A Healthier Classroom Begins with a Healthier Floor

The quality of education and student wellness is linked to the design of the built environment. Floors play a significant role in supporting healthy educational environments. As a designer, I believe resilient flooring is an excellent choice for today’s classroom. Resilient flooring ranges from luxury vinyl tile and plank, homogeneous and heterogeneous sheet products, vinyl composition tile (VCT), rigid core tile and plank, linoleum sheet and tile, rubber sheet and tile, to cork tile flooring.

Historically, resilient flooring has been a high-performance mainstay in the primary, secondary and institutional educational space for a variety of reasons.

Resilient Is an Educational Favorite

Historically, resilient flooring has been a high-performance mainstay in the primary, secondary and institutional educational space for a variety of reasons. Products like sheet vinyl, solid vinyl tile, and rubber have long had a reputation for easy maintenance and cleanability, as well as affordability, durability, performance and aesthetics. In recent years, technology has enhanced the aesthetics of vinyl products while maintaining the required performance characteristics. As a result, luxury vinyl tile (LVT) and plank (LVP) products have added even more flooring options for educational designers and specifiers.

Easy to Clean and Maintain

Ease of cleaning includes the effective elimination of contaminants that can build up and settle to the floor, such as dust, dust mites, pollen, mold spores, and others. Advanced wear layers found on most resilient flooring products eliminate the necessity for environmental services staff to use harsh chemical solutions to properly clean. Typically, resilient floors only require being swept and damp mopped with a pH-neutral cleaner.

Resilient Flooring and COVID-19

In the last couple of years, disease-spreading pathogens like SARS-CoV-2, the virus responsible for the COVID-19 disease, have been a primary concern of educators for the health and safety of students and staff.  As schools are opening up and in-person learning is becoming the norm again across much of the U.S., the ease of cleanability and disinfection of resilient flooring makes it a preferred option.

There are several factors that designers should consider when specifying resilient flooring for educational projects. For flooring to be disinfected, the surface first requires cleaning and removal of debris. During the pandemic, based upon the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines, all public spaces, including schools, essentially come under the same infection prevention scrutiny for cleaning and disinfecting environmental surfaces as health-care settings. Resilient flooring can be easily cleaned and maintained in accordance with disinfection protocols. EPA List N is the reference document for registered products available that are effective against SARS-CoV-2 inactivation. It is crucial to test the disinfectant and follow the recommendations of the flooring manufacturer and the disinfecting chemical manufacturer before using a product or process on a newly installed product.

Indoor Air Quality

Specifying resilient flooring that meets VOC requirements and are third-party certified to FloorScore, a certification program developed by the Resilient Floor Covering Institute (RFCI) and SCS Global Services, assures designers that resilient flooring products and adhesives meet safe VOC requirements.

Because children breathe more air per pound of body weight than adults per Healthy Schools Campaign, which also provides a Health Green Schools cleaning program, students are more susceptible to experiencing a variety of health effects, from eye, nose, and throat irritation to fatigue and dizziness. The prevalence of asthma and allergies, especially in younger grades, is always a concern—Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) offgas from building materials and will often trigger respiratory and related issues. Therefore, specifying resilient flooring that meets VOC requirements and are third-party certified to FloorScore, a certification program developed by the Resilient Floor Covering Institute (RFCI) and SCS Global Services, assures designers that resilient flooring products and adhesives meet safe VOC requirements.  

Sustainable Improvements in Resilient Flooring

In 2010, the resilient flooring industry began replacing ortho-phthalates with terra-phthalate plasticizers that have no known impact on the endocrine system. Terra-phthalates are made from renewable or bio-based resources, such as soybeans, palm oils, or castor oils. Today, RFCI member manufacturers use terra-phthalate plasticizers in their vinyl flooring.

Another concern addressed by RFCI members is the utilization of heavy metals for stabilizers in flooring formulations. Heavy metals (lead, hexavalent chromium, cadmium and mercury) testing can be completed per test method EPA SW 846 Method 3052 and not exceed the limits of 100 PPM by combined weight. No intentionally added heavy metals are utilized by RFCI members that manufacture resilient flooring.

Other Resilient Flooring Advantages

In 2010, the resilient flooring industry began replacing ortho-phthalates with terra-phthalate plasticizers that have no known impact on the endocrine system.

Resilient flooring can provide a sense of school pride and identity by utilizing water jet cutting to create school emblems, symbols, and wayfinding into the floor design. Resilient flooring supports inclusive environments by providing ease of mobility for students and staff in wheelchairs or using assistive devices, provides opportunities to use appropriate light reflectance value (LRV) contrast between walls and flooring for users with low vision, and provides acoustic treatment to reduce noise for improved communication and concentration.

To learn more about resilient flooring, visit the Resilient Flooring Covering Institute’s website.

The following are specific resources related to the re-opening and ongoing operation of educational settings:

CDC: Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19), Considerations for Institutes of Higher Education (Updated May 30, 2020)

CDC: Guidance for COVID-19 Prevention in K-12 Schools (Updated Aug. 5, 2021)

About the Author

Jane Rohde
Jane Rohde, the principal of JSR Associates Inc., in Catonsville, Md., believes in a global cultural shift toward person-centered solutions for health care and environments for aging and sits on various health-care and sustainability committees supporting research, advocacy, and humanistic approaches to care. Rohde provides technical consulting on sustainability and health and wellness guidelines, codes, and standards for various trade associations and standards and guidelines committees, including the Resilient Floor Covering Institute (RFCI). In 2015, she was the first Changemaker Awardee for Environments for Aging from The Center for Health Design. In 2018, she received the ASID Design for Humanity Award, was recognized as an Honorary Alumni of Clemson University’s Architecture + Health program and honored as one of top 10 Women in Design for leadership in healthcare design. In 2020, she received the Pioneer Award from the Facility Guidelines Institute, and in 2021 was honored as a Green Globes Fellow from the Green Building Initiative.

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