By the time a floor is installed towards the end of construction, spending has often gone over budget and costs can be cut. Adam Dawson looks at what factors FMs should think about when installing office flooring.
Flooring can have a huge impact on the atmosphere and feel of an office and is as important as the right lighting and temperature. But of all the elements that make up a building, nothing has to withstand such an amount of wear and tear, being in near-constant use. This is why it is imperative that time and care is taken when choosing the right flooring for an office, either during the design phase of a building or during a retrofit.
Office flooring varies greatly depending on what part of the world you are living in. In the past, ceramic floor tiles have proved to be popular in the Middle East, but as Angela Schaschen, managing director, Deutsche Messe Dubai, organisers of flooring show Domotex, explains, times are changing. "In the past and still to an extent now, office flooring has been predominately ceramic tile or marble. But because you have so many expats living in the Middle East they are now bringing their tastes with them. We are seeing an increase in the amount of wall to wall carpet, resilient flooring, as well as more wood and laminate."
Increasingly, the type of flooring varies throughout an office. It is important to know the function of the space that is being used before flooring is put down. FMs should liaise with interior designers and manufacturers to determine the correct flooring for the correct area. For instance, in a kitchen within an office, it might be better to install vinyl composite tile (VCT) rather than carpet, since it is probably easier to wipe food and drink spills from that surface.
According to Amanda Doyle, business development manager, Interface Middle East, traffic levels should also be taken into account when laying office flooring. "You have different flooring for different parts of the office. Often lobby areas in this region are marble or ceramic because of the volume of traffic.
"There is also heavy footfall in hallways and corridors, so flooring laid there will often be carpet with a higher yarn weight than in the open space areas of the office," she explains.
The type of flooring used is also largely dependent on the status of the individual who will be using it most and the image of the company having it installed. "Companies that want to maintain a certain high profile image are more into design and mixed use of materials," says Shahriar Khodjasteh, director of marketing, Al Aqili Furnishings. "In hallways you might see parquet and then in the management offices and boardrooms you'll see a mix of carpet, which is sometimes custom made, and parquet to give an expensive and stylish look. Then in the communal areas where people relax you might have a more homely type of carpet." Wood is becoming the flooring of choice for more affluent companies in the region and leather flooring is even starting to enter the market.
Being able to repair flooring without too much difficulty is a factor that is increasingly playing its part. This is one of the reasons ceramic tiles, which are installed during the construction of a building, are losing popularity to other forms of flooring, such as carpet tiles. "The major advantage of carpet is that it is so easy to replace," stresses Schaschen. "Ceramic or marble tiles are very difficult and timely to change, whereas with carpet you can change it easily every time you change offices."
Khodjasteh agrees, but stresses that replacing them can lead to inconsistencies within the flooring. "Carpet tiles are especially easy to replace, but a lot of people fall into the trap of thinking that if you spill something on one of them you can replace it and nobody will notice," he says. "After a while carpet tiles fade and if you replace an older tile with a new one it can look rather odd." Wood also has the advantage that it can be easily replaced and like carpet it can be installed at anytime with relative ease.
Many types of flooring also need significant attention and maintenance. Spills on carpets need to be removed as soon as possible, VCT often has to be stripped of old floor finish and replaced with new. Marble and ceramic tiles need regular polishing and wood might need waxing.
Over time the cost of labour to maintain flooring will be higher than the initial installation cost. "You have to look after flooring, especially wood," explains Lesly Lobo, general manager, Al Serkal Group, Wood Floors Division. "It needs to be cleaned properly with a damp mop with very little water. Fresh water also needs to be used and the temperature of the office has to be constant or the wood can expand and buckle.
The problem is that many people, especially cleaners who come in the night, don't know how to maintain wood flooring and so it can be spoiled. It is relatively easy to look after a wooden floor, you just need to know how."
The life expectancy of an office floor often comes down to the correct maintenance and trying to keep the floor clean. Walk-off areas made from different substances in the entrances of buildings are a good idea. In a multistory office building, for example, a properly selected walk-off system will generally have removed dirt from occupants' shoes by the time they reach the carpet outside the elevator on their office floors. This in turn means the product retains its appearance for longer and does not need replacing prematurely.
Using a walk-off system is especially good in offices with wooden floors as sand on the soles of shoes can damage the flooring. With life expectancy the best thing to keep in mind is installing flooring that closely mirrors the life expectancy of the use of the office space in question, or money is wasted.
"Health and safety isn't something that comes to many people's minds out here in the Middle East," admits Khodjasteh. "But it is something you should think about. There is the perception that carpet is dirty and hard surfaces like ceramic tile or wood contain less bacteria. This is not true. If carpet is vacuumed twice a day then it can be very clean. Wood and ceramic tiles contain cracks where bacteria can manifest proving difficult to remove."
Slips and trips at work are a major cause of absenteeism. "Carpet is obviously a safer option where slips at work are concerned," says Iris Seiffer, director of business development, Object Carpet. "They can also be better for people suffering from allergies as they can trap dirt and allergens which can then be vacuumed up."
With the world trying to become a greener place, some FMs may also be interested in flooring that has been recycled or can be reused once its life expectancy is up. "Recycled carpet is very common throughout the world," says Khodjasteh. "You can even recycle plastic bottles to make yarn and a lot of old carpet can be recycled and used as backing."
Ultimately an FM should also be thinking about the effect the flooring will have on the staff walking on it on a daily basis. Schaschen believes that flooring can have a huge impact on the productivity of the workforce inside an office.
"Companies live by the manpower of an office so it is very important to have attractive flooring for them. Having nice flooring is as important as having the right temperature and lighting and can affect the productivity of the workforce. It's also good for the company to have attractive flooring as it is one of the first things you notice when you walk into an office or building," she explains.
Whatever the main factors involved in choosing flooring, it seems that the trends in the region are changing. With the law now allowing expats to buy in the UAE, companies are now investing more in the buildings they own. "Previously companies were spending very little on flooring because they didn't own the property," says Khodjasteh. "But now they are starting to think long-term and are placing a lot of emphasis on good flooring, whether it is with regards to style and image or durability."