The flooring surface that’s a good fit one part of your worship facility likely won’t work in another portion. Different types of rooms call for different kinds of flooring materials, each coming with its own unique mix of cost, maintenance needs, “feel,” and longevity. And there are more materials out there than you may think.
Entries and vestibules
The floor takes more of a beating than any other component of your facility, and that’s especially true when it comes to the entryways, foyers and vestibules just inside the front door. This is an area where durability, dirt and water resistance are the main concerns, and a combination of surfaces is necessary, according to Louminda Torbett, an interior designer with Boston-based Cubellis Associates Inc., architecture-interior design-engineering firm.
“Good choices here include stone, brick, porcelain ceramic tile, or even a sealed or colored concrete,” says Torbett. Add a walk-off mat system with a built-in drain in areas of the country where water and ice are commonplace, she advises. “Commercial grade walk-off mats help capture dirt and water, she notes, “and should be chosen with the locality in mind – some are better at capturing sand and grit, while others are better at absorbing water.”
Many churches use stained concrete for their main entry areas, according to Brad Oaster, president and founder of Colorado Springs-based Harvestime Inc. This flooring type is durable, attractive, and easy-to-clean – but can create less-than-desirable acoustic environments.
“When you have hard surfaces on both the floor and the walls, the entry room gets so ‘live’ acoustically that you can’t hear yourself talk,” says Oaster. “So what we do in many instances is ‘vent’ the stained concrete with patterns or borders of carpet squares to soak up some of the reverberating sound,” he says.
Acoustics combines with ease of cleaning to determine good flooring choices for a sanctuary.
In seating areas, this can mean a combination of materials. Underneath the seats themselves, stained concrete, regular concrete with a waxed finish, or vinyl composition tile (VCT) fit the bill, “because it’s easier to get a mop underneath seats to clean up, compared to vacuuming,” according to Oaster. Meanwhile, “We typically do a carpet down the aisles, around the back, and in front of the stage.”
“I think it is practical to have hard-surface flooring with carpet runners in the aisles,” says Torbett. Stone, porcelain tile/pavers and, sometimes, wood are good choices for sanctuary applications.
Wood isn’t typically at the top of Oaster’s preferred-materials list either. From the maintenance standpoint, it suffers more than concrete from the ravages of black-soled shoes and women in high-heels. At the same time, “Wood expands and contracts with changes in moisture and humidity, so it is generally not something we use in many places,” although he does specify it occasionally for use on the stage areas of sanctuaries.
Cork is another appropriate material for the sanctuary floor, according to Margaret Buchholz, director of marketing and design for Parkesburg, Pennsylvania-based Expanko Inc., a manufacturer of cork, recycled rubber and cork/rubber flooring, as well as other types of cork products.
As a ‘soft’ hard-surface flooring material, “Cork is comfortable, easy to maintain, and has superior acoustical qualities,” says Buchholz. Like wood, cork is also finished with polyurethane and it needs to be maintained. She adds, “When properly maintained, cork has the ability to last for decades – there are cork floors in many churches, libraries and university buildings that were originally installed in the 1920s and 1930s, and are still viable today.”
Offices and Elsewhere…
Carpet is usually the best choice for offices, according to Torbett, because “It provides for a quieter environment and reduces the amount of airborne dust associated with hard surfaces.”
She recommends high-quality nylon on a synthetic back in either broadloom or carpet tiles for most applications. “Carpet tiles tend to cost a little more initially, but there is less waste during installation, and damaged or soiled tiles can be removed and replaced easily.”
Carpet can also be a good choice for classrooms, except for those serving the youngest age groups, Torbett notes.
“Classrooms for younger children may benefit by having two areas – one with carpet, and one with a resilient, water-resistant flooring such as rubber or linoleum,” she says, adding “cork is another good resilient flooring choice, but should not be used in wet areas.”
“We often use a very padded carpet in the nursery – kids bounce better when there is a very thick pad for them to land on,” Oaster points out. “But the problem is that many carpet installers don’t want to warranty their work when you ask for an extra-thick pad – they’re concerned about the seams.”
Another option for these rooms is the Padenpor Multipurpose flooring system, manufactured and installed by Lancaster, Pennsylvania-based Abacus Sports Installations Ltd.
A poured urethane surface available in a variety of thicknesses, Padenpor was originally designed as a sports surface. In classrooms, nurseries, and other multipurpose rooms within a worship facility, “It takes the place of VCT and carpet, neither of which provide a particularly safe floor for children’s activities,” according to Abacus President Spencer Proud. He says that the softer Padenpor surface is easy to maintain (“Just wet-mop or run over it with a dust mop”); seamless (“nothing can get in or underneath); and non-porous (“if someone knocks over the Hawaiian Punch at a banquet, it’s not going to soak into the floor and stain”). “Although Padenpor is a soft, resilient surface in design,” adds Proud, “the topcoats are hard, ensuring durability and performance.”
A Few Tips
When selecting flooring, “Balance life expectancy, appearance retention, and maintenance costs when making your decisions,” says Torbett. “Just because a material is inexpensive when initially purchased does not mean it is going to be the least expensive to use.”
Budget for major maintenance, adds Oaster. “We advise our clients to take the total cost of the floor coverings in their buildings, divide that by eight, and take the result and put it into a CD or some other safe savings vehicle—so that, ideally, every eight years or so they have the funds to go through and completely redo all floors and carpets.”
Keep indoor air quality and environmental considerations in mind, says Torbett. The Carpet and Rug Institute has industry-accepted guidelines for minimizing indoor air quality problems associated with carpet materials and installation adhesives, she notes. Guidelines are also available for limiting off-gassing of adhesives used in the installation of resilient flooring; and, “There are environmental concerns regarding the off-gassing of vinyl products (including vinyl flooring); research is on-going at this time.”
For those using carpeting, recycling should be considered for disposing of carpet, Torbett adds. A good source of information on this topic is Carpet America Recovery Effort (CARE), an initiative of the carpet industry and government set up to help prevent carpet from burdening landfills.