Carpet in industrial facilities? It's more appropriate than you think

Even in industrial facilities, there are places where carpet is appropriate.

By Kathryn Wise, The Carpet and Rug Institute

Carpet is the floor covering of choice in homes, buildings, and public facilities, with market estimates to be over 1.6 billion square yards yearly and growing. With this popularity comes a myriad of product choices. Carpet meets a variety of performance requirements, such as acoustical needs, thermal savings, the Americans with Disabilities Act, non-slip safety, glare reduction, fatigue reduction, good indoor air quality, and ease of maintenance. Carpeted facilities and office complexes provide a pleasant atmosphere, more like a home environment, for employees and visitors. Carpet easily meets the public's desire for aesthetic beauty in the workplace. The softness of carpet helps employee productivity and comfort, provides a quieter atmosphere and reduces the incidences of slips and falls, thereby reducing liability.

Where should carpet be used in preference to hard surface? Carpet is already the norm in homes, apartments, offices, hotels and retail locations. Carpet is being used in common public areas of facilities—corridors (for sound absorption and slip and fall safety), waiting rooms, lobbies and offices (for beauty and versatility).

Color selection

Carpet color selection is as diverse as the imagination provides. Quiet colors like neutral "earth" colors provide a soothing effect or a "corporate" look, whereas warmer colors suggest vitality and invigoration.

Entrance mats in mid-range colors and multicolor blends are recommended to avoid tracked-in soil from the outside and hide soil near entrances. Designers use mid-range color combinations of blues, taupes, greens, teals and corals, including the trend toward yellow/golds and celery green shades.

Carpet coordinates with interior finishes--laminates, upholstery, natural stones, wallcoverings and paint--and carpet manufacturers produce custom colors and constructions to meet specifications for design coordination.

Carpet as a building material

When planning for renovation or new construction, savings in actual construction costs can be significant if the plan initially calls for carpet. This is because it is not necessary to install other finish flooring material prior to carpet installation. Greater savings may be realized when floors in older buildings need refurbishing. For example, if badly worn wood or vinyl floors are resurfaced, they may need another underlay material before the new hard surface could be installed. By specifying a carpet installation with separate cushion, "bad" areas can simply be patched to level them and to prevent premature, localized wear on the carpet. Carpet eliminates the need for total resurfacing.

Manufacturing specifications

It is important to understand carpet construction and to understand the variables affecting performance. Carpet can be manufactured by tufting, weaving and fusion bonding, of which tufting is the most prevalent. Weaving is sometimes more costly because of the production time involved.

Tufting machines are similar to sewing machines but with several hundred needles stitching hundreds of rows of pile yarn tufts through a backing fabric called the primary backing. The yarn is either caught by loopers and held in place for loop pile carpet or by blades and cut for cut pile carpet. There can be a combination of the two for cut and loop pile textures. The finishing may be a secondary fabric backing or an attached cushion backing.

Weaving carpet involves a simultaneous weaving of pile yarns and backing yarns into a total product. A backcoating, usually latex, is applied. Principal variations of woven carpet include velvet, Wilton and Axminster.

Fusion bonding involves implanting yarns into a coated backing. Fusion bonded carpet is most often die-cut for use as modules or tiles, usually backed with a polymeric material to provide stability.

Carpet construction and performance

The construction of a particular carpet--loop, cut, or combination—determines its look. In corridors, lobbies, offices, classrooms and other public areas, loop piles of low, dense construction retain appearance and resiliency and, generally, provide a better surface for the rolling traffic. Cut pile or cut and loop pile carpets are good choices for administration areas, libraries, individual offices and boardrooms. 

Carpet performance is associated, in part, with pile yarn density—the amount of pile yarn in a given volume of carpet face. For a given carpet weight, lower pile height and higher pile yarn density give the most performance for the money. The number of tufts per inch when counting across a width of carpet and the size of the yarn in the tufts influence density. A 1/8 gauge carpet has eight tuft rows per inch of width and a 1/10-gauge carpet has ten rows per inch of width. Extra heavy traffic conditions require a density of 5,000 to 6,000 or more.

