How often do you think about the floor in your lab? As a lab manager, you should probably be thinking about your flooring more than you do—particularly when you consider the ergonomic impact on your staff and the impact flooring can have on your back or feet after a long day of standing; or if there’s a spill or some other risk of contamination; perhaps even more so if an expensive piece of lab equipment is damaged by the static electricity in the lab. Then flooring becomes extremely important.
Flooring experts can assist in the decision-making process, and will typically ask a litany of questions before making a recommendation. The categories of consideration cover operational, installation, aesthetics, and maintenance concerns. Here are some of the more critical questions a lab or facilities manager should answer prior to making a decision.
Do you require special slip resistance?
You don’t want anyone to slip in your lab, so obviously you want to select a tile with slip resistance. Some environments may, however, need greater slip resistance. If your facility requires a greater level of slip resistance, then you will want to steer clear of slick materials like epoxies. Seek out products that provide more secure footing. For example, tiles that utilize a coin-top texture can offer better slip resistance.
Do you require comfort, ergonomic, or anti-fatigue properties?
Quite simply, some floorings are better for humans to stand on for long periods of time than others. For example, epoxies are hard. The same holds true with glued-down vinyl flooring. Unfortunately, the more ergonomic and comfortable the floor, the higher the cost. Going the extra mile can provide a return on investment in that lab or cleanroom workers who are more comfortable will be more productive and miss less time due to standing-related injuries, like plantar fasciitis. Fewer injuries and more comfortable work conditions also improve staff retention.
What are the VOC and particulate requirements of the room?
Some floors are better for cleanroom labs than others; for example, epoxies and vinyls. Cleanrooms and labs will have their own standards to adhere to and that’s something the flooring dealer should review with customers. For example, some products generate particulates when you scrub. This requires a sealant to be applied to prevent that from happening. Again, this should be part of a review with the flooring company to ensure the flooring meets your requirements.
As a lab or cleanroom, it’s possible your facility might employ chemicals that can impact the material used on the flooring you select. Having a detailed conversation about your operation is critical to making a wise selection. If there are chemicals in your work environment, there are some possible solutions; for example, resistance to certain chemicals, such as solvents or acids. Vinyl is resistant to many chemicals and is generally a good choice. Rubber is good for other chemicals, like chlorinated solvents. If possible, get a sample of the flooring that you are considering and test it against the chemicals that you have in your lab.
What chemicals should you test your lab floor for?
The SEFA guide—Scientific Equipment & Furniture Association SEFA 8-M-2010 Recommended Practices for Metal Laboratory Grade Furniture, Casework, Shelving and Tables—refers to 49 chemicals to test for your lab furniture, casework, shelving, and tables. A chemical can splash on the floor as easily as any of those surfaces, right? But does that mean you have to test your flooring for all 49 chemicals? Yes and no. It really depends on your comfort level and current and future work being done in your lab. If you think it’s possible your floor could be exposed to a certain chemical now or down the road, test for it.
Do you require the floor to be portable for reconfigurations or future moves?
Expansions, downsizing, or relocation to a new facility are just some of the reasons why companies want a flooring they can move. When you choose a glue-down option for flooring, you sacrifice portability. Glued down tiles can’t, and shouldn’t, be removed and used again. There are flooring products available that utilize an interlocking system so flooring can be moved should your lab or cleanroom need to move to another location.
Does the underlying concrete pass moisture tests?
If concrete is beneath your existing flooring, moisture could be an issue and will need to be checked first, particularly if the flooring you’re considering needs to be glued. In this scenario, it’s also not advisable to glue the new floor onto the old floor. It should be installed onto the underlying concrete. If you are planning to use interlock flooring, first test the old flooring for asbestos. Removing flooring with asbestos is a very detailed process. Areas of the floor need to be sectioned off with plastic as air pressure is used to contain any dust.
If new concrete, can you wait for the 90-day cure period?
If you can’t glue on concrete with moisture issues, it stands to reason that newly installed concrete floors must cure before you can glue down new flooring. Ninety days is the recommended amount of time. In some cases, due to weather and other local conditions, the time to cure can be even longer. Projects can be significantly delayed because of this issue.
If there is an existing flooring, do you want to install without removing it?
One of the beauties of interlock flooring is that it can be installed over existing flooring. Some facilities managers prefer flooring that requires an adhesive. In that scenario, removing the old flooring first is recommended. You can choose not to take on the expense of floor removal. It’s just not preferable.
Can your facility tolerate the dust generated from a sub-floor preparation?
When you rip out the old flooring, it will generate some level of dust. Will that have an impact on your equipment, electronics, and HVAC systems at your facility? That must be considered and assessed. It could have an impact on your decision to go with a glue-down flooring or interlock.
There are other considerations and questions to ask before making your final selection. Things like operational considerations, maintenance requirements, aesthetics, and of course, cost. If you start with these three major areas, the choice of flooring for your lab becomes clearer.