Specifying wood floors for commercial spaces: Wood Cuts - Jan 2016
By Brett Miller
There is no doubt that wood floors add beauty to any room, but wood floors specified for commercial spaces are not the same as those specified for residential spaces. Recognizing the difference between commercial and residential wood floor specifications is essential to providing clients with floors that will perform to their expectations.
The wood floors used in commercial settings must be able to stand up to rigors that most residential wood floors would never have to endure. While residential wood floors have to withstand the wear and tear of a busy family life, commercial wood floors will constantly be exposed to thousands of people walking on them day in and day out. They need to be able to withstand scuffs from shoes, scratches from frequently moved merchandise displays or chairs, dents from dropped items, and stains from spills. In other words, the same things that might impact wood floors at home will impact commercial floors in the same way, but many times over.
Engineered wood floors work well in commercial projects for a variety of reasons. While engineered wood floors are 100% wood, they are not one solid piece of wood from top to bottom. They are constructed using several layers of wood veneer or adhered together. This multi-layer construction makes them very dimensionally stable, preventing them from expanding and contracting with changes in temperature, humidity and moisture. This stability helps make them an especially good choice for commercial projects, which are often constructed on a concrete slab.
BENEFITS OF WOOD FLOORS
Wood floors offer a variety of benefits. They provide timeless style, they are hypoallergenic and easy to maintain, and they increase the value of any construction project. When properly maintained, wood floors can last hundreds of years. And wood floors can be refinished numerous times during the course of their life, so they can be renewed to look beautiful and new time and time again. They also have a lower lifetime replacement cost than other flooring options that need to be replaced when they start to look worn out or dull.
Wood floors are hypoallergenic; they do not harbor microorganisms or pesticides tracked in from outdoors. They minimize the accumulation of dust, mold and animal dander, and according to the EPA, can improve indoor air quality. This benefit is especially useful for floors in public spaces like hospitals and schools.
Commercial wood floors are easy to maintain. Routine maintenance requires only sweeping or dust mopping to remove surface dirt. If the floor begins to look dull over time, a professional cleaning product can be used to remove contaminants from the surface. These cleaners are often solutions simply sprayed onto the floor and spread using a terry cloth mop.
If the floor has lost its luster, a professional wood flooring contractor can refinish the floor using a process called maintenance coat. This method of refinishing involves either a chemical process or abrading the finish on the floor, and application of a new coat of finish to restore luster.
Wood floors also increase the value of any building project. In a nationwide survey, real estate agents agreed that structures with wood floors sell faster and for more money than those without wood floors. The increase in value can be up to 10% more than structures without wood floors. In commercial projects, this can represent significant additional revenue when selling.
As previously mentioned, the most common subfloor used in commercial projects is concrete. Concrete is popular for a variety of reasons. It is one of the most cost-effective building materials available, and it provides superior fire resistance in commercial projects as well as good energy efficiency. Concrete also provides excellent sound control, so it works well as a subfloor material in commercial spaces, especially for projects like condominiums or apartment buildings.
Wood floors can be installed over concrete subfloors very successfully, but because the flooring material will directly reflect the shape of the subfloor, it is very important that the slab is flat to the wood flooring manufacturer’s specification. Typically, manufacturers will specify a flatness tolerance of 1/8” in a 6’ radius and/or 3/16” in a 10’ radius. Professional contractors can remove high spots by grinding and fill depressions with approved patching compounds. Concrete subfloors also can be flattened using a self-leveling concrete product.
One of the most critical steps in installing wood floors on concrete subfloors is moisture testing. Concrete subfloors should be allowed to cure for at least 30 days and must be dry before installation can begin. To ensure the slab is dry, two types of moisture tests are available, relative humidity and calcium chloride. The results of these tests may indicate the necessity of a vapor retarder to help minimize moisture issues.
For most concrete slabs, the wood flooring material is glued directly to the slab. Many wood adhesives include a vapor
retarder in the compound, which provides additional moisture protection for the flooring material.
Another important consideration when specifying commercial wood floors is Janka ratings. Janka ratings rank the relative hardness of wood species used in flooring applications.