Various types of carpet backing systems have advantages of higher tuft binds, added stability, and resistance to edge raveling. Consider the functional implications for a particular area.

Fiber--yarn

Nylon, olefin (polypropylene), and wool are the primary fibers used in commercial carpet for commercial installations. Olefin is being used when there are budget limitations, resistance to sunlight fading or low levels of static electricity are important. Olefin is stain resistant and resistant to chemicals.

Wool is resilient, but because of its higher cost, is usually used as a decorative accent and in lower traffic areas. Nylon is by far the most prevalent fiber and is available in carpet as Type 6 and Type 6.6.

Types 6 and 6.6 are made from petroleum-based chemicals, the differences being in the manufacturing and dyeing processes. Either is good for use in public facilities. Nylon is excellent in wearability, abrasion resistance, resilience, and is favorably priced. Solution dyed nylon is also resistant to sunlight fading.

Yarns can be either bulked continuous filament or staple. Carpet fibers are made by melting chips and forcing the melt through spinnerets to extrude uninterrupted filaments. The filaments are then formed into a bulked continuous filament yarn. These fibers may be chopped into short fibers and then spun into staple yarn, twisted, and set with heat to hold the twist. A tighter twist is more important in cut pile because it keeps the ends of the yarn from untwisting and matting together during wear and cleanings.

The method by which the carpet is dyed is of great importance. Solution dyeing is preferred in areas subject to spills because the color pigment is inserted into the melted polymers during extrusion. The color is throughout the yarn, offering excellent cleanability and less likely staining. Other dyeing methods are stock dyeing (color applied after extrusion but prior to spinning), yarn dyeing (finished yarn is dyed), piece or continuous dyeing and printing (color applied after the yarn has been tufted--more often on cut pile carpet).

Custom designs

Custom carpet can be manufactured in narrower widths and custom colors for a premium price. The reduction of waste can often offset the manufacturing premium price charged. Commercial carpet is also produced in six-foot widths for ease of delivery in high-rise buildings and to facilitate the installation of electronic wiring in office cubicles.

When requesting custom orders for size or color variations, varieties seem limitless. Borders and patterns can be designed to reflect design motifs in logos, wallcoverings or upholstery; graphic patterns can follow architectural shapes of the building; and color/multi-color combinations can be beautiful or dramatic.

Static control

Carpet can be specified to meet criteria for the static electricity tolerances in highly sensitive electronic areas—computer rooms or monitoring rooms. To meet specifications, the yarn includes a conductive filament or topical treatments can be applied.

Flammability requirements

Carpet sold in the United States must meet the Federal Flammability Standards, but local and regional standards also exist. The local fire marshal has the authority to establish additional specific criteria and should be consulted prior to writing specifications or purchasing carpet for a particular installation.

Cushion and depth requirements--ADA

An important consideration is the threshold height between two areas of different surface types. Requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act allow carpet having a pile height of 1/2 inch or less (measured from the bottom of the tuft). Exposed edges must be fastened to floor surfaces with trim.

Antimicrobial treatments

Antimicrobial treatments, in use since 1980, are protective treatments considered helpful in reducing the propagation and spread of microorganisms. According to David Ramey, senior microbiologist with Interface Research and chairman of the American Association of Textile Chemists and Colorists (AATCC) antimicrobial committee, "Using an antimicrobial treatment benefits a facility by providing insurance for that unusual time when cleaning is not as thorough as usual, or when a particular event occurs between cleanings. Using an antimicrobial treatment does not eliminate maintenance. Whether it is three times a week or once a day in particular areas, thorough cleaning is of utmost importance for any surface."

Manufacturers do not have warranties on antimicrobial treatments because the durability of the treatment is dependent on the type of cleaning methods and solutions used, the frequency of cleaning and unusual chemicals used outside of the normal cleaning program.

