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What’s the Impact of Flooring on Classroom Performance?

Posted on Oct 8, 2015, by Prem Patel

When choosing flooring for your school, there’s more to consider than price and design alone. Today, we’re looking at how flooring impacts four important areas of classroom performance, and giving you the information you need to make the right flooring choice for your school.

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1) Acoustics

In order to help students engage with their teaching as effectively as possible, it’s important to minimize any disruptions and distractions that could hinder academic performance.

Sounds from other children, HVAC systems, PA announcements, traffic noise and construction can all interfere with the clarity of teaching. Just four rows back from the front of the average classroom, speech intelligibility is just 50% (Siebein, 1998); and when children have issues with impaired hearing, or have to engage with a secondary language, this problem is worsened.

While hard surfaces can increase noise reverberation, carpeted surfaces (especially those with cushion backing) can help reduce both airborne sounds and ground level vibrations. This can minimize the need for additional (and potentially costly) acoustic treatments, and help improve the behavior and academic performance of students.

The relationship between noise levels and academic performance is well documented, and even recognized by LEED building certifications. Schools can earn points for classrooms with sound levels below 40dB, which are then used to qualify the school for different levels of certification, and in some instances, financial grants. With sound levels in many classrooms averaging 65dB (Oberdorster and Tiesler, 2005), there’s a real need for schools to take action on noise.

2) Indoor Air Quality

The decision between carpeting and hard flooring has a surprising impact on your school’s indoor air quality.

Both broadloom and hard surface products can cause moisture to become trapped under the surface of the floor. With no seams to allow for evaporation, this trapped moisture can cause mold and mildew to develop over time. Seamed carpet tiles allow moisture to escape the floor; and with certain types of backing allowing for ‘moisture wicking’, the occurrence of mold and mildew can be significantly reduced.

Allergens are another significant contributor to air quality problems. All manner of animal and plant allergens are tracked into schools on a daily basis, and in rooms with hard surface flooring, these allergens are left floating around in the breathing zone. Daily cleaning does little to alleviate this problem, with sweeping and mopping often serving to spread allergens further around the room.

In contrast, carpet can trap these allergens, and keep them out of the breathing zone. Once trapped, allergens can be removed using a vacuum with a HEPA filter.  By using a dry powder cleaning technique, along with vacuuming – using porous micro-beads to absorb allergens, dust mites, liquids, and dirt – carpet becomes a best-in-class flooring option with regards to Indoor Air Quality.  In general, studies show that the breathing zone over a hard surfaced floor can contain almost 9 times more breathable particulates than the air over a carpeted floor.

3) Comfort

The aesthetics of the school environment play an important role in ‘cueing’ student behavior. Reverberation caused by hard surface products can add to the noise in a space, and normalize loud behavior. In contrast, soft carpeting and vivid flooring designs can be invaluable for improving the behavior of students – encouraging quieter speech, and helping students to enjoy a bright and engaging environment.

Cushioned carpet can also be useful for creating flexible learning spaces, making it comfortable for students to sit, stand and even lie down, whether they’re active at recess or quietly reading with their teacher. With many teachers standing all day, cushioned carpet will also increase their underfoot comfort and reduce muscle fatigue.

In recent years, The National Clearinghouse for Education Facilities, The Center for Green Schools and many other organizations have stressed the importance of Indoor Environmental Quality on student performance.  In short, Indoor Environmental Quality studies clearly indicate that adequate daylighting, thermal comfort, and acoustics led to significantly improved learning environments.

As well as helping with acoustics, carpet also improves the thermal comfort of a room by serving as an insulator between the ground and the interior space.  Conversely, hard surface floors are typically poor insulators, and create a lot of glare when exposed to daylighting.  Carpet creates a warm, glare-free and engaging environment that can reduce distractions and maximize learning.

4) Safety

Slips and falls are the leading cause of injury in schools, and your choice of flooring has an important role to play in minimizing the incidence of injuries.

Hard surfaces often become slippery, especially in wet conditions (as a result of recent mopping, or snow or rainfall being tracked into the building). Carpet offers significantly more traction than hard surface products, and reduces the likelihood of slips and falls occurring as a result. In the event of a fall, carpeting can also reduce the risk of injury. Only 17% of falls on carpet result in injury, compared to 46% of falls on hard surfaces (Hedge, 2003).

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Topics: Performance

Prem Patel

Written by Prem Patel