Visitors to hospitals or care homes are unlikely to contemplate the type of flooring they are walking on, yet the design and cleanliness of this surface has never been more important. Louisa Eyles, Commercial Marketing Manager at Amtico, explores the vital role flooring has to play in modern healthcare environments.
For many, flooring is simply a functional product that doesn’t justify a second thought. However, it fulfils an incredibly important role in a range of applications, whether fitted in a hospital, care home or GP surgery. Not only does flooring need to provide a durable, easy-to-clean surface to prevent the spread of germs and bacteria, but it also has to deliver on a design level to complement interior schemes and balance practicalities. These are especially important when it comes to wayfinding, or zoning, to highlight different areas for visitors and patients.
Wayfinding is essential for any large commercial building, but perhaps none more so than in healthcare settings, where occupants may need to reach their destination swiftly, without anyone guiding them. It is vital that staff, patients and visitors can easily navigate unfamiliar environments, leading them safely without the need for third-party assistance (such as having to ask someone for directions), which makes the type of flooring a critical element.
Luxury vinyl tiles (LVT) offer a variety of different colours, laying patterns and textures, which can all be used to create pathways in open-plan spaces and corridors, or to give areas distinct identities. For instance, classic parquet is a versatile pattern and can be used to promote movement in hallways, however, its heritage and warmth can also evoke a home-from-home feel for care home residents.
Furthermore, using flooring to aid wayfinding can reduce or omit the need for additional signage, while creating an attractive design feature. When utilised in healthcare settings in particular, wayfinding caters for a diverse range of needs. Distinctive, contrasting colours can be used in some environments to signify different departments (e.g. A&E and wards), while others (such as reception areas and waiting rooms) will require more subtle tonal changes. Every project will differ.
When designing with dementia patients in mind, contrasting colours and overbearing patterns are discouraged. The floor should be viewed as one continuous surface, as any large tonal contrasts can be interpreted as ‘a step’ by dementia sufferers, causing them panic and confusion – which could also result in a fall.
While it is essential to keep the hue of a floor consistent in a dementia-friendly care environment, it is equally important that areas such as doors, walls and skirting can be easily distinguished. In particular, the colour of the flooring on stairs should contrast with the walls, so it’s important to choose a flooring material that can be supplied in a wide variety of colour options that allow easy zoning of rooms or areas. And when it comes to colour options, cool hues such as blue and green help people to feel calmer; however, it’s important to note that older residents or patients may experience these colours as ‘washed out’ and find it harder to differentiate blues and greens. Alternatively, reds, oranges and yellows are stimulating colours, ideally used in activity areas.
Durability and resilience
While there is often temptation to base flooring decisions purely on aesthetics alone, resilience is crucial for healthcare environments. The product chosen to embellish a property’s floors must stand up to heavy footfall, while simultaneously combatting stains, scratches and spillages.
Natural materials, although popular for their looks, will suffer in terms of their resilience. For example, wood is prone to fading and staining, and can continue to move, expand or shrink long after installation. It is also high maintenance and often requires ongoing treatment to retain its appearance. Stone and ceramic flooring, on the other hand, is hardwearing and can withstand high traffic, while providing natural resistance to scratches and sunlight/UV fading – but, unfortunately, its slippery nature underfoot does not lend itself to environments where safety is key.
However, LVT in stone or wood designs offers the same natural charm, without any limitations, making it an increasingly popular alternative. This type of flooring offers long-term resilience and design freedom, while withstanding heavy traffic and resistance to scuffs and stains. LVT will not splinter or shrink and, with proper care and maintenance, will continue to offer the same aesthetic years after installation.
High-quality LVT products consist of several layers, including a vital urethane coating that protects against wear. However, it is worth noting that not all LVT flooring is the same; while the individual layers that come together to create the tiles are important, the density given to the performance wear layer is vital when measuring durability. And, although the thickness of backing layers can vary, this will not improve a floor’s long-term ability to withstand the constant stresses of a high-traffic area. In addition to quality and durability, the length of warranty and guaranteed performance is also important. Fortunately, Amtico offers some of the longest commercial warranties on the market, such as 20 years for the Signature LVT collection.
Safety is imperative in healthcare facilities, not only for patients and residents, but also staff and visitors. LVT is available in non-slip variants to reduce the risk of trips and falls, while also providing resistance to chemicals and spillages. Modern safety LVT uses near invisible particles, increasing friction levels between people’s feet and its surface. As a result, it can offer exceptional levels of slip resistance, while meeting the design brief for decorative flooring.
The control of bacteria is more important than ever in these environments; yet, hygiene doesn’t start and stop with cleaning. The latest safety flooring incorporates antimicrobial technology, scientifically proven to resist the growth of potentially harmful bacteria and fungus between cleaning schedules. The additional ability to improve a building’s hygiene levels is a major benefit, especially when it can resist the growth of bacteria such as MRSA and E.coli throughout the useable lifetime of the floor.
Regardless as to whether healthcare projects are new build or in-situ refits, flooring fulfils a multitude of tasks. Durability, colour and safety are all essential components for a floor that performs to the highest possible standard. However, by taking a fresh approach to the specifications available and opting for LVT, hospital and care home environments will benefit from superb slip resistance, ease of cleaning and improved hygienic benefits; they can also adopt improved aesthetics from a variety of planks and tiles in a wide range of colours and finishes. Those factors certainly make for a powerful and visually stunning combination.