Martyn West of Altro explains why pursuing cheap flooring options in environments for social housing could prove to be a false economy, on the basis of safety, durability, cleaning and maintenance costs.
Flooring is vulnerable to wear and tear and specifiers have to tackle a range of criteria in housing developments to ensure long term value, as well as safety for users. Social housing has a particular set of criteria which can amplify the need to focus on floors.
Communal areas in social housing can be exposed to a lot of damage, for example buggies, motorbikes, bicycles and wheelchairs tracking in dirt and water, as well as causing bumps and scratches to floors and walls. On the other hand, bathrooms and kitchens in tenants’ homes can spell danger, with the potential for slips and damage caused by water ingress, bacteria and mould. Both are areas that demand flooring as well as walling that are not only safe and durable but aesthetically pleasing, and need to be up for the robust demands of daily life.
With budgets under greater pressure than ever before, local authorities could be forgiven for trying to overlook the challenges and opting for the cheapest possible floor coverings, on the pretext that ‘it will have to be replaced soon anyway.’ However, that approach will almost always prove to be a false economy – and could even prove extremely costly in this modern litigation culture. Thankfully there are some practical solutions for making budgets work harder, in terms of performance and lifecycle costs, cleaning, hygiene and safety, without compromising on aesthetics.
Safe now… and into the future
First and foremost, landlords need to keep tenants, visitors and staff safe from harm. Older residents and those with challenges with mobility and balance can be massively affected by a fall. Minimising slips and trips should be an essential part of planning and risk assessment, and is particularly important in busy communal areas and higher risk areas such as bathrooms and kitchens. Safety flooring is essential, but you’ll need to ask some tough questions to ensure you get the best long term performance.
Choosing products with a guarantee of sustained slip resistance for the life of the flooring ensures specifiers continue to meet their responsibilities and also prevents spend on untimely replacement – always consider life cycle costings alongside initial outlay. Safety flooring with a slip resistance of PTV ≥36 (the HSE standard) makes the chances of anyone slipping or falling one in a million. However, sustained slip resistance for the lifetime of the flooring will need to be specified to keep it that way.
Be wary of flooring that meets that HSE standard when fitted but loses slip resistance over time when in use – this can bring the odds of a slip or fall as high as one in two. Always ask to see manufacturers’ figures for sustained slip resistance so you make an informed choice rather than a costly mistake.
Surfaces in communal and entrance areas in particular have to withstand heavy traffic – buggies, bike wheels, wheelchairs and walking aids. Walls often take a real battering with newly painted surfaces getting covered in scuffs, scrapes and knocks in no time at all. Corners and outer surfaces of doors are particularly vulnerable to damage.
Wall protection system developed specifically for use in high traffic areas will be tough enough to cope with what’s thrown at it – quite literally, having been tested in some of the most demanding healthcare and education environments.
Flooring also needs to be tough, easy to maintain and look good. For longevity and improved life cycle costs, consider heavy duty 2.5mm safety flooring for communal areas as it is thicker and more durable than standard 2mm thick flooring. Good quality safety flooring will have very high resistance to damage and impact and should come with a long guarantee, so you can be confident it will stand the test of time.
Kitchens and bathrooms
Safety flooring is a must in social housing kitchens. The high risk of spillages, including contaminants such as greasy water, mean quality cannot be scrimped on. For bathrooms, look for safety flooring for use in wet and dry areas, for shoe and barefoot use – an ideal solution for these areas, particularly where carers may be providing assistance. This new type of safety flooring is an alternative to studded safety flooring, which can be difficult to clean in a domestic environment. The newest products have been developed specifically for this sector, with a ‘homely’ soft look.
Kitchens and bathrooms are both ideal places for hygienic wall cladding, which is available in a broad range of colours and finishes. Again, look for a flooring and wall cladding system designed to work together for the best results.
Homely interiors for all
While withstanding the impacts of daily use is crucial, visual impact is also important. The good news is that there’s no need to choose between performance and aesthetics as the latest generation of walling and flooring products combine both. Wall protection systems and hygienic wall cladding come in a variety of popular colours, while the range of safety flooring available has changed beyond recognition in recent years, with many now incorporating technologies to make them easier to clean, reducing time and costs for upkeep. Options now include wood effects for a homely feel, bright and bold colours to create a wow factor as well as many more subtle options. These include safety flooring without the traditional ‘sparkle’ which can be a disadvantage to someone living with dementia.
To ensure spaces are accessible to all, you should also consider tonal contrast between floors, walls, steps and doorways, ensuring a clear difference between the surfaces that can be easily identified by someone with visual impairment. Where different types of flooring are used alongside each other and there is no step between them, it’s equally important to ensure that the materials are as similar in tonal contrast as possible to avoid creating the illusion of a step where there is none. Tonal contrast is measured in Light Reflectance Values (LRVs) – you can find more information on this, as well as detailed guidance on inclusive design, at www.altro.co.uk
As in so many areas of life, it is important to avoid false economies when selecting wall and floor surfaces for social housing. Choosing hard working products designed to last the distance can unlock local authorities and social housing landlords from short maintenance cycles in areas attracting the greatest wear and tear, keeping them looking smarter, safer and more welcoming for longer.