Easy to maintain, flexible and hard-wearing.
By TOM ROLLO INTERNATIONAL MARKETING DIRECTOR POLYFLOR UK.
With a multitude of building materials at an architect’s or specifier’s disposal, commercial sheet vinyl flooring has had to evolve into a high-performance product but also a design-led flooring option worthy of consideration for education, healthcare, office, retail environments and more.
Easy to maintain, flexible and hard-wearing sheet vinyl flooring is now available in several specifications to fulfil the different demands of a wide variety of commercial and domestic spaces. For example, a selection of vinyl flooring products with various performance qualities could be installed throughout an entire hospital building, from operating theatres and wards to bathrooms and kitchens.
Specifiers need to consider the use of a space before selecting a suitable sheet vinyl floor covering. How much foot traffic will there be? Is enhanced slip resistance required? Is impact sound an issue in this building? What design will work with this interior design scheme? The sheet vinyl flooring market offers flooring solutions to these requirements that a specifier has on their checklist, and there are various vinyl flooring types for them to choose from.
Homogeneous sheet vinyl flooring is made up of a single layer, manufactured by calendering and pressing, to ensure a dense, smooth structure. These products are available in an extensive range of neutral and bright shades with non-directional or marbleised decoration, often featuring tonal chips or pearlescent flakes. This heavy-duty flooring type is often installed in high traffic areas such as hospital corridors or circulation areas in a school.
Heterogeneous vinyl flooring has a construction of made up of multiple layers, including a clear PVC wearlayer, an integral printed layer and a PVC-backing. The decorative layer can mimic the appearance of natural wood and stone materials, or alternatively more abstract designs, textile effects or a solid colour plain decoration.
By adding design elements such as grain detail, surface texture and markings, flooring manufacturers can authentically replicate the look of any species of wood or a variety of stone types such as concrete and slate.
The customer can achieve the look of real wood planks or stone tiles without sacrificing the practical and performance benefits of vinyl flooring, in an easy-to-install sheet format. This flooring type is typically chosen for areas where floor design is a key factor, such as in retail environments and office buildings.
Safety flooring products offer sustainable wet slip resistance for areas that are a potential slip hazard. These products are now a combination of style and substance, with warmer, brighter and more contemporary designs available.
Traditional safety floors often include dark aggregate particles to provide friction which is very visible, whereas the carborundum-free particles used in modern ranges are similar to the tone of the floor’s base colour and therefore give the look of smooth vinyl but with the performance of a safety floor.
Architects and specifiers have a duty of care to ensure that a suitable safety flooring is selected for areas where there are risks of spillages and surface water. Therefore, it’s always important to check that the product manufacturer can support slip resistance test method claims in accordance with HSE & UK Slip Resistance Group Guidelines.
In terms of safety floor credentials, products specified to provide slip resistance in wet conditions should meet EN 13845, which is the European Safety Flooring standard for particle-based slip resistant flooring. To meet the criteria for this standard, safety flooring must pass the 50,000 cycles abrasion test to ensure long-term, sustainable slip resistant performance of the aggregates used within the product.
Products specified as safety floors should also be Health & Safety Executive (HSE) compliant and offer a low potential for slip. The production processes used to develop HSE compliant safety flooring are highly sophisticated with slip resistance generated through use of aggregates such as quartz, aluminium oxide, silicon carbide and recycled natural aggregates incorporated in the full performance layer. This ensures slip resistance is provided throughout the guaranteed life of the product.
To meet HSE requirements, a safety floor must achieve a result of 36+ in the Pendulum Wet Test with a surface roughness of 20 + microns. These tests are portable and can be used to take live readings on site to demonstrate slip resistance over the life of the floor.
Specification of safety flooring shouldn’t be made solely against Ramp Test (DIN 51130) R value ratings such as R10 as this is an ex-factory method of assessing slip resistance that takes no account of wear and maintenance carried out to the floor over time.
