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    Making ground in the education sector

    Nicholas Rider

    Whether designing a day care, school or university, the choice of flooring can have a significant impact on the learning experience. But with so many flooring types on offer, how can designers find their footing?

    It is well-known that indoor air quality can interfere with a student’s – and particularly a child’s – health and learning. If statistics from flooring and walling company Altro are to be believed, we spend as much as 85 to 95 percent of our daylight hours indoors. It just so happens that this is exactly where the levels of VOCs and other pollutants is likely to be much higher than outdoors.

    “This is more important for children because they have higher metabolisms than adults and are more susceptible to the effects of indoor pollutants,” says Altro.

    The acoustics of a learning space is another important consideration that must be made by any designer embarking on such a project. This is of particular importance when we consider German research that found that “classrooms with reverberation times of less than 0.5 seconds lead to significantly less working stress amongst the teachers”.

    Excessive noise has also been linked to a reduced ability in students “to understand teachers’ spoken instructions and to absorb written information”, according to research conducted by Biamp Systems, an American AV company.

    It’s not enough to consider these elements in isolation. The health and acoustic properties of a flooring product must be considered in conjunction with a variety of other factors – for instance, aesthetics, durability and sustainability. It’s also important to understand the required functions of the space, which will inevitably differ from project to project.

    CARPET TILES

    This type of flooring is generally considered durable and easy to install, clean and replace. Considering their longevity and relatively low levels of maintenance, carpet tiles are suitable for education spaces that receive high traffic, and that are susceptible to dirt accumulation and spillages.

    In recent years, we’ve also seen a number of carpet tile manufacturers making efforts to improve the environmental footprint of their product. Some of these improvements have been in the makeup of the tile backing material – for example, the carpet tiles manufactured by Shaw Contract feature EcoWorx backing, which has been awarded the highest level of GECA certification and a Green Star ‘Level A’ product rating according to the Green Building Council of Australia. EcoWorx carpet tiles are 100 percent PVC and bitumen free and are backed with an environmental guarantee for reclamation and recycling.

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    The Mindful Play carpet tile collection from Shaw Contract uses 100 percent solution dyed Solution Q Extreme Nylon which has enhanced ability to resist soils and prevent acid-based stains

    Another example of carpet tiles that use sustainable backing is Carpets Inter EcoSoft available from Above Left. It is made from discarded PET water bottles and five percent recycled industrial PET. EcoSoft was specified by Australian architectural practice, Clarke Keller, in the design of Trinity Anglican College Senior School. The school in Thurgoona, NSW features 2585sqm of EcoSoft carpet tiles in three neutral shades. Ella Masters, project architect at Clarke Keller, says the product was chosen for its acoustic properties and under foot comfort. 

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    EcoSoft available from Above Left was specified by architects Clarke Keller in its design of Trinity Anglican College Senior School

    VINYL

    Another common pick for the education space is vinyl flooring. Similar to carpet tiles, vinyl is usually considered to be durable and easy to maintain. Vinyl is also often associated with safety flooring, which is an important consideration for high-traffic installations such as educational facilities where slip ratings are important.

    Karndean Designflooring’s Luxury Vinyl Tile (LVT), for instance, has achieved slip ratings of up to R12 and P4 wet pendulum, making it suitable for high-traffic areas including corridors, classrooms and laboratories. Karndean LVT is also fully certified to Ecospecifier Global GreenTag ratings, and achieves 100 percent compliance in the Vinyl Council Australia’s (VCA) Product Stewardship Program.

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    Karndean Designflooring's Luxury Vinyl Tile (LVT) is ideal for high traffic arreas including corridors, classrooms and laboratories 

    Another vinyl flooring product available for the education sector is Polysafe Verona from Polyflor, which is suitable for areas where wet spillages or trafficked moisture is a problem. The carborundum-free safety flooring features non-intrusive coloured quartz particles to generate the required friction to achieve foot-to-floor contact.

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    Polysafe Verona – a vinyl flooring product from Polyflor – features non-intrusive coloured quartz particles to generate the required friction to achieve foot to floor contact

    Ease of cleaning is vital, and Verona can be maintained via the application of the Polysafe PUR surface coating, that is composed of a cross-linked and UV-cured polymer that helps with the appearance retention.

    OTHER

    While carpet tiles and vinyl are popular choices for education, the options don’t end there.

    For example, Forbo Flooring’s Marmoleum is an authentic, natural floor made from 72 percent renewable raw materials and 43 percent recycled content. The Marmoleum production process is C02 neutral, PVC-free and uses 100 percent renewable electricity.

    John Wardle Architects (JWA) specified an “off-white, light concrete coloured Marmoleum” for their Melbourne School of Design project.

    “They have a really terrific colour range. It’s very subtle, especially in the white and grey [offerings],” says Jeff Arnold, interior designer at JWA.

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    John Wardle Architects specified Forbo Flooring's Marmoleum product for its Melbourne School of Design project 

    Another example of a flooring product for the education sector is Altro’s adhesive-free flooring. Adhesive-free means installation can be quick, letting everyone get back to normal with minimal interruption. Its unique formulation also allows the floor to lie flat and perform like a traditional adhered safety floor without the need for an adhesive and can be laid over existing sound substrates such as vinyl or tiles.

    No adhesive means that there are very few odours, which makes it suitable for environments such as kindergartens, schools and universities that have many people playing and working in them. In these environments, shutting down shop or installing noisy extractor fans is usually not an option.

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    Altro's adhesive-free flooring is quick to install, meaning minimal disruption for occupants of the building 

    There is no simple answer to what the most appropriate choice of flooring for the education space is, but taking into consideration health, acoustics, aesthetics, durability and sustainability – and the functions of the space – at least provides solid footing for designers to begin thinking about the most appropriate solution.

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