The healthcare flooring products sector is expected to grow to 355 million square feet next year. Research shows that healthcare environmental design plays a significant role in wellness and healing. And while patient and staff well-being is a top priority, innovative flooring options also address practical concerns of function, accessibility and safety.
As a result, the use of this research in the design of healthcare environments is growing. The process, referred to as evidence-based design (EBD), calls for design decisions about the built environment to be based on credible research to achieve the best possible outcomes, according to the Center for Health Design. Through evidence-based design, decisions about every aspect of the built environment — from grand-scale architecture, right down to the nylon in the carpet — are based upon credible research to achieve the best possible outcomes
Healthcare executives are embracing EBD principles as a guide to help them do more with less. They have a financial responsibility to ensure that the decisions being made about their capital investments achieve a number of important objectives, including improving patient and staff safety, reducing patient and staff stress, improving the patient and family experience, and improving staff effectiveness and satisfaction.
Flooring is an important design element within the assisted living environment. Like the ability and physical needs of residents are varied, so too is the flooring to be installed. Various flooring materials are needed to address all the “types” of communities and spaces within assisted living facilities. Flooring for assisted living facilities needs to provide comfort and confidence for all inhabitants. And it needs to create a better environment for patients, residents and staff.
No matter how able-bodied the residents are, safety and accessibility must be the primary concern. Safety encompasses accommodations for visual impairment, slip hazards, transition hazards (between materials) and flammability. Durability, ease of maintenance and sustainability are significant considerations as well.
With greater design influence from the hospitality sector rather than the medical model, the flooring materials found in assisted living communities are fast changing. The focus in independent living is to create a hospitality feel in corridors and public spaces. Previously, few suitable products, such as solution-dyed carpet or other moisture-barrier fabrics, were available; now there is a range of flooring for assisted living facilities. The challenge is selecting materials with a hospitality aesthetic that is both functional, safe and durable since carts and wheelchairs will do damage over time.
Luxury vinyl tile (LVT) is one product increasingly prevalent in the assisted living environment because of its proven performance, ease of maintenance and less institutional-like feel. Not only does it afford a wide array of high-end design options (from vibrant colors to natural earth tones, including wood species, stone or ceramic), but it’s also easy to maintain and install.
Other popular flooring for assisted living facilities includes rubber and solid vinyl. Rubber flooring manufacturers have expanded their product lines offering a wide range of texture and color combinations. It provides a safe and cushioned surface, and is dimensionally stable with a homogenous construction that is naturally resistant to damage from gouges and scuffs.
Solid vinyl tile is another attractive option. Not only does it have a built-in antimicrobial barrier to control bacteria and fungi, but it also comes in a variety of aesthetic options to complement many decors. Its maintenance is also less labor intensive.
Also, transitions between flooring materials, thickness and finish need to be addressed where residents move from space to space. Because seniors sometimes shuffle, these can pose a tripping hazard due to differences in height or surface friction. Because of this many facilities use carpet installation in the corridors and broadloom carpet in large gathering rooms. Carpet helps reduce leg and eye fatigue, absorbs sound, and encourages patient mobility and socialization.
In the individual apartments, carpet installation tends to be loop pile construction, often with a moisture barrier backing. The look and underfoot softness of a tight sisal is one flooring option that can offer a home-like feel. Residents use more assistance devices in these situations, and the carpet generally gets more day-to-day abuse. Bathrooms present challenges for both slip and fall and moisture issues. One option is a safety floor that integrates mineral grains to create a non-slip surface.
Modular carpet tile also functions well in assisted living facilities. The benefits of using modular carpeting include the ease of swapping out tiles if an accident should occur, less chance of injury due to slips and falls and the acoustic advantages of sound absorption.
Flooring pattern and color affects people differently. Flooring for assisted living facilities should choose products with medium color values and restricting patterns to tone-on-tone designs, which often appear monochromatic to those with poor eyesight, yet provide relief, design-wise, to the healthy eye.
Sustainability is also a key issue in all product selections for senior living. Designers must work with flooring installers to consider the adhesive systems associated with the floor installation systems being considered. They should make certain that both the adhesive and flooring material do not infringe on daily living. This includes understanding how it affects indoor air quality. Off-gassing from flooring is another concern, especially for residents with respiratory difficulties. The issue is compounded by the fact that much of the flooring replacement must be completed while the facility is occupied, so the adhesives and installation process must also produce no noxious gases. Zero or low VOC flooring products are a must for these reasons.