The day a school opens its doors for the first time, the flooring will be new and untarnished. When the flooring is in such pristine condition, many flooring materials—carpeting, vinyl, terrazzo, wood or some other surface—will look good.
But school and university planners who decide what kind of material covers the floors of their facilities have to be able to see into the future and visualize what the surface will look like after thousands of students have trampled across it each day, after it has been mopped or scrubbed or vacuumed hundreds of times, after it has endured the cycle of seasons and the ups and downs of temperature and humidity.
Before choosing the type of flooring for a specific space in an education facility, school officials have to determine whether a surface is compatible with the function of a space, whether it is durable enough to stand up to heavy use by students, whether an institution’s staff has the training and time to clean and maintain the flooring properly, and whether flooring will affect the health and safety of students and staff.
Carpeting isn’t appropriate for every area in a school facility, but for classrooms and libraries, a carpeted surface can improve acoustics and provide added comfort, especially in spaces where young children will be sitting on the floor frequently.
To avoid indoor air quality problems, schools should make sure that carpet is installed properly and cleaned effectively. Some carpet may emit potentially harmful volatile organic compounds (VOCs), especially when it is newly installed. Education institutions should choose low-VOC carpets, and should install carpet when students will not be present. The Collaborative for High Performance Schools (CHPS) recommends that installation take place at least two weeks before a school is occupied.
The area that has been carpeted should be aired out for 72 hours, CHPS urges, to enable emissions from the carpeting to dissipate.
Once installed, a carpet has to be cleaned regularly to prevent dirt, allergens and other unwanted material from accumulating.
"If kept very clean from the time it is installed, carpet can trap a significant amount of particles, which can be removed through regular and effective vacuuming," the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says in its IAQ Design Tools for Schools. "However, inadequate maintenance can allow large quantities of dust and debris to build up in carpet."
The Carpet & Rug Institute recommends several ways to maintain carpets effectively:
•Soil containment: isolation of soil entering the building using walkoff mats at entrances.
•Vacuuming: the frequency should be determined by the amount of traffic an area has. Typical high-traffic areas are entrances, hallways, break rooms, cafeterias, corridors, elevator lobbies, stairways, main aisles and waiting areas. Moderate-traffic areas may include secondary aisles, research areas, conference rooms, classrooms and atriums. Light-traffic areas are offices, cubicles, storage rooms and executive areas.
•Spot and spill removal using professional spot-removal techniques.
•Restorative cleaning: deep cleaning to remove residues and trapped soils.
Schools can reduce replacement costs by using carpet tile. Small sections of damaged or wornout carpet can be replaced instead of an entire carpet.