We all spend a lot of our time walking in and out of buildings. And like other things we do all the time, it stands to reason that most of us have probably stopped paying attention. Our goal today is to help relieve the boredom of going in and out of all those buildings and give you something to pay attention to.
Think of the old aphorism about focusing on the journey and not just the destination. The next time you stroll into a building, look down.
YOU SAID SOMETHING ABOUT AN “ENTRY SYSTEM”
Yes we did. We’re talking about the protective flooring systems designed for use around building entrances. Like nearly everything these days, there’s a ton of science and engineering hiding behind the stuff you aren’t paying attention to. So, let’s pay attention to it for a minute.
Some basics: Effective Entry Systems require a variety of approaches to getting all the unwanted stuff (for lack of a better word) off people’s feet. Why? Because people track two very different things into buildings — dirt and moisture. Seems obvious when you think about it, but there’s an important conclusion to be drawn: Specifically — things that get dirt off your shoes don’t necessarily help much with moisture. And vice versa.
Knowing this is terrific. Also, relatively meaningless unless we figure out a way to turn the things we know into products that work. So, next, let’s have a look at the physical space over which we want to carry out this operation. While there’s typically a single point (architecturally speaking) where exterior meets interior, we can more effectively deal with dirt and moisture removal by using a system that operates over a wider area. We shouldn’t think of the “entry” as just a door, or a vestibule, and then throw a mat down next to it. We should start thinking of a transitional zone. More precisely, a connected sequence of zones — one after the other.
THE FIRST ZONE
By subdividing an Entry System in this way, manufacturers can design each zone to address a specific function. The first zone is outside, in front of the physical building entrance. Its primary job is to get rid of physical objects from the bottoms of your shoes — like grit, heavy dirt particles (sand, for instance), or snow and ice. The best way, mechanically, to accomplish this is by scraping. Solutions in this zone should be abrasive, and they also need to stand up to the elements — remember, we’re still outside.
These products are usually plastic, metal and/or rubber. Some might also add nylon monofilament to the mix, which changes things up functionally (by using a combination of scraping and brushing) as well as aesthetically (because the monofilament presents a more “textile-like” appearance). The visual and the functional may not always make for perfect bunkmates, so you’ll have to figure out the right balance for your own situation.
THE SECOND ZONE
Moving forward, we’re opening a door, or we’re in a vestibule. If the first zone did its job, your shoes are carrying less grit and grime. Since you are just stepping in from outside, you still want scraping action to remove dirt, but now absorbing moisture is equally important. Because grit removal continues to be relevant, second-zone products also use plastics, metal and rubber. But you’ll see a large increase in the amount of fabric to deal with the moisture.
Recessed installations appear more frequently here, like the embedded metal grilles and grates you’ll start to notice while you’re looking down. Architects and designers tend to love these because they’re attractive and become part of the architecture. Styles vary, for aesthetic and functional reasons. Remember that all-metal systems may look good, but don’t do much about moisture. Hence, products using combined materials with moisture-absorbing properties are important in wetter climates. Otherwise pedestrian traffic will be carrying quite a bit of water into the building interior — and all of it will have to be addressed by the third zone.
The second zone is also an excellent place for monofilament elements. They provide brushing characteristics but look more like standard carpet. Thus, they produce a reasonable amount of scraping and abrasion, but visually are more closely aligned with what people tend to think of as an “interior” appearance.
THE THIRD ZONE (AND SOME MATERIALS SCIENCE!)
Now we’re inside. Products designed for use in the third zone are almost completely designed to absorb moisture. Shoes have now almost reached the building’s interior floor covering and should be as dry as possible. Third-zone products are usually all-textile, and may (or may not) be distinguishably different from the majority of the interior flooring. It’s largely an aesthetic decision — does the architecture and interior design suggest that the floor near the main entrance blend smoothly with the rest of the building, or stand apart? There are myriad choices, and an equal number of ways to use them effectively.