Hence, a product with a rough emboss but no embedded particles may be sold as a pseudo safety flooring with an ex-factory R10 rating but in time the emboss will wear, leaving a smooth floor that is not slip-resistant in wet conditions. Safety flooring is specified for various environments, such as entranceways, corridors, kitchens, canteens, bathrooms and continually wet barefoot areas.
Acoustic sheet vinyl flooring is designed to tackle noise transfer throughout a multi-level building. Good quality acoustic vinyl flooring features a closed-cell foam backing which will provide a reduction in impact sound exceeding UK Building Regulation requirements of 17Db.
Impact sound is energy produced by the collision of solid objects transmitted through the structure of a building such as footsteps, slamming doors or the movement of furniture.
Noise levels transmitted through floors by impact sound can be reduced by acoustic planning at the outset of a project and correctly installing an acoustic vinyl floorcovering.
Specialist hardwearing SD (static dissipative) and EC (electrostatic conductive) flooring is another type of sheet flooring which is required for ESD critical locations. Electrostatic discharge caused by the scuff of a shoe or the scrape of a chair creates an electron imbalance which can have serious consequences. In electronics manufacturing, in pharmaceuticals, healthcare, ordnance manufacture and storage, ESD incidents can often cause material, component or system failures, which may prove costly and perhaps even dangerous.
Sheet vinyl flooring is a suitable choice for commercial and residential environments, so it’s an increasingly popular flooring solution used in the housing sector. Commercial grade sheet vinyl products are often used for heavy footfall communal areas such as staircases and entranceways, while domestic grade products are suitable for inside homes.
Sheet vinyl flooring for the home is available in contemporary wood and stone effects to provide a stylish, practical and cost-effective flooring option for customers. Designs such as herringbone and stone tile effects are available in sheet format, which is much quicker and simpler to install than individual planks or tiles.
Decorative safety floor is a major growth area that is increasingly being specified in residential environments owing to its dual aesthetic and slip-resistant features. These products are often used to give users extra protection against slips, trips and falls in adapted bathrooms, or as part of a residential care home interior design scheme, with various dementia-friendly design options available.
Most commonly available in 2m widths, sheet vinyl flooring can be welded together using a ‘cold’ chemical weld or hot welded using weld rod in a complementary shade, which will make the appearance of any joins subtle.
Sheet vinyl flooring is most commonly available in a 2mm gauge, which means it’s easy to lay two different sheet vinyl products side-by-side. This can be done using two different designs to create zones in a space or using products with different performance qualities. For example, a safety flooring product could be installed behind a serving counter, alongside a heterogeneous product throughout the dining area of a school canteen.
Vinyl flooring can be used to create bespoke flooring designs such as lettering, logos, motifs and insignia by using waterjet cutting technology. A stream of high-pressure water is used to cut out the vinyl pieces which are then put together like a jigsaw to create a finished design.
Vinyl flooring is also easy to clean and maintain, often featuring a polyurethane reinforcement which allows for a polish-free maintenance regime and optimum appearance retention, helping prevent stains and scuff marks.
With fewer chemicals, less power and less cleaning time required to maintain vinyl flooring, this means these products have a reduced environmental impact and can lead to overall maintenance cost savings of 48% over a 20-plus year life.
Another benefit of vinyl flooring is that it’s an environmentally sound building material. Over its whole lifecycle, vinyl floorcovering performs comparably or better than competing materials across a range of impacts. Vinyl is exceptionally energy efficient to manufacture (using less energy than other plastics and linoleum) and is highly durable with a 20-25-year lifespan if correctly installed and suitably maintained. As a material, vinyl is also ideally suited to being recycled.
It’s 100% recyclable and can be recycled many times over without losing its performance properties.
Sheet vinyl is an incredibly versatile flooring option which is available in a vast number of colours, designs and specifications, offering specifiers a solution to suit almost any project they’re working on. As both a high performance and high design product, sheet vinyl flooring can be functional and practical, as well as a stand out design feature in an interior scheme.
As the market develops, further advancements are being made to the diversity of the sheet vinyl products available to cater to the demands of modern interior design projects and the expectations of clients.