As facilities enter the 21st century, trends and concerns are coming into focus regarding housekeeping, and this is certainly true in the area of hard-floor care. Housekeeping managers continued to grapple with a range of specification, installation and cleaning issues that seem certain to only grow even more complex.
The foundation of any floor-care program is training on such issues as cost, budgeting, ease of maintenance, health and environmental concerns, safety, appearance, and prolonging the life of the floors.
The maintenance programs that housekeeping managers develop and implement for hard-surface floors are dictated in large part by the type of flooring used in their facilities. A closer look at the types of hard flooring in use today and the challenges related to keeping them clean and looking good demonstrates the challenges facing managers responsible for these tasks.
A range of materials
Hard-surface floors are more popular in commercial and institutional facilities because they are becoming easier and less costly to maintain. Flooring types such as concrete, ceramic tile and stone are widely used, as are resilient tile, vinyl sheet goods and wood floors.
An increasing number of facilities also are using specialty flooring, such as laminates, exotic and lighter wood, as well as engineered wood, and poured floors and coatings, such as epoxies, rubber, and even leather floors.
Regardless of floor type that is used, the first consideration for managers in developing a hard-floor care plan should be to obtain maintenance guidelines from manufacturers and distributors, for the floor coverings in their facilities. This information should be incorporated into written floor- care procedures. These floor maintenance guidelines also can then be used to more effectively train and guide employees.
Managers also can develop a filing system for this information with use of computer software, if desired. This filing system would make any information needed for maintenance of any floor surface in their facilities available to cleaners.
Managers have to take many issues into account when specifying flooring and ensuring its appearance, regardless of flooring type. For example, unique, specialized areas can dictate specification of floor coverings and maintenance procedures. In hospitals and health-care facilities, safety and sanitation concerns take precedence over other considerations.
Traditionally, surgery units have required seamless resilient flooring that is designed with electrostatic discharge capabilities to reduce the risk of explosion as a result of a buildup of static electricity in the floor. And in recent years, facilities also have taken significant steps to reduce the risk of such explosions by ensuring less exposure of flammable gases in operating rooms.
Vinyl sheet flooring has fewer seams than vinyl tiles, reducing the chance for mildew and bacteria growth between tiles. For this reason, vinyl-sheet flooring is recommended for patient rooms, restrooms and other areas where there is frequent contact with moisture and bacteria.
In health-care facilities, schools, colleges, offices or factories, resilient floors continue to be widely used floor coverings. A wider selection of vinyl composition tile (VCT) includes an array of patterns and styles that allow for installations that are tailored to an organization’s or institution’s unique tastes and needs.
Cleanability, as well as a high-gloss shine resulting from the application of floor finish and periodic buffing, give VCT flooring an advantage in appearance not available with some of the other hard-surface floors.
Resilient floors, including VCT and vinyl sheet flooring, can enable specifiers to select unique artistic designs in surfaces, whether it is displaying a corporate logo or creating an integral piece of an overall fashion and design theme in entrances, halls, and other common-use areas in facilities.
Resilient floors, such as rubber and vinyl, are widely used in sports facilities such as gymnasiums, locker rooms, and workout and weight rooms. As its name implies, resilient flooring is softer and more resilient, and it can help create better footing, which is helpful in reducing injuries from slip and fall accidents.
Linoleum, another type of resilient flooring, is coming back into vogue. Linoleum is a compressed and cured mixture of linseed oil, wood flour and other components. Linoleum has been updated in recent years, and now it is often used commercially in offices and meeting rooms.
Modern linoleum is softer and easier to work with, and it is heat weldable at seams. Since it is manufactured from linseed oil and other natural products, linoleum often is viewed as a more environmentally friendly product.
Another trend in floor coverings in recent years is use of natural-like products that are environmentally safer, both in regard to indoor air quality (IAQ) and in disposal concerns.
Leather tiles fit into this category. Leather is a unique, specialized floor covering that can be installed in such rooms as executive offices, conference rooms, and museums, as well as some specialty retail stores.
Leather floor tiles are available in a variety of colors, styles, textures, sizes and thicknesses. Leather floors require minimal maintenance — such as the occasional use of special waxes and coatings — and if maintained according to manufacturer’s specifications, they reportedly last for years.
Indoor air issues
Along with the desire within facilities for more natural and environmentally friendly building materials, IAQ has grown as a concern among managers in the last two decades. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has shown that IAQ is affected by a lack of refreshed or clean air free of chemicals and gases, as wall as mold and bacteria that can be carried by airborne particulates.
