Making Smart Choices in Flooring for the Student Environment

The learning environment has changed slowly over the past few decades. Just in the last few years, we have witnessed a dramatic change in the process of designing for the classroom and addressing student learning styles. Flex furniture, technology, and movable walls all contribute to what some of us call the 21st Century classroom.

The driver to this change is the ability to shift the culture of learning for the student to be more in control of their learning. In “Cleanliness and Learning in Higher Education,” Dr. Jeffery Campbell explains

The visit to campus is crucial to enrollment and retention, and perception is reality to any customer. Therefore, it is critical to carefully view each design medium of the students’ building environment to ensure the best possible human performance outcomes as well as to prepare something that is aesthetically pleasing. that Noise, Air Temperature, Lighting, and Cleanliness were ranked as the top four building condition concerns for college students. The students are clear on how they feel about their environment. Campbell also explains that the campus experience / building condition is the second highest influence in the collegiate selection process.

Flooring in a campus building touches the staff and students every day and represents the brand of the institution to visiting guests, current donors, and potential donors. Here are some of the topics that speak to how flooring can affect the collegiate experience as well as the selection process for today’s college students:

Improving Acoustics to Improve Student Interactions

It is important for the student to hear what the teacher is discussing or what another student is sharing. Distractions in the learning environment with new technological advancements and devices are quickly becoming part of the noise pollution.

Acoustics are becoming a high standard with organizations like CHPS and LEED v4. Even student housing is starting to follow the guidelines of the apartment association for acoustics standards.

Selecting the correct flooring can assist in the right outcome in both the academia and student housing. Lee Sound Design and Intertek note that a closed cell cushion product will reduce noise in the built environment by as much as 25% on NRC (Noise Reduction Coefficient) and as much as 97% greater on IIC (Insulation Impact Class) standard testing.

I recently did some research with an acoustician in the MAC Fine Arts building at the College of Dupage in Chicago. One of the goals of this renovation was to create higher levels of interaction between students outside of the classroom. This was done by introducing areas to commune but by also changing the floorcovering to reduce acoustics and update the design.

Yergan acoustics tested the space, and a 25% reduction in NRC had been achieved. After the renovation, one of the things noted in the MAC building was the improved interaction in the space. “The behavior of the students changed,” noted Roland Raffell, who is the director of marketing and fundraising for the MAC. He noticed a definite difference in the acoustics as well as how groups would interact during a tour.

Air Temperature and a Hybrid Resilient Product

The temperature levels are a continual topic voiced by the students about their environment. Additionally, energy reduction was by far the number one goal by respondents in a 2013 NACUBO sustainability survey; the second goal was to upgrade the current system. Today’s sustainable buildings reduce the heat in the building at night, or advance detection systems can reduce the temperature at any time when it senses no occupants.

The goal is ultimately to lower operating costs. It takes a little while to comfortably heat up the space in preparation for the user; however, it takes several more hours to heat up the floor slab that touches the occupants with every step. Turner Research Group found that a closed cell cushion product can assist in regulating the thermal condition of a space as well as reduce energy costs by as much as 7%. The hybrid resilient product creates a thermal layer, shielding the coldness of the slab.

The Indoor Air Program at Tulsa University

Tulsa University’s Indoor Air Program (IAP) is internationally recognized for its dedication to improving air quality in a variety of environments. Since 1987, Richard Shaughnessy has served as the manager and director of research and manager of the Indoor Air Program. One of their current projects is a three-year study that examines the differences between a variety of flooring types, focusing on the impact the distinctions could have in a classroom environment.

This three year study will further examine the differences between varied flooring types (hard surface (VAT and VCT) v. textile (flowthrough carpet and non flow-through VCTT) and their ultimate impact on occupied school classroom environments. This study focuses on cleaning methodologies, settled dust data collection, and particulate matter resuspension rates. The program’s goal is to create healthier breathing environments for students.

Indoor Air Quality and a Hybrid Resilient Product

Turner Research Group also discovered that students feel like a clean building is directly related to both achievement and health, and the EPA notes that settled dust is directly related to a sick building. Researcher Richard Shaughnessy explains that a hybrid resilient has 12 times less settled dust than VCT and 5 times less than carpet with seams, creating the least amount of airborne particulates in the built environment.

The value in utilizing a hybrid resilient creates two benefits: The airborne particulates are secure until you are able to maintain the flooring, and the flooring will allow you to extract the particulates when the product is being maintained.

Flooring can definitely become an actionable solution to the indoor air quality of a space. In a time when concerns of asthma or allergies are common, a hybrid resilient is the best flooring solution for indoor air quality concerns.

Direction for Future Research

Research and innovation is the lifeblood of any organization. Tomorrow’s facility manager will continually be called on to produce evidence in their decision making, and that evidence must support the best enviornment for the outcome of the students and faculty. Most flooring decisions are based on a bottom-line financial impact framed by the upfront cost.

The optimization of a correct deferred maintenance plan by calculating the Total Cost of ownership is also an important piece of this decision. Yet, this ultimately does impact the student as mismanaged buildings can deter a student from behavior and achievement.

We must push for more credible research on on the impact facility management could have on student achievement. This right blend of mixing evidence based selection and total cost of ownership will ultimately put the student in the best position to achieve the most.

Photography provided by Tandus Centiva. 

About the Author
Jonathan Stanley is the National Vice President of Education Sales for Tandus Centiva. His focus is to bring relevant and valuable research and data to support credible decision making for the built environment in the education marketplace. For more information, visit