Balancing Act

By Jolene Mudri | September/October 2023 Issue | MCD Magazine

Durability and maintenance top the list of concerns for designers specifying flooring within healthcare environments. There are multiple intertwined variables to balance – material health, embodied carbon reduction, cost, longevity, and aesthetics, among others. However, the ability to meet stringent cleaning requirements can take practical precedence. So, too, does the required dependability of a floor that will be used around the clock. Flooring materials need to prevent the growth and spread of bacteria, and they need to be the workhorses of a facility.

The following trends represent a progressive shift in the industry as demand diversifies available offerings and advancing technology continues bridging the gap between the potential of material and its physical reality in the marketplace.

Trend #1: Updates to resilient tile

Healthcare designers have long been turning away from carpets and moving toward more resilient options like luxury vinyl tile. In high-traffic facilities like hospitals, LVT’s resistance to scratches, liquids and stains offers major advantages, and its cleanability and versatility only more so.

Resilient tile selections have evolved. Tile that is between 4.5 and 5 mm thick – thick enough to match carpet height for a smooth transition – was popular for a timely but this extra height requires extra material at an extra cost.

As carpet is specified less and less, designers are returning to a regular gauge of 3 mm. Because of this, environmental service crews no longer need to switch between vacuums and mops and can work faster and more efficiently across a single floor type. The wear layer of the tile has also decreased because of improved ingredients that heighten durability.

There is a growing demand for thinner resilient tile, particularly for tile made to look like carpet. Available visuals have drastically improved in the last year, so these offerings now live up to their promise and do provide the illusion of carpet. This is a strong option for those who want to soft warmth of a carpet appearance combined with the durability and cleanability of the resilient tile.

Another trend in the tile selection is a shift away from micro-beveled tile. Bevels can trap dirt, making cleaning and infection control more difficult. Unbeveled square edges, on the other hand, create a smooth, seamless look while potentially simplifying installation. For example, if there is an intricate design, any tiles cut to match a pattern or color change cannot be modified to a beveled edge within the field. Specifying an unbeveled edge on the resilient tile for this type of installation will create a consistent condition throughout.

One caveat to this material selection is that resilient tile has PVC plasticizers in it. The presence of these substances, neither eco-friendly nor healthy, works against green initiatives.

Trend #2: Visual neutrality

Flooring can remain in place for years, if not decades. With this longevity in mind, designers are choosing to express trends through other surfaces. More visually stimulating touches or trendy selections that might overstay their welcome if installed for 15 years are moving to spaces that are painted or otherwise refreshed on a more regular basis. This allows clients to receive the full value of an enduring flooring selection without limiting the ability to update a space’s aesthetics.

What this means for flooring is that larger swaths of color are increasingly chosen over intricate patterns. Flooring is a key surface in medical environments, and neutral colors or more sedate patterns can contribute to an overall sense of calm.

Trend #3: Large-format, even larger

Large-format porcelain tiles have been popular for a long time, but technological advancements have now made them available in even larger sizes. Larger tiles translate to fewer butt joints, which simplifies cleaning. This environmentally friendly material, low in porosity and therefore resistant to microbial growth and staining, will continue to grow in popularity in its larger offering.

There are many, varied demands on flooring in healthcare settings. In the push for greater durability and simpler maintenance of flooring selections, designers are increasingly choosing thinner resilient tiles, neutral patterns, and even larger large-format porcelain tiles.

In every instance, selection is a delicate balancing act, and design teams need to research through several lenses to validate choices for individual clients.

About the author: Jolene Mudri, NCIDQ, IIDA, LEED AP, is a senior project manager, senior associate at Perkins & Will. 

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Written by Anne Holden