Facility flooring plays a role in this complex area. IAQ improves when hard-surface floors are maintained with a program that includes daily sweeping, cleaning and maintenance that allows dust particles to be captured and removed from the indoor environment.
By contrast, housekeeping departments too often allow carpet and rugs to act as sponges that retain dust, mold, and mildew, and in some cases, they can contribute to off-gassing from the chemical components in carpet fibers.
More natural options
Another family of natural floors includes concrete, stone and ceramic. Concrete floors might not be as comfortable to work on as resilient floors, since the hard surface adds to fatigue. Concrete floors typically are installed in warehouses, garages, locker rooms and facility hallways.
Depending on usage, cleaning crews can use a number of coatings and sealers on concrete floors. The trend today is to avoid using low-end sealers on concrete because they must be reapplied on a frequent basis.
More durable coatings contain epoxy and acrylic and can be either clear or colored, and they can last for years, depending on usage and maintenance.
Another option is to apply a silicate-based penetrating sealer, which hardens and adds density to the floor surface. Silicate-based sealers are less glossy than acrylic coatings, but they can require less maintenance in the long run and tend to perform well for managers interested in a low-maintenance program.
Natural stone floors, such as marble and granite, continue to be popular due to their lasting durability. These floor materials can be polished to a high gloss and come in a number of different colors and varieties.
Other stone floors in common use are slate and flagstone. These floors use a softer type of stone, which have a tendency to create dust under foot traffic. Using a penetrating sealer as recommended by the manufacturer can be useful in preventing both stains and soiling problems.
Terrazzo is basically a poured cement floor that contains marble or granite chips, and it comes in a variety of thicknesses and construction types. Terrazzo continues to be popular among many types of facilities because of its durability and its attractive and polished appearance.
Ceramic tile floors have grown steadily in market share over the last decade, due to the greater availability of colors and styles, and because of the low maintenance they require. Unlike resilient floors, some ceramic tile, such as the glazed type, don’t require repeated applications of floor finish and buffing to maintain an acceptable shine. Thus, departments can avoid the old "strip and refinish" cycle, keeping costs for labor and supplies low.
In many facilities, ceramic tile floors have replaced resilient coverings due to the savings of maintenance, and the durability and attractiveness of the product. Ceramic tile floors are increasingly popular in lobbies, hallways, lunchrooms and restrooms. Quarry tile is a ceramic tile that is frequently used in many facilities, especially in areas such as kitchens, restrooms and walkways.
Stone and ceramic floor products have their own manufacturer’s recommended care and maintenance requirements, which should be incorporated into the overall daily maintenance program.
The growth of wood
Recent years have seen a surge in the popularity of wood floors, especially engineered-wood products. Since natural-looking products are in fashion, wood and laminate floors are being installed in a growing number of facilities.
Manufacturers have developed new coating systems for wood that significantly improve its surface strength. And more stains are available to add design variety, which fits with the preferred natural look of the environmental movement.
The introduction of more exotic and lighter woods, such as bamboo, has led to a need for more than the usual knowledge on wood-floor maintenance. That is why it is helpful to check in with floor-covering retailers occasionally for available options in commercial product lines.
Finally, laminate floors are becoming more popular as product development has improved their wear and moisture-resistance qualities. Laminates are resistant to stains, never need refinishing and come in a variety of natural-looking colors and styles. Laminate floors are made partly of wood byproducts, and manufacturers have improved warranties of commercial rated laminates.
Having surfaces that reduce slip-and-fall injuries should be a primary component of any floor-care program. According to the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), more than 1 million people are injured each year from slips and falls, and more than 12,000 people die annually from slip-and-fall related injuries.
Understanding the causes of slip-and-fall incidents and helping to prevent them must take into account proper specification of floor coverings, as well as appropriate preventive maintenance procedures.
The ideal time to consider floor-covering issues, such as cost, product life, ease of maintenance and safety, is during the design phase of a facility. Designers and specifiers play a crucial role in determining the most appropriate floor coverings, including those for unique specialized areas with maintenance and slip-resistance concerns.
Manufacturers of floor coverings have developed products that are designed to provide facilities with slip-resistance features. For example, slip-resistant vinyl flooring is specifically designed for traction and safety and is manufactured with a textured surface layer that might include chips of a mild abrasive material, such as aluminum oxide.
Existing floors, such as concrete and some resilient flooring, also can improve slip-resistance qualities by application of monolithic floor coatings, such as epoxies, urethane and polymer-based products.