Inspirational flooring

With the University of Salford’s well publicised study showing that the classroom environment can affect a child’s learning progress by as much as 25%, it’s little surprise that interiors are given such credence in modern school design – and the flooring is no exception.

Specifying floor coverings for education is a careful balance of form and function, with a host of different requirements in each area of the building. From classrooms and corridors, to canteens, libraries, laboratories and sports halls – education buildings have multiple application zones that require a wide variety of specific performance attributes. Crucially though, the chosen floor coverings must also contribute to the wider design theme, helping to create a carefully planned interior that supports the learning environment.

Colour is a key consideration and much has been written about the impact of colour on the emotional and cognitive response of a building’s occupants. For example, a comprehensive study in the College Student Journal demonstrated that the use of certain colours can increase productivity by as much as 10%, with bright colours in particular improving mental alertness.

Specifiers can translate this into classroom design by choosing a colour palette that supports the subject area being taught within each room. Study spaces that will involve lively discussion and lateral thinking, for example, could benefit from the use of stimulating tones such as red, yellow and orange, whereas classrooms dedicated to more artistic pursuits would suit softer, tranquil tones.

In corridors and circulation areas, combining a variety of coloured floor coverings can also be a useful way to differentiate various departments within the building and can assist with wayfinding. There have also been numerous studies conducted into the role of colour, pattern and texture in supporting access for people with visual impairments or learning difficulties.

From a practical perspective, there are a number of key considerations – which begin right at the front door of the building. For example, a well-planned entrance area with an effective entrance flooring system can drastically reduce the levels of dirt being tracked into the building, as well as the potential for slips and falls on rainy days. Safety is a factor in other areas too, so it’s vital to choose flooring with an adequate level of slip resistance – particularly in heavily trafficked or potentially hazardous areas such as hallways, kitchens and bathrooms – where a durable, Health and Safety Executive compliant safety floor covering is most appropriate.

Supporting student and staff wellbeing is about more than just preventing slips and falls, however, particularly given the increase in allergy sufferers in the UK. One of the most common causes of asthma and allergies is exposure to dust mites in soft furnishings and carpets, so choosing a floor covering that minimises these allergens can go a long way towards creating healthier indoor environments. Look for products that have been awarded the prestigious ‘Seal of Approval’ from Allergy UK, as with the correct cleaning regime these will not harbour allergens or dust mites.

Acoustic performance is another major factor that needs to be considered when specifying flooring for an educational setting – after all, speaking and listening are the primary communication modes within schools and universities. In fact, up to 60% of classroom activities involve speech between teachers and students. Poor classroom acoustics can have a long-term effect on both students and teachers, impacting on reading, spelling, behaviour, attention and academic performance, not to mention the strain it places on teachers’ vocal cords.

With this in mind, it’s worth specifying products that can enhance acoustics, such as a high-performance acoustic vinyl. Ideally, look for products that offer between 15dB and 19dB sound reduction and don’t feel that you have to be restricted by style, as there are now a number of products available that combine appealing aesthetics with the required acoustic performance capabilities. For quick turnaround times, there are even adhesive free vinyl options available that can reduce downtime and disruption to staff and pupils, but still offer enhanced acoustic performance.

The final aspect to consider is the long-term practicality of the chosen floor covering, particularly when it comes to cleaning and maintenance. With hundreds, if not thousands, of pupils, staff and visitors traipsing through a school or college every day, the flooring can quickly become dirty and subject to daily wear and tear. As mentioned earlier, a well-designed entrance flooring system will do a lot to reduce the overall burden but the internal flooring must be highly durable and simple to clean, nevertheless.

A resilient floor covering such as vinyl or linoleum is the ideal choice, as the smooth surface is quick and easy to maintain. Look for products that contain a well-formulated top coat, as this will offer extra protection for the flooring and ensure it continues to look its best throughout the lifespan of the installation. Choosing a linoleum product can even help prevent the spread of infection, as the naturally bacteriostatic properties of this extremely durable material inhibits the growth of bacteria – a comforting thought when the inevitable winter flu starts doing the rounds.

While vinyl and linoleum have many benefits, there are some areas where a warmer, more tactile solution would be preferred, such as libraries, time-out zones and quiet study spaces. Carpet tiles are often the go-to solution for these applications and there are some beautiful options available in the market. Flocked floor coverings are also a worthwhile alternative in these situations, as they offer the same warmth, comfort underfoot and tactile appeal as carpet but with the durability and easy-maintenance of a resilient floor covering. As highlighted earlier, be sure to look for products that benefit from the Allergy UK ‘Seal of Approval’.

Schools, colleges and universities can be particularly complex buildings to specify flooring for, thanks to the multi-faceted needs of each individual zone and the ‘bigger-picture’ design aspects that have to be taken into consideration. While there is a lot to think about, this doesn’t have to be an onerous task, particularly if you work with a flooring supplier that offers an integrated portfolio and is therefore able to advise on a wide range of solutions for each application.