.  Often, waiting rooms, private offices and
(depending on the type of practice/facility) hallways will be specified as carpet.  It provides exceptional acoustics in a space as well as aesthetic opportunity.  Dye methods and fiber content are critical items to consider when evaluating carpets.  Solution dyed yarn is the preferable characteristic in a carpet that will be able to maintain its integrity in a medical application.  Solution dyeing is a yarn coloration process in which pigment is added to the polymer melt before the fiber is extruded into yarn. The color, therefore, is an inherent part of the yarn itself.  Although solution dyeing does not offer as wide a color selection as other dye methods, its colors are the most permanent. Solution dyed yarn is highly resistant to color loss through fading from sunlight, ozone, or harsh cleaning agents and bleach. The solution dyeing process is, in addition, environmentally friendly and efficient, using little water or energy.  The decision of tile versus broadloom also needs to be evaluated.  Broadloom is a more cost effective solution initially, but if it is a high use area where staining or heavy traffic is prevalent, tile may make more sense in the long run for ease of replacement. Ultimately carpet tile becomes the more cost effective solution. 

VCT is very commonly seen in practices as the initial cost is very low compared to other materials and budget often is the key driving decision factor.  Many times it is utilized in main corridors and clinical areas.  VCT tile is generally composed of vinyl resin, plasticizers, stabilizers, processing aids, fillers and pigments.  Limestone, an abundant natural resource, can contribute to as much as 85% of VCT's content.  The downside to the product in medical practices is that it requires a lot of cleaning and waxing maintenance to keep presentable and does not perform well where there is water or spills often leading to tile “pops” and/or cracking since it is inherently porous.   The initial cost suddenly becomes a considerable investment when projected out over the course of 10+ years in a space of any size.  There are alternatives on the market such as quartz tile which is harder and does not require the level of maintenance that the basic VCT option does but falls into the price point level of VCT.  A study of life cycle costs of VCT versus the alternatives of vinyl, rubber, or linoleum should always be performed.  If done, generally for any project of long term projection, the following alternates make more sense.

Vinyl, rubber, & linoleum options are generally offered in sheet, plank and tile formats.  These are the products that will often be utilized in exam rooms or other clinical areas as infection control and resistance to water & chemical agents are generally more of a concern.  Any flooring which does not have either heat or chemically welded seams does allow for crevices for bacteria/germs to reside or water to penetrate to the subfloor.  To answer that concern, many flooring products are now being offered with a chemical property inherent to them that stunts the growth of any bacteria or organisms at an additional cost.  Regardless, unwelded seams are opportunity for infection.   Often plank or tile is utilized in standard exam rooms where the routine is non-invasive check ups and sheet products w/ welding is utilized in labs and/or procedure rooms significantly reducing the risk of infection where more invasive procedures are performed.  The plank & tile versions are considerable less cost to install.  The aesthetic opportunities utilizing by all these products are really limitless but clients do need to be educated to understand the initial investment is more considerable but many of these products require very little maintenance offsetting the cost.  Environmental aspects are also driving factors.  Vinyl is a man made product where linoleum and rubber are natural products.  Establishing a client’s environmental perspective on renewable natural materials will help guide the selection process as this also affects cost where natural is often more costly.

Porcelain tile is the last of the common commercial flooring categories prevalently seen in today’s medical practices and it often used in lobby areas, hallways, and restroom areas.  Color body unglazed porcelain is often the recommended selection. It is homogenous in terms of its through-body coloration and can be offered in glazed or unglazed versions.  The color goes all the way through from top to bottom, so scratches or dings are less obvious and has better slip-resistance which is key concern in medical practices.  Glazed porcelain tiles may or may not have the same coloration from top to bottom because of the top glazed layer. Glazed porcelain tiles help seal the microscopic pores thus are easier to maintain than unglazed tiles. Because porcelain can be made to resemble stone, it is less porous and less prone to cracking than the natural stone alternatives which often need a sealer.

As you can see, the options are many and varied.  Having an experienced designer assisting in the selection process will ultimately save considerable time and thousands of dollars in the long run over the lifetime of a project/space.  Going into it with a healthy understanding of all the considerations is half the battle in choosing the right products to help a medical practice be successful and perform to expectations.

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