The Janka rating is determined by the force required to embed a .444-inch steel ball to half its diameter into the wood. Ratings for both domestic and exotic species are included in the scale, with northern red oak considered the base value since it is the most prominent species in the U.S.
Within a species, Janka ratings can vary significantly, depending on the region in which the species grows. For example, American black walnut has a Janka rating of 1010, while Brazilian walnut has a 3680 rating. Cherry is another species that illustrates this well. Domestic black cherry has a Janka rating of 950, while Brazilian cherry, which is also called jatoba, has a Janka rating of 2820.
Species hardness plays an important role in specifying commercial wood floors. Because they receive significantly more foot traffic than residential wood floors, it makes sense that specifying a harder species will help the floor perform better in commercial environments. Harder species are less susceptible to denting, scratching, scuffing and other incidental wear and tear.
Sound control is another important consideration when specifying commercial wood floors. This is especially important when specifying wood floors for multi-family structures like apartment buildings or condominiums.
When specifying wood floors in multi-family dwellings, it is necessary to take into consideration both the Uniform Building Code and the BOCA National Building Code requirements. Areas of the country that do not follow either of these code standards may have local building code regulations with their own sound control requirements.
Apartment and condominium associations may have a set of protective covenants with even more stringent regulations. The type of sound control system used will be dependent on a number of variables, including the type of flooring used, concrete thickness, ceiling suspension and framing structure. These will all influence sound control effectiveness.
The finish used on a commercial wood flooring project will have a big impact on its overall look, feel and functionality. Some finishes are more effective than others for commercial projects.
In today’s market, essentially three types of finishes are available: surface finishes, natural oil/wax finishes and acrylic impregnated finishes. Surface finishes are popular because they are durable and water-resistant and require minimal routine maintenance. Surface finishes are blends of synthetic resins—often referred to as urethanes, polyurethanes, aluminum oxide, or UV—and remain on the surface of the wood as a protective coating.
Natural oils and wax finishes are the oldest floor finish categories still in use today. These finishes are applied in thin coats and soak into the pores of the wood. The coats are buffed, and they harden to form a protective penetrating seal. Floors generally are maintained with additional thin applications of wax or oil. This type of finish is not recommended for commercial spaces.
Most often specified for commercial wood floors is the acrylic impregnated finish. The protectant is injected into the wood to create a super hard, extremely durable floor. Rarely used in residential applications, this type of finish is most often found in high traffic commercial areas such as malls and restaurants.
Acrylic impregnation is the process of injecting liquid acrylic monomer into the cell structure of the wood product. During the impregnation process, the veneer is placed into a vacuum to pull all the air, natural saps and sugars out of the wood. This leaves the veneer with a virtually empty cell structure. Once permeation of the acrylic is complete, the wood is subjected to polymerization using a high heat source. The result creates a veneer that is essentially a hybrid of both wood and plastic, and it increases the hardness, durability and stability of the veneer. By some estimates, acrylic impregnated wood is twice as resistant to indentation as non-impregnated wood.
The acrylic monomer can also be dyed, and as it is infused, the color completely saturates the wearlayer of the wood, creating a very even and consistent color. This alleviates the need for any topical products, saving time and money on the jobsite as well as maintenance costs throughout the life of the floor. It also means that there is no need to re-stain the floor if it is ever refinished.
The final step in specifying a commercial wood floor is to recommend a maintenance routine that will keep it looking beautiful for the lifetime of the floor and functioning within the high demands of the commercial space.
Clients should be encouraged to avoid using water to clean their wood floors, as this can break down the finish and even damage the wood over time. Excessive water use on wood floors also can lead to cupping, characterized by raised edges and a lower center, and is typically caused by exposing the flooring to excess moisture over time, including wet mopping. Instead of water, routine maintenance can be as simple as sweeping or dust mopping the floor on a regular basis. Regular use of a professional wood flooring cleaning product recommended by the flooring manufacturer produces the best long-term maintenance results.
It is important to clean spills immediately, especially in commercial spaces where they can occur frequently. Allowing liquids to sit on the floor can dull the finish and even damage the wood. To clean the spill, a slightly damp cloth should be used to wipe up the liquid, followed by a clean, dry cloth to dry the area thoroughly. These routine maintenance suggestions will help wood floors look beautiful and perform at peak for many years.
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