Moisture absorption is important here, so it’s a good place to bring up another item to consider: polypropylene vs. nylon. Why is this relevant? Here’s why: Polypropylene is hydrophobic, while nylon is hydrophilic. If you know anyone who gets nervous when you go to the lake, you’re probably familiar with the first term, hydrophobic. So, are we saying polypropylene is afraid of water? No. But we can say (with scientific certainty) that it does tend to repel water. Nylon, conversely, attracts water. If absorbing as much water as possible is your goal, use nylon. If you want to really get science-y, here are the data:
With foot traffic at (on average) 4,500 people entering a building, polypropylene picks up .6 lbs. of water and 3.2 lbs. of soil per square yard. The numbers for nylon are 1.5 and 6.7, respectively. Nylon more than doubles polypropylene in both cases.
Lastly, note that not all fibers (nylon or polypropylene) are created equal. And — even fibers that are created equal aren’t made into equally effective textiles. Another little research project you can pursue in your spare time (yes, we know you don’t have any) would be to look into the textile construction of different Entry Systems to see which products best design their construction and textures to be most effective at trapping all of the accumulated dirt they scrape off, rather than just flipping it back out into the air.
THE BIG FINISH: WHY DOES ANY OF THIS MATTER?
There are a few reasons, actually. Air quality, for one. But before we address this specifically, let’s throw this statistic at you: Without an Entry System (on average), every 1,000 people bring in 24 pounds of dirt. And of course, if Bob, say, or Maria, goes to lunch and also to a couple of appointments during the day, that counts as 4 people, not just one. It adds up pretty quickly.
A few more numbers: 6 feet of Entry product collects 40% of the dirt that’s walking through the door. 39 feet captures almost 100%. We understand 39 feet isn’t practical for most buildings, but here’s the really cool statistic: 20 feet captures 80% of the dirt. And remember, that includes the first-zone product outside. So by pushing your Entry product as close to 20 feet as possible, you can pretty quickly get the numbers into a meaningful place. 12 or 14 feet, for example, can start to have a big, big impact. So, back to air quality: Plenty of that dirt getting inside winds up floating through the air. Particulates. Floating into people’s lungs.
Another solid reason to install the appropriate amount of Entry products: maintenance costs. Somebody has to clean up all that dirt that isn’t getting captured by the Entry System you don’t have. We could go statistic mad here, but we won’t. Suffice to say that building owners are spending huge amounts of money to clean up dirt every year, most of which comes in from the outside.
And this isn’t just about carpet. Much of what stays on people’s shoes is sand. If you think about this, essentially sandpaper is being walked across your new floor. Almost half (42% to be precise) of the hard flooring finish in a building is removed by every 1,500 people who walk in when there’s no Entry System. Remember Bob and Maria and all those lunches and appointments? If 500 people work in a given building, it’s not really much of a stretch to postulate that nearly half of the hard floor finish is getting sanded off every day.
Lastly, we should quickly address the topic of slips and falls. There are huge safety and liability concerns if someone were to slip and fall on a wet floor while entering a building. If the goal is to avoid this, it’s important to consider how well your Entry System absorbs moisture (remember nylon does a much better job than polypropylene). Also, by having a permanent solution installed you can avoid the tripping hazard that many temporary “standard” mats can create.
THAT REALLY WAS A LOT OF INFORMATION
We know. If you’re about to stick your toe into the market for some type of Entry System, there’s plenty to take in. Since aesthetic opinions are so personal, we’ll steer clear — but to help you clarify some functionality issues, here are a few things to consider:
- What kind of dirt and grit do you expect to be scraping off, primarily? Because, of course, different materials and configurations work better in different environments.
- Will you be dealing with snow? If so, how much and how often?
Is it generally light and fluffy, or wet and heavy?
- For warmer climates, where dirt and grit are the biggest issue — how much rain do you get? Are muddy feet a concern, or will the grit tend to be dry most of the time? Is moisture your primary challenge?
- Do you expect dirt removal to be more important than the moisture performance?
The opposite? An even balance?
As you can see — lots of questions. You might feel like throwing your hands up in the air and just watching some TV. We understand. But we also know that buying the wrong product won’t make anybody happy. Knowing a bit more about Entry Systems makes you a more informed customer. There are plenty of very good products on the market. Know what you want.
Find something that works for you.