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The Three Biggest Trends Beneath Your Feet

How commercial flooring is addressing access, sustainability and hygiene

Adapting to the needs of smart and sustainable buildings means updating the flooring too. The most used part of any building, flooring can do more than be tread on. New trends in commercial flooring are bringing innovation to the ground beneath your feet, making it cheaper, more sustainable, and even turning flooring into part of the building’s infrastructure. 

Raised flooring

Often called access flooring or raised access computer flooring, this new type of flooring is elevated a few inches off the building’s slab, creating a void between the floors that can be used for mechanical and electrical infrastructure. Raised flooring uses geometric floor plates supported by columns that cables and pipes can pass through or around. The plates can raise the ground level between 6 inches and 4 feet, depending on how much mechanical and electrical equipment needs to be beneath the floor. Popularized in data centers, raised floors help to facilitate the cooling fluid flow between servers and cut down hazardous cord clutter. The perforated plates also augment HVAC efficiency by cooling computers sitting on the floor directly, distributing the cooled air through the vacuum-sealed floor instead of ducts in the ceiling. 

The technology is finally finding wider commercial applications in other facilities. Offices are filled with technology and devices, each comes with a cable or three. Basic raised floors can help offices create cable-free environments. Because they don’t add additional load on the structure, raised floors can be used for adaptive reuse and renovation projects to add more mechanical and electrical infrastructure to older building stock. Raised floor can even help with acoustics with the right dampening. 

Fewer cables mean better aesthetics, fewer hazards to trip over and more floor space to use. Cable management and digital clutter are problems that are only getting worse as buildings are stuffed with more sensors, monitors, and other forms of technology. As great as enabling better building and office management is, maintaining the aesthetics and convenience of the office is key. Prices vary on what type of raised floor is required. Basic raised flooring can run as cheap as $5 a square foot while more intricate raised floors, like those designed for data centers, can run as high as $30 a square foot. New applications in offices, education, and medical facilities are expected to push the globally raised floor market past $2 billion by 2026.  

Recycled floor 

The sustainable flooring market is becoming a smorgasbord of options. Phasing out environmentally unfriendly options like vinyl and petroleum-based carpets has never been easier. Sustainable flooring takes on many forms focused on being renewable, recyclable, responsibly made, and easy to maintain. Best of all, new sustainable flooring options are cost-effective. Cork flooring, made from the renewable bark of the cork oak tree can run as cheap as $1 a square foot. Linoleum made from linseed oil derived from flax plants is a tad more expensive but features a 25 to 40-year lifecycle. Bamboo flooring taps into the renewable and affordable aspect of one of the world’s fastest-growing plants. Hardwood flooring, while more expensive, is one of the most environmentally friendly types of flooring as long as it’s made from wood grown in forests certified by the Forest Stewardship Council. Carpet has even gone green, using natural fibers like wool, jute, and cotton that are 100 percent recyclable, helping to prevent the more than 3.5 billion pounds of carpet tossed into a landfill every year. 

Sustainable and eco-friendly flooring factors in a building’s LEED score. While the U.S. Green Building Council doesn’t certify building materials, flooring can add credit to an assets’ overall LEED application if it’s recycled, sourced locally, or made from low-emitting materials. To find sustainable flooring that could bolster a building’s LEED score, look for the Carpet & Rug Institutes’ Green Label Plus products. Better yet, make installation environmentally friendly by avoiding chemical-based wet glues that emit harmful pollutants. Dry adhesives that use pressure to bond the carpet to the slab also save time by avoiding curing and off-gassing periods. 

Modular carpet

Traditional carpet comes in giant rolls. Modular carpets break down those rolls into individual squares that are pieced together. Modular carpeting is already prolific throughout commercial real estate. There’s a good chance you’re on some right now. Modular carpet is particularly popular because it offers all the softness and sound dampening of carpet with far more customization. More design options with modular carpet mean offices and interior spaces can function better by visually designating certain areas, using different types of modular carpet for heavy traffic pathways, individual offices, conference rooms, and other spaces. Used almost exclusively in commercial settings, modular carpet wastes less material during installation and offers the ability to selectively replace stained carpet with ease. Instead of calling an outside vendor to come cut out the stain and replace the carpet, on-site staff can pop out a carpet tile and replace it with an unstained tile. 

The advantages of modular carpet were clear nearly 40 years ago when it began to sweep through the commercial market. Innovation is making modular carpets even more appealing. New shapes like planks, rectangles, and hexagons are broadening design horizons. Modular tiles are harnessing the capability of new tufting machines and better yarn dying to create more visually appealing designs. Flooring companies are adapting products to piece together carpet tile, hard surface, and broadloom flooring together seamlessly. The carpet itself is also becoming more advanced. In addition to being made from more sustainable sources, modular carpet is becoming more durable. 

The pandemic has put hygiene front of mind, leveling serious questions about carpet. Tile and hard surfaces are far easier to clean and trap less dirt and dust. To make carpet safer, modular tiles are using anti-microbial technology to protect against the growth of bacteria, mold, and mildew. Microban technology is embedded in the back and base of the carpet fiber, creating a sterile environment at the base of the carpet, where topical cleaning agents can’t reach. 

Flooring is one of the most important materials used in commercial settings. The right type of flooring caps out the functionality and safety of interior space. Bringing our offices into the 21st century requires us to make flooring work better for our needs. The commercial flooring industry has already laid the groundwork for the next 10 years of innovation. 

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