CARPETS & Flooring:
In selecting flooring material, many schools choose carpet because it helps cut down on noise, reduces glare, cushions slip and falls, and provides a soft surface for younger children to sit on when playing and learning. Some types of resilient floor coverings such as vinyl composite tile, terrazzo tile and linoleum are also used in schools, often in high traffic areas where noise levels are not important. Some other considerations should also come into play when flooring choices are made. Schools should choose surfaces and products that have low chemical emissions, that are less susceptible to moisture/mold problems that can lead to health issues for building occupants and that require the least toxic cleaning and maintenance products. Both up-front and long-term costs, including maintenance requirements and product durability, should also be considered during the flooring selection process.
New flooring can be a source of chemical emissions. Flooring materials, padding and adhesives often emit volatile organic compounds (VOCs) during installation and for long periods of time afterward. Some VOCs are odorous, irritating or toxic. Exposure to VOCs can cause eye, nose, throat and skin irritation, headaches, shortness of breath or cough, new or worsening asthma and fatigue. Long-term exposure can damage the liver, kidneys and central nervous system and even lead to cancer. Schools purchasing new flooring should ask retailers for information to help them select lower emitting materials. The Carpet and Rug Institute (CRI) rates flooring and related products using a Green Label certification for products it considers acceptable, i.e., those that have been tested and passed emissions criteria.
Schools should request that installers follow the Carpet and Rug Institute's installation guidelines. During renovations, flooring installation should be scheduled when the space is unoccupied. Flooring materials that come in rolls should be unrolled and aired out in a clean, well-ventilated area for 2-3 days before installation Only low-emitting adhesives should be used and in the least amount required by manufacturer’s specifications. The area should be ventilated with fresh air to help reduce chemicals released during flooring installation. Doors and windows should be open. Window fans, local exhausts and air conditioning should all be on to exhaust fumes outdoors HVAC systems should be running during installation and for at least 48-72 hours afterwards.
After installation, schools should follow either the manufacturer's instructions for proper floor maintenance or those developed by the Carpet and Rug Institute. Improper or deferred cleaning and maintenance of flooring can lead to serious air quality problems.. Vinyl is subject to mold and mildew when water pools below it. Carpet can act as a trap and retain dirt, as well as many types of allergens and chemicals that are associated with health problems. A number of pollutants that are associated with respiratory illnesses (dust mites, mold, mildew, pesticides) are captured by and may grow in carpeting. With proper and frequent vacuuming, these pollutants are removed from the indoor environment before they become airborne or are tracked to other parts of the building. However, when carpets and other flooring are not cleaned and maintained properly, pollutants build up and get recirculated back into the air.
The following practices for dealing with flooring issues are proven to promote cleaner and healthier school environments:
- Use entry mat systems (walk-off mats and grills) at building entrances
- Do not install carpeting in areas that cannot be properly maintained
- Do not install carpeting where there is constant moisture (drinking fountains, sinks, showers and pools) or on concrete slab
- Clean up spills or pools of water on smooth-surface flooring as soon as possible
- Clean and dry spills on carpets within 24 hours
- Use HEPA vacuums
- Move desks, tables and chairs at least weekly to allow the entire floor to be cleaned
- Make sure areas are well ventilated after cleaning of carpets or damp mopping of floors by opening windows, doors and using exhaust fans. Be careful not to over wet or soak carpet with liquid cleaning or rinse solutions so that the carpet can quickly dry and be back in service in just a few hours.
- Perform floor stripping and finishing, heavy duty carpet cleaning, etc., only when facilities are vacant, preferably during summer vacation or over extended holiday breaks when buildings can be properly ventilated before children and staff return.
QUESTIONS & ANSWERS:
Question: How often should carpets be cleaned?
Answer: The Carpet and Rug Institute (CRI) suggests the following carpet cleaning schedule:
- Heavy traffic areas (entrances, student break areas, classrooms, congested areas, and main passageways) should be vacuumed after every school day.
- Light to medium traffic areas (conference rooms, administrative offices, auditoriums, media centers, break areas, limited access areas, and classrooms with limited use) should be vacuumed every other day.
CRI also recommends frequent deep cleaning of carpeting to remove pollutant residues and trapped soils. They recommend good ventilation as part of the cleaning process, making sure doors are open and air is circulating for rapid drying. They suggest allowing six to eight hours after cleaning to ensure that the carpet is completely dry.
Question: What is an entry mat system and why is it important?
Answer: An entry mat system is a series of walk-off mats and grills that are designed to remove dirt and other contaminants from shoes when people enter the building. Entry mat systems trap soil, chemicals and moisture that would otherwise be spread throughout the building. They also reduce building maintenance costs and contribute to better IAQ. Grit tracked onto smooth-surface flooring can grind away the protective finish and water is a slipping hazard. Carpets can become loaded with pollutants and moisture, reducing the life of the carpet and potentially leading to air quality problems.
Question: What flooring problems have you found during a school walkthrough inspection?
Answer: During our first walkthrough at our school, we foundcracked and flaking asbestos tiles in several classrooms. We also discovered that hallway carpeting that needed to be removed throughout the building was covering asbestos tiles. Removing the carpeting required asbestos abatement.
Our TfS Team found a classroom bookcase filled with moldy books. This turned out to be a floor care issue as well as a mold problem. The custodian had used too much liquid when he washed and waxed the vinyl tile floor during summer vacation. Moisture wicked up into the bookcase and was helped by the high humidity that summer to produce a moldy mess.
Asthma Regional Council of New England Health Considerations When Choosing School Flooring:
Asthma Regional Council of New England Characteristics of School Flooring Materials:
Carpet and Rug Institute website:
EPA Design TfS section on Selecting Flooring:
EPA TfS Coordinator’s Guide Section 3 – Model IAQ Management Plan: