Specifying in the age of COVID-19

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By John McGrath

The International Standards and Training Alliance (INSTALL) is putting a greater emphasis on working hand-in-hand with commercial architects and designers to develop guidelines for specifying flooring throughout COVID-19 and beyond. While these rules mainly apply to health care facilities, they can be used in several commercial applications including hospitality settings, institutional design and more.

Following are five key considerations architects and designers need to keep in mind to ensure safe and healthy facilities and balancing aesthetics:

Compatibility with disinfectants: Ensure the finish or texture of the flooring
will not be ruined by disinfectants and cleaners that can kill surface bacteria. While the CDC recommends standard disinfectants or soap and water for general businesses and home environments, hospital-grade disinfectants are much stronger.

Cleanability and maintenance: Not only should flooring be able to stand up to disinfectants, it should be easy to clean quickly and efficiently multiple a times a day without disrupting operations or the need for special equipment.

Aesthetics: The goal in many health care environments is to make a facility look and feel like home so it is more comfortable for patients and visitors. The flooring should provide the right aesthetics to promote healing and create a restful and calm environment.

Porosity: Porous surfaces are a haven for germs and bacteria, including COVID-19. Contractors recommend non-porous or semi- porous sheet flooring that can be heat-welded or flash coved. Polished concrete and epoxy flooring provide a non-porous surface as well.

Facility benefits: Does the flooring provide the right benefits for the space? Factors to consider include acoustics, rolling loads, traction, long-term maintenance, replacement costs, etc.

While the above-mentioned considerations are intended to serve as general guidelines, specifiers are encouraged to work directly with each client to analyze the facility, patient and staff needs and identify the best combination of attributes for each specific project. There are a variety of challenges when specifying flooring in health care environments. It’s a major balancing act, but there are several ways specifiers can increase longevity and improve safety.

“You need to look at all of these best practices equally,” said DeAnn Richards, infection preventionist and ICRA consultant, North Central States Regional Council of Carpenters. “Every space is unique, and it’s important for architects and designers to lean on manufacturers and contractors to glean the most important information and look for cohesive product lines that allow you to achieve specific needs across the facility with one aesthetic.”

Once the product has been specified, experts say preventative maintenance over the lifespan of the installation is key. That’s where aligning with a reputable contractor comes in. “Contractors know and understand product durability, how to clean and maintain that product and how to install it in the safest way possible,” said Jayson Karas, ICRA facilitator, North Central States Regional Council of Carpenters. “Architects and designers should be good stewards of the flooring system they specify. They should share maintenance and cleaning practices directly from the manufacturer. After all, the manufacturers know what works best for their own flooring.”


John McGrath Jr. is executive director at INSTALL, the International Standards and Training Alliance. The association comprises professionals representing the entire flooring industry: installers, contractors, manufacturers, associations and consultants.

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Sept. 21, 2020

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