Breathing new life into flooring

Virginia Harris from Gerflor explains why contemporary linoleum and loosefit planking systems are good flooring solutions for meeting the diverse needs of the UK healthcare sector

The healthcare sector today demands innovative, decorative, durable, hygienic and environmentally responsible flooring and flooring-related solutions. What our hospitals, nursing homes, rehabilitation facilities, mental health and care and support centres want is a comprehensive range of integrated solutions, requiring a holistic approach.

Understandably, many clients in the health sector are looking for a single-solution supplier, who can offer the combination of proven products for flooring, wall, corner, and door protection, handrails and wall covering.

They want seamless surface protection offering great safety. At the same, time designers and specifiers in the sector are looking for perfect colour combinations for floors and walls, as well as specific systems for shower and other wet floor applications.

Practical and eye-catching

Clearly, products in this area need to be especially durable, come with enhanced hygiene and infection control technologies, offer easy cleaning and reduced maintenance costs.

Research has shown that 75-90 per cent of all hospital acquired infections are passed on by hand-borne transmission. Floor coverings and wall protection panels that are welded together provide perfect air tightness for greater hygiene.

This in itself can be a great boon to the end-user in terms of downtime for cleaning and the overall effectiveness of the products used.

The healthcare sector has always had a ‘weather eye’ on the cost of maintenance and ease of use. Products that help alleviate any unnecessary on-cost will always prove to be popular.

This is now possible thanks to the new generation of surface treatments which have breathed new life into some traditional products, like linoleum.

Despite being invented in the nineteenth century, modern linoleum has great appeal for 21st century designers, coming in a range of eye-catching colours and choice of surface treatments that reduce cleaning and virtually eliminate polishing.

Frequently specified in the health sector, Linoleum is coated in a choice of protective layers to create a permanently durable, abrasion-resistant surface with enhanced resistance to chemicals and staining. It is often used in areas where cleaning is frequent and aggressive.

When architects at Armitage Associates were asked to mastermind the £16 million refurbishment of the Glasgow Royal Infirmary University Tower, they preferred to specify linoleum wherever possible to create visual appeal and identification.

In fact 4,000 sq m of high quality Linoleum went into the building, with its mix of laboratories, offices and medical teaching facilities for the hospital and Glasgow University. Jeremy Armitage, partner in the Glasgow-based architectural and interior design practice, says:

“We wanted to use linoleum. The reasons were simple: it’s available in good colours, it’s a ‘green’ material and is naturally biocidal.”

The best linoleum products boast fantastic environmental credentials, because they’re made of natural, mostly renewable, raw materials such as cork, jute and linseed oil, have anti-bacterial properties and a long lifespan.

Linoleum is available in varying thicknesses ranging from as little as 2mm and up to more than 3mm and offers myriad choices in its colour palette.

As well as being slip, flame and heat resistant, some high-quality ranges also have acoustic damping options available too.

Linoleum has a lot to offer without compromising durability. Within healthcare maintenance this is hugely important where products on the whole need to be less labour intensive with no polishing required.

The building also required low maintenance, hygienic, slip-resistant safety flooring for toilet and changing areas, and 200m² of studded slip resistant safety flooring for barefoot wet areas.

Boutique hotel feel

When a new-build care home near Edinburgh wanted a ‘boutique hotel’ feel to the public areas a waterproof interlocking, loose