Carpet and VCT in Healthcare

Posted on June 13, 2010

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Last week I attended a very interesting luncheon presentation by Keith Gray, Director of Technical Marketing for Mohawk. He worked hard to professionally dispel myths about carpet tile in healthcare environments.  Some of his points in comparison to VCT:

  • More comfortable (anti-fatigue)
  • More productive for work tasks (push / pull)
  • Safer when wet (spills, slips)
  • Easier maintenance (no wax, easy replacement, time, cost, sanitizing)
  • Better acoustic properties (stifles sound)
  • Contains dust and particulate emission (traps in vs. laying on top)

Good looks can be achieved with almost anything, so floor finishes in healthcare should come down to performance. It is difficult to overcome habit, especially in maintenance and I am convinced VCT exists merely because it is a cheap installation (first cost). Someone not willing to do his research with an eye only for first cost and lack of product life cycle information ends up spending a lot of time and money on maintenance, or to put it in an equasion, lazy and cheap + ignorance = busy and poor.

In fact, I believe the aversion to carpet and textured surfaces in healthcare is rooted in germ theory. Germ theory was a medical breakthrough in the late 19th century that had far reaching consequences for healthcare architecture. We forget that it was not uncommon in the Victorian era to have drapery and lush textiles in rooms where babies were delivered and the sick were treated.

Germ theory gave rise to white, hard surfaces, ideally with no corners or angles where dirt could collect—surfaces that could be mopped or wiped down with disinfectant. Sterilization and surface cleaning had to take place to rid an environment and its surfaces of disease-causing bacteria and fungi. This is the real crux of the issue:  some surfaces are better than others at preventing germ growth and propagation, but it is more important that surfaces simply get cleaned more effectively and more often.

With advancing sterilization technologies, it will be interesting to see what the future surfaces of the healthcare environment look like. Throw in the increased emphasis on carbon footprint and product life cycle, and the sustainability of finishes will be an important factor in choice. Given those attributes, in program-driven buildings that should provide the best healing environments for people, the best overall performance should rule.

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Posted in: Interior Design