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Plan, communicate and prosper

Darren Robinson provides advice on what to consider when installing multiple flooring types in commercial locations.

ALL over the country, many of us enter numerous outlets, such as shopping centres and restaurant complexes on a regular basis – most weekends, these premises are inundated with visitors. These locations can house a favourite café or shop we like to visit, maybe somewhere to kick back and relax, sit down to eat with the family together, or just grab something to go. Among the thoughts on our minds can be, ‘Just how busy is this place?’

The floorcoverings in commercial properties will receive far greater levels of foot traffic, along with heavy rolling loads, and generally be subject to higher volumes of use over a relatively short period compared to the lifecycle of floorcoverings in many other locations. The floorcoverings and build up beneath these types of premises might be taken for granted by most of the people passing through, yet these installations often require a very technical approach to ensure a trouble free installation appropriate for its intended use.

Commercial premises can house many different types of businesses, so these projects may have varying and quite specific needs. They’ll usually require several types of floorcoverings – either for practical or aesthetic reasons – so the subfloor requirements will differ.

As subfloor preparation manufacturers, we believe the best approach is for our technical team to visit a site as early as possible in the construction programme. If we can be involved with the architect that is even better as then we can be on hand to assess and advise on the best solution from the ground up. Depending on the condition of the subfloor, we may recommend alternatives to the original specification.

The usage requirements
There are several key pieces of information to consider. Increasingly, modern commercial premises are looking to incorporate more underfloor heating systems (UFH), so that requires a methodical approach. All parties need to understand the relationship with flooring and underfloor heating systems: when the heating system can be commissioned, how it is commissioned, and the maximum operating temperatures at the adhesive line will all have an impact on the final flooring application.

It’s also important to understand what different types of premises or different areas within a premise will be used for. They’re all likely to have heavy foot traffic on a daily basis but the volume will vary, and there are other factors to consider. Is it a main entrance way or a loading area? Will it be a seated area with tables and chairs – how heavy are they likely to be and do they need to be moved regularly? What about kitchens, cold stores, and washing facilities?

A location’s numerous uses can all induce different stresses on the floorcovering, so selecting the correct flooring for the area is vital. Discussions with flooring manufacturers are essential to determine a floorcovering’s suitability for any given area. Both this and its usage will affect your choice of subfloor preparation products.

For areas with the heaviest foot traffic and those frequently subject to heavy rolling loads or abrasion, you should select an appropriate smoothing compound, generally one with a high compressive strength to avoid point load issues. Products with lower compressive strengths may not be appropriate for high intensity areas, so consultation with the smoothing compound manufacturer is again essential to avoid costly failures.

Some businesses in these locations do not close completely for the duration of a flooring installation, or still need to have staff working on the premises even when they are closed to the public. If your installation is being performed in this sort of ‘live’ environment, you need to query whether low emissions products are required and you should also consider low odour products.

Operational kitchens are one of these environments – they’ll require floor preparation products that are categorised as low emissions to avoid any risk of food contamination. You can easily identify these products as they will be labelled as either EC1 (low emissions) or EC1 Plus (very low emissions). These locations also have to accommodate shear forces from kitchen staff turning frequently in one location, heavy rolling loads from deliveries, and point loads from heavy equipment, such as ovens and fridges, resting on the flooring. Therefore floor preparation products used in commercial also need to be heavy duty, so you should select products with high compressive strength.

There are other usage issues to consider, including extreme temperatures. In areas like cold stores where the air temperatures must constantly be kept very low it’s essential the adhesives and smoothing compounds used are suitable for these extreme temperatures – often below 0deg C – as well as for low humidity fluctuations.

Large glass-fronted buildings are now very common as they can make use of more natural light, but floor installations for these premises and others that experience direct sunlight need to accommodate large fluctuations in solar gain, heat, and high surface temperatures. High performance adhesives, such as two component polyurethane or epoxy products, or suitable single-part modified silane polymers (MSPs) are the best choice in these environments.

Areas that are frequently subject to water pose another type of consideration. Rooms with washing facilities need products that have the appropriate technical characteristics to perform in wet or saturated environments. These locations are also likely to regularly experience rapid changes in ambient conditions, so the products should be suitable for these settings too.

Advantages of a flooring system
Designing a building or project where multiple floorcoverings are to be installed requires a collective approach between all parties to specifying, programming and onsite testing. As manufacturers, we look to provide a system that will be safe and suitable for the long term; as these locations will regularly experience an extremely high level of footfall, both contractors and clients should be able to have confidence they’ll stand the test of time.

Contractors want to provide quality installations and clients do not want the cost or inconvenience of having to replace floorcoverings frequently as it can be one of the most costly aspects of refurbishments.

Most if not all manufacturers offer entire flooring preparation systems within their ranges. While it might be tempting to ‘pick-and-mix’ products with, for instance, a primer from one manufacturer and a smoothing compound from another, you need to weigh up the pros and cons. There is definitely an advantage to be gained from having an entire system from one manufacturer, especially on projects with more complex requirements.

My advice is to stick to one manufacturer’s system; many manufacturers’ flooring systems are supplied with long commercial warranties in excess of 15 years, making it worth paying attention to look out for these guarantees.

The main reason to resist using multiple products from different manufacturers is the possibility of chemical incompatibility. For obvious reasons, manufacturers do not test all their products with competitors’ products so, unlike with their own ranges, they will have no data in relation to compatibility and performance. This then brings complexity into warranties. In the event of a failure, it’s often the case that no single product can be identified as the reason for the failure. When multiple manufacturers’ products are built up, this presents a challenging scenario for a manufacturers’ technical team, making it difficult to comment on whose product has failed. It may leave the client with a failed flooring installation for which no one is taking responsibility.

By sticking to one manufacturer’s system, you avoid this risk and the manufacturer’s technical team can provide more comprehensive advice for your project.

There’s a lot of satisfaction to be gained from overcoming the challenges of installing multiple floorcoverings in commercial premises. With thorough planning and high levels of communication between all parties, you can achieve the ideal, long-lasting installation.

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