Indoor air quality

Indoor air quality is an important environmental issue to many Americans. We spend 90% of our time indoors, often in energy-efficient buildings that lack sufficient fresh air ventilation. Many construction products, surface finishes, interior furnishings, and renovating and cleaning agents play roles in the quality of indoor air. The quality of the outside air, activities in the building and the presence of people impact these self-contained environments. The presence of indoor air contamination is unavoidable because many furnishings and activities emit chemicals in varying amounts. However, with the appropriate choice of low emitting products including carpet and installation supplies, and with regular and effective cleaning, adequate ventilation reduces concentrations to minimize the impact on indoor air quality.

Even though scientists say that carpet is very low emitting, responsible carpet manufacturers are proactive in their efforts to scrutinize their products, and to develop ways to further reduce product emissions. The industry developed three indoor air quality testing programs covering carpet, carpet adhesives, and carpet cushion. The goal for these programs is to help customers with their buying decisions by identifying tested products that meet stringent indoor air quality criteria with the display of the CRI Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) logo.

Through diligent efforts in the IAQ arena, carpet manufacturers also learned that carpet actually holds airborne pollutants until effective vacuuming and other cleaning methods can properly extract them. When airborne particles settle on smooth floor coverings, they can be more easily disturbed and re-suspended in the air. (Only airborne particles affect allergic persons.) Carpet upkeep also requires fewer chemicals than other floor coverings, which helps reduce VOC levels in a building.

Specification

The CRI publishes The Carpet Specifier's Handbook and The Carpet Primer that go into detail about the complete specifications for carpet in commercial facilities. They are invaluable resources for helping to specify appropriate carpet for a given area in any type facility.

Installation

Planning a quality carpet installation is just as important as determining which carpet to purchase. Two publications published by CRI that help with details of the specification for installations and installation methods are How to Specify Commercial Carpet Installation and CRI-104, Standard for Commercial Installation of Carpet. They provide details of requirements for measurements, seam locations, qualifications required of contractors, responsibilities of storage and delivery, preparatory work required, auxiliary materials--moldings, base materials, cushions, adhesives, the method of installation, responsibilities for cleanup and ventilation. You should require the installer to adhere to guidelines in Standards.

Maintenance

Technological advances that overcome many of the initial limitations of soil and stain resistance make carpet a viable alternative to other floorings. The importance of a consistent and thorough maintenance plan, plus a plan to address unusual spills, is of importance, regardless of the type of surface used. If a floor covering looks worn or soiled, it may need to be replaced long before it is actually worn.

Regular vacuuming is the most effective and efficient way to keep carpet looking new. A quality, effectively working vacuum cleaner, with strong air flow and an enclosed, high-efficiency filtration bag, is essential to hold vacuumed dirt in the bag instead of blowing it back into the room. Any maintenance plan should include provisions for prompt spot removal and periodic extraction cleaning, with careful consideration of the carpet manufacturer's recommendations for cleaning methods.

Cost comparisons of maintenance of smooth surfaces and carpet show that on an annual basis and in a fifteen year comparison, carpet is consistently less expensive. The studies include initial cost of materials, installation, cleaning labor, capital equipment, expendable supplies and removal cost. Even though carpet may initially cost more and requires more frequent replacement, its lower maintenance costs make it less expensive overall.

Carpet recycling

Carpet manufacturers are working diligently toward efficiencies in reusing and recycling used carpet. Because sorting the wide variety of fibers and backing systems for recycling is difficult, the industry initiated a back coding system in which the components of the carpet are stamped or bar-coded onto the back of new carpet. When the carpet is removed, identifying the components will be less complicated.

To date, used carpet has been used in many end-use products such as lumber, marine plywood, industrial machinery, and automotive parts. It also extends the stability of concrete for building walls and for roadbeds. The industry is constantly working toward other economically feasible uses for the components.

Summary

The visual beauty and comfortable atmosphere that carpet creates continues to make carpet an excellent floorcovering choice for over seventy percent of the floor surfaces in the United States. Based your selection of the appropriate carpet and rugs for homes, offices, institutions or public facilities on a knowledge of carpet construction, proper installation and maintenance.

The Carpet and Rug Institute is the trade association for the carpet industry, representing 94 percent of the manufacturers of carpet and suppliers to the industry. Through commitments from member company employees, and a full staff, CRI offers extensive technical, consumer, and issue related information about carpet and rugs.

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