How to choose the right carpet

Carpet covers more than 70 percent of the floors in homes and workplaces in the United States.  With this popularity has come a myriad of carpet choices to meet a wide variety of performance requirements, such as acoustics, thermal savings, the Americans with Disabilities Act, non-slip safety, glare reduction, fatigue reduction, good indoor air quality and ease of maintenance, to create a pleasant atmosphere and comfortable environment for employees and visitors.  Carpet easily meets the public’s desire for aesthetic beauty in the workplace. The softness of carpet helps in employee productivity and comfort, provides a quieter atmosphere and reduces the incidences of slips and falls, therefore reducing liability.

Step 1: Developing facility requirements

In order to make the best carpet choice for your facility’s specific needs, you need to arm yourself with the right information.

Facility profile: The first step is to clearly define the type of facility for which you will be specifying carpet and outline the specific requirements of that facility. Some things to consider include the following:

  • Type of facility and specific area receiving new carpet
  • How long the carpet will be used  (life cycle)
  • Types of dirt that may be tracked into the facility
  • Whether the area is a remodeled or a new installation
  • Whether access to subfloor is required
  • Whether there is modular furniture in the space

Location profile: To maximize performance, building owners and facility managers must first decide where the carpet will go to determine what type of carpet is most appropriate.

When should carpet be the floor covering of choice?  Carpet is the norm in healthcare, education, offices, hotels and retail locations.  Carpet is being used in all common public areas of facilities — corridors (for sound absorption and slip and fall safety), waiting rooms, lobbies and offices (for beauty and versatility).  It is also being used more and more in patient rooms and nurseries in healthcare facilities (for the warmth and comfort) and almost exclusively in elementary and preschool classrooms in educational facilities.

Below are some location-specific questions to ask:

  • On a typical day, will there be spills and stains or dirt tracked into the building?  If so, what type of spills?  Food stains?  Coffee or chemical spills?
  • What will the frequency of spills be?  Excessive?  Occasional?
  • Do you need moisture impermeability?
  • Is there exposure to harsh chemicals, intense sunlight or atmospheric contaminants (such as nitrous oxides or ozone)?
  • Will there be lots of foot traffic?  Wheelchairs?  Supply carts?
  • When identifying the location where carpet will be specified, it is also important to define the level of traffic expected.   Download this PDF that highlights typical levels of traffic by industry (healthcare, retail, education, etc.)
    » Read More (PDF 56 KB) Need Help with PDF?

Step 2: Developing facility-specific carpet specifications

After you have considered and gained an understanding of the unique needs and requirements of your interior environment, you can start to look at how each component of carpet construction can influence long-term appearance retention.

Carpet construction: Construction specifications deal with appearance or the look that is desired and will determine the floor covering’s look, size, weight, construction type and coloring method. Understanding the components of carpet construction and how they influence appearance and performance is an essential part of the specification process.

A dense, low pile height, loop-pile carpet is most often used in heavy-traffic areas.  In offices and other areas with lighter foot traffic, cut-pile can be a good choice.  Cut-pile, loop-pile and cut-loop pile choices may be appropriate for use in areas that receive a moderate amount of traffic.

Appearance retention: For a carpet to retain its new look, a specifier must determine its optimal performance level.

Carpet performance is associated with many things and it’s important for a specifier to understand how all the individual elements work. For example, the yarn size needs to correlate with the gauge; the backing systems should be appropriate with the desired performance; and the dye technique has to be consistent with the end use. The most common trap is relying on only one single construction factor to determine if a product will meet specifications. Therefore, while pile yarn density is important, so is the gauge, the yarn size and many other construction parameter that can be determined by individual manufacturers. That’s why it’s so important for specifiers and end users to explain how they want the product to perform and allow the manufacturers to make the construction decisions to meet the identified needs.

Performance Considerations: Performance considerations are especially important for the demanding environments of educational and healthcare facilities. Again, it’s important that the specifier or end user identify the highest priority needs for how the carpet will perform. For example, they could be concerned about wear and tear, or about moisture-resistance, or about heavy foot traffic. Refer to manufacturers’ end use recommendations to determine which product will meet the performance expectations that have been set.

Broadloom and modular carpet options:  Building owners and facility managers have several options when specifying carpet.  You should make your choice between tufted or woven broadloom and modular carpet based on styling preference, budget considerations, backing performance needs (moisture impermeability) and facility requirements (installation, floor access).

Color and Pattern: After looking at construction and fiber type, a specifier must consider how the carpet is dyed.  Solution-dyed yarn is becoming a popular option.  In solution-dyed yarn, the color pigment is inserted into the melted polymers during extrusion.  The color is throughout the yarn, offering excellent cleanability and colorfastness.

Other dyeing methods are:

  • Stock Dyeing — Color applied after extrusion but prior to spinning
  • Yarn Dyeing — The finished yarn is dyed
  • Printing — Color normally occurs on finished carpet.
  • Piece or continuous dyeing — Dye is injected into the face of carpet in a continuous process

What color to select is an important aesthetic consideration, and it determines the amount of soil carpet can disguise. While light colors show soil more readily, dark colors show light-colored soil and lint.  Medium-value colors most effectively reduce the visible effects of soiling.  Pattern also plays a role in hiding soil.

Solid colors show soil most easily, followed by heathers and tweeds.  More effective are patterns, such as organic, geometric, linear and random:

  • Organic — A design using free form, contour lines to create objects within a pattern.
  • Geometric — A design using straight lines to create shapes within the pattern.
  • Linear — A repeat in design that clearly represents either horizontal or vertical movement.
  • Random patterns — Allows for random color placement, provide the best soil hiding capabilities.

For more heavily trafficked areas, multicolored carpet with medium-value colors and random patterns should be considered for optimal soil and stain performance.

Cushion: It is important to select the right backing system and this will include whether some type of cushion is attached. While cushion can provide resilience, acoustical/thermal insulation properties, and comfort underfoot, the majority of commercial carpet today is direct glued to the floor without a cushion. The carpet product and backing should be selected according to the traffic patterns of the application area and the manufacturer’s requirements for thickness and density.

There are three main types of carpet cushion that are used in commercial applications: fiber, rubber and polyurethane foam.

  • Fiber cushion is made of rubberized hair, rubberized jute, synthetic fibers and resinated recycled textile fiber.
  • Rubber cushion consists of flat rubber, textured flat rubber, rippled waffle (Class I only) and reinforced rubber.
  • Polyurethane foam cushion is made of grafted prime polyurethane, densified polyurethane, bonded polyurethane and mechanically frothed polyurethane.

The three classes of commercial carpet cushion applications are Class I, Class II and Class III.

  • Class I (moderate traffic) — Typically, this class includes executive, administrative or private offices in office buildings, banks, schools and healthcare facilities.
  • Class II (heavy traffic) — Generally, this class includes clerical areas, corridors, patient’s rooms, lounges, classrooms and public areas in healthcare facilities, libraries, museums,hotels, motels and schools.
  • Class III (extra heavy traffic) — This class includes cafeterias, nurses’ stations, public and ticketing areas and lobbies in office buildings, airports and healthcare facilities.

Installation: Specifiers should not forget installation.  It is important to include requirements that dictate installation procedures, such as how the carpet will be installed, cushion type and weight and delivery/installation schedules.  When installing carpet, always adhere to industry standards as published in the CRI Installation Standard (PDF 773 KB) Need Help with PDF? and may also be found in Section 09680 of the Construction and Specification Institute’s format.

Alternative installation systems offer the flexibility of a non-permanent fixture that can be selectively replaced. Carpet tile can be installed with a releasable adhesive so that it  can be easily removed, allowing access to wires and cables underneath a raised floor. When removal is easy, that area of carpet can be easily replaced. The specifier should request and include in the specification the manufacturer’s installation instructions.  Always check the installers’ credentials.  The contractors should be certified by the manufacturer or the Floor Covering Installation Board.

Budget: For the inevitable give and take of a facility’s budget, various grades of carpet allow specifiers to install, within budget, the most appropriate floor coverings for each area.  Facilities on even the tightest of budgets can have durably constructed carpet that will stand up to wear, soil and foot traffic even under harsh conditions. Your local flooring contractor or mill representative can help you evaluate options for your specific environment

Life cycle information: A 2003 IICRC study found that, on an annual basis, hard surface floors require two and one-half times more cleaning time than carpet, and cleaning supplies were about seven times more expensive for vinyl floors than for carpeted floors. While upfront purchase and installation costs are more expensive for carpet than hard flooring, carpet expenditures prove to be more cost-effective over the full life of the product.

The life of the flooring system is referred to as the “use life” of that material before replacement. “Use life” is defined as the actual years carpet or other materials are used, rather than the amount of time it takes the carpet to become worn out.  Flooring materials may be removed due to aesthetic renovation or during a scheduled refurbishment of the facility.

Cleaning material costs and the cost of maintaining cleaning equipment are major variables in a life-cycle cost analysis.  It generally is recognized that repair costs for hard surface cleaning equipment are higher than the repair costs of carpet maintenance equipment.  Hard surface cleaning involves higher speed moving parts and, thus, more equipment repairs.

The common perception is that carpet costs less at the time of installation, but over time, hard surface floor coverings cost less.  However, for an accurate assessment of the use phase costs, specifiers should base their analyses on total use-costs, taking into consideration the initial installed cost of the product, the length of the useful life (both in terms of durability and appearance retention), maintenance expenses (including labor, supplies and equipment), and the removal costs.

CRI has looked at several studies that compare initial cost, plus installation and maintenance. These studies are based on school installations where wear is constant and hard, and where the recommended maintenance procedures have been used and the appropriate commercial carpet and commercial vinyl composition tile (VCT) products were selected at the time of installation.

The most current Floor Covering Installation Cost Comparison is based on 22 years of service, comparing carpet and VCT per square foot. To see how carpet compares to VCT in download this PDF (PDF 55 KB)

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