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Selecting and maintaining vinyl flooring.

Sheet vinyl flooring has traditionally been considered as suitable only for residential settings. However, vinyl flooring also has applications in commercial and special-use buildings.

The wide range of colors available in sheet vinyl makes it ideal for clearly delineating important areas. For example, installing color contrasting sheet vinyl pathways in corridors and lobbies is a practical way to assist the visually impaired in finding necessary routes.

Because sheet vinyl can be inserted as replacement flooring without disrupting an entire floor, the product is useful in high-traffic areas. Pre-measured areas in elevator lobbies, entry-ways, and so forth may be scheduled for replacement more frequently than surrounding areas. With regular maintenance, however, the need to replace sheet vinyl flooring frequently is greatly diminished.

Of course, in approaching such maintenance, it helps to understand both the composition of today's sheet vinyl and the effect on flooring of the subfloor, underlayment, or covered-over flooring underneath.

Facts about sheet vinyl

The key to sheet vinyl's appearance and its ability to withstand foot traffic is its "wearlayer." This outer layer, which is composed of vinyl composition with finishing coats, is designed to withstand sustained use without showing visible wear.

Commercial sheet vinyl also resists wear because the flooring's patterns are usually inlaid throughout the full thickness of the wearlayer. In this way the pattern cannot easily be worn off from high traffic.

ASTM 1303, the federal specification of commercial vinyl flooring, requires a wearlayer of 50 mils. Some of today's floorcoverings are up to 30 percent thicker than this specification.

Because durability is predominantly attributed to the thickness and quality of the wearlayer, it is generally more desirable to specify products having a thicker wearlayer, provided they satisfy aesthetic and cost-value needs.

Below the wearlayer is the sheet vinyl's base layer, often composed of multi-purpose felt backing to allow installation on varying grade levels.


Whenever possible, care should be taken to see that contractors install sheet vinyl over a level and clean foundation, whether it is a subfloor, an underlayment, or a pre-existing floor being covered. Installation over a non-level surface can invite excessive scuffing in raised areas. The need to correct a nonlevel condition should be brought to the attention of the contractor before installation.

Sheet vinyl can be seamed by chemical- or heat-welding methods. Heat welding is recommended for aesthetic reasons and is especially important in environments which must be kept relatively germ- and contaminant-free. Heat welding also allows for color accents to be created by fusing contrasting colors next to each other.

In some cases, a new vinyl floor may be installed over the old flooring. The use of a high-quality, full-spread adhesive is a must. The two sheet vinyls must bond tightly to prevent raised areas from filling with air.

If the bottom flooring is an embossed vinyl, it is imperative that an embossing-leveler compound be applied over it before installation of the new sheet vinyl. This is the only way to guarantee that the embossed patterns in the bottom flooring will not yield raised areas in the top flooring. When using this installation method, it is extremely important to follow the manufacturer's installation recommendations.

Proper maintenance

As important as proper installation is, however, the day in/day out appearance of sheet vinyl flooring depends on a proper maintenance program.

What constitutes proper maintenance will vary from facility to facility, depending on the volume of foot and cart traffic, where the sheet vinyl is located, and its age. However, in most cases a basic maintenance program will include the following:

* Using entrance mats minimizes the amount of dirt and grime tracked onto the floor in the first place.

* Performing a daily mop-and-rinse will remove most dirt and grime, while rinsing averts the buildup of residues and provides additional cleansing.

* Performing a spray buffing of the floor at least once or twice a week using a high-quality finish is advisable. New technology aids this process. Wax polishes and acrylic-resin finishes were once considered "state of the art," but today a metal cross-link finish is preferred for vinyl floors. This polymer finish is molecularly structured to allow for movement in response to the speed of buffing, providing a deeper gloss.

* Using the proper buffing equipment is essential. Rotary buffers operating at 750 to 1,500 rpm are ideal; machines with speeds of 2,000 rpm and above are burnishers, not buffers.

* Stripping the floor and rewaxing should be done when it becomes impossible to maintain a glossy appearance through buffing alone. Depending on traffic, waxing will need to be done every three to six months.

Stripping should not be done too often or too vigorously, because it may cause permanent damage to the floor. Be certain that the product used is designed specifically for vinyl floors.

In all cases, the manufacturer's instructions regarding stripping should be followed carefully. Furthermore, in some cases it is sensible to strip only those areas which obviously require it, rather than tackle the entire floor.

Generally speaking, between three and five coats of new metal cross-link finish should be applied after stripping, with sufficient time allowed for each to dry before the next is applied. A fan is frequently helpful, especially if the weather is humid or ventilation is poor. If the floor still feels tacky, additional coats need to be applied to provide adequate protection.

It is strongly advisable to use only a high-quality rayon wet mop rather than one used for routine mopping (to avoid leaving fibers embedded in the finish). Some environmental-services managers also suggest applying a sealer over the hardened coats of finish to maintain the gloss longer.

Dealing with problems

Although sheet vinyl flooring is designed to provide ease of maintenance, problems do occasionally arise. Here are some of the most common ones--and the recommended remedies:

* Liquid spills call for the use of a wet/dry vacuum as soon as possible, unless they are small enough to be blotted dry with towels. Spray buffing should be used to restore the luster of the floor.

* Solid spills can be gently loosened with a putty knife or other dull-edged blade, then wiped clean. Again, buffing is the logical means of restoring the area to its best appearance.

* A dull appearance might result from improper use of chemicals; for example, strong alkali cleansers will affect the polish and, if used, must be rinsed off thoroughly. Consult the manufacturer's instructions to be certain which chemicals can be used and to what extent especially potent chemicals must be diluted.

* A dull appearance might also result from abrasive buffing pads. Use green or blue pads; black pads are much coarser.

* Excessive scuffing in one area might indicate a nonlevel subfloor, underlayment, or covered-over flooring. It may be necessary to replace the sheet vinyl in this area and, in the process, arrange a contractor "callback" to repair the underlying problem.

Some special conditions apply to health care facilities. It is typically necessary to apply a germicidal agent to the floor during everyday maintenance, and good- and premium-quality vinyl flooring is designed to withstand this. However, liquid spills in a hospital setting can be another matter.

Tests show that sheet vinyl flooring resists stains from most, but not all, of the chemicals used with some regularity in medical settings. For example, Betadine, hydrogen peroxide, and isopropyl alcohol will not stain, but hematoxylin will. Chloroform, on the other hand, can actually cause the vinyl to soften.

The bottom line

Offering both a pleasing appearance and a long life cycle, sheet vinyl flooring can be a good choice for commercial environments. From the manager's perspective, most problems can be avoided with proper selection and installation.

For especially high-traffic areas, selecting sheet vinyl with an extra-thick wearlayer and/or allowing for the use of replacement inserts is a sensible approach. Likewise, making certain that there is a level subsurface beneath the vinyl flooring is a sound precaution against the scuffing that raised areas attract.

In the final analysis, however, the flooring's daily appearance rests in the hands of the maintenance staff who mop, buff, strip, and finish it. To keep sheet vinyl flooring looking its best, care must be taken to perform conscientious maintenance in accordance with the manufacturer's instructions.

By using the appropriate chemicals, equipment, and methods, it is possible to obtain years and years of dependable service from sheet vinyl flooring.

Jeffrey Kurtz is commercial marketing manager for Mannington Commercial, a division of Mannington Mills, Inc.
COPYRIGHT 1993 National Association of Realtors
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Operating Techiques & Products: Bulletin 421
Author:Kurtz, Jeffrey
Publication:Journal of Property Management
Date:Jul 1, 1993
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