Green floors are growing in popularity. (Tornado Industries photo)

Changes Ahead in Flooring

While they may not necessarily find their way into industrial locations, other floor types that are becoming more common today are what we could call "green" floors, mainly because they are made from more sustainable materials.

Managers of industrial facilities as well as those of more conventional locations such as offices should take note: Hard surface flooring is changing and changing fast. Many of the types of floors that have been installed for decades in industrial/commercial locations are giving way to new floor types that overall will likely require care and maintenance—helping to reduce floor care costs considerably.

These changes have been evolving for several years now, but the movement has increased significantly in the past few years. To see an example of what is happening, take a look at the floors being installed in some recently opened or remodeled grocery stores or pharmacies. No longer are the traditional VCT (vinyl composition tile) floors, which need considerable attention, being installed. In their place we are seeing more LVT (luxury vinyl tile) floors. LVT floors have been coming on strong lately in the residential market, where they are often referred to as luxurious, thus the name. However, referring to these floors as "luxury" vinyl may be a bit deceiving when describing those often selected for industrial/commercial installations.

What is unique about LVT floors is that they take advantage of state-of-the-art printing and photographic technologies so that they look very similar to more traditional hard surface floors, such as hardwood, and several varieties of stone floors. But looks are not all these floors offer. They are also:

  • Typically far less expensive than the floors they are designed to mimic
  • Easier and often faster to install
  • Invariably do not need to be stripped and do not require a finish or sealant
  • Do not require as much buffing or burnishing1

Beyond LVT
While they may not necessarily find their way into industrial locations, other floor types that are becoming more common today are what we could call "green" floors, mainly because they are made from more sustainable materials. These include bamboo, sea grass, cork, jute, and hemp floors. However, these floors can be damaged by moisture, spills, and some chemicals, potentially making them an unwise selection for many industrial facilities. Instead, along with LVT, what we are seeing increasingly in industrial/commercial locations are also floor types such as the following:

  • Concrete floors, many of which may be polished or stained
  • Rubber floors, which are often made from recycled rubber
  • Clay floors, which are often coated with urethane and aluminum oxide, making them more wear- and scratch-resistant
  • Porcelain and ceramic tile floors

These floors are all very different and may have specific care and maintenance requirements. However, one thing they all share in common with LVT floors is that, in most cases, they do not need a floor finish or sealant.2 This helps reduce the overall cost of floor care by eliminating one of the most costly and time consuming floor care tasks: stripping and refinishing. Eliminating the need for stripping and refinishing floors also reduces the need for traditional floorcare cleaning solutions, finishes, and related products that contain many environmentally harmful ingredients and reduces the water consumption required for using these products.

For those locations adopting a green cleaning strategy or working to make their facilities greener and more sustainable, these floors may be the perfect choice. However, while it is true that these new flooring materials will require less cleaning and maintenance than traditional floors, that does not mean that they will require no cleaning and maintenance to keep them looking their best and to prevent damage to the floor.

The Care Factor
As we mentioned earlier, some of these floors will need various types of maintenance. For instance, to put a high-luster shine on concrete floors, instead of applying a finish, these floors will need to be diamond polished. This relatively new process uses floor machines with diamond-abrasive heads that essentially grind and then polish the concrete slab floor, leaving it with a high shine. After the initial polishing, the concrete can be maintained on a regular basis by dust and damp mopping (or vacuuming) or by using an automatic scrubber. In fact, an automatic scrubber is a wise choice to efficiently clean most all of these new and traditional flooring materials.

An automatic scrubber is designed to apply cleaning solution to a floor, scrub-clean the floor, and then vacuum up the solution along with soils, all in one pass. The floor is dry almost immediately. A large walk-behind scrubber (where the user walks behind the machine and guides it over the floor) or, in some cases, a ride-on machine will be needed for a large industrial-type location.

Because walk-behinds are the most common type of automatic scrubber, we will focus on these machines. Managers and administrators should know that there are many fine scrubbers made by different manufacturers to choose from; however, they are not all the same. They have different features, and they may vary in quality and durability. Because of this, due diligence is required when selecting one of these machines. Among the issues to consider are the following:

  • Size: The cleaning path of the different machines can vary from about 16 inches to 28 inches. Determining the appropriate size for the facility is very important and depends on the size of the floor area to be cleaned. A janitorial distributor can usually help administrators with this decision.
  • Size of solution and recovery tanks: The larger the tanks, the more work can be completed without stopping to empty/refill the machine. For instance, a 26-inch machine with a 26-inch solution and 28-inch recovery tank can clean more than 32,000 square feet in just one hour, making this a very efficient scrubber.
  • Ease of maintenance: Users may need to access batteries, vacuum motors, and hoses. Some manufacturers make access to these components very easy.
  • Battery operated: A battery-powered machine is essential. It gives the user more flexibility and speeds up cleaning time significantly. Look for a machine with an eco-friendly, non-spill AGM battery. These are safer for the user and the environment.
  • Parabolic squeegee: The squeegee on the back of the machine is critical because it helps capture any moisture that was not vacuumed up, helping to dry the floor quickly. Select a machine with a heavy-duty, four-sided parabolic squeegee for best results.
  • Noise: Administrators may not consider noise, but it should be a factor when selecting an automatic scrubber. If the technician is going to be using the machine for one or more hours each day, a loud machine can negatively affect productivity and morale. Some newer machines generate less than 70 decibels, making them surprisingly quiet.

Some experts in the professional cleaning industry believe that the changes now emerging in hard surface flooring and floor care are just the beginning. This will result in many changes for administrators and facility managers, as well. While hard-surface floors are designed to provide years of service, managers should stay up to date on new flooring types and technologies being introduced. The expectation is that over the next 10 or more years, floors that are even easier to maintain, less costly to select and install, and very durable are right around the bend.

Sean Martschinke is a CIMS ISSA Certification Expert (I.C.E.) and is the marketing manager for Tornado Industries, a manufacturer of professional floor care equipment as well as other cleaning tools and products. He may be reached through Tornado's website.

1. In some cases, it is recommended to burnish or buff LVT floors to remove embedded soils and remove heal marks. However, it is typically not as necessary as with other more common and traditional floor types.
2. While these different floors do not necessarily need a finish or sealant, in some cases facility managers or cleaning professionals may choose to add a finish, for instance, in areas where there is excessive foot traffic, to help protect and maintain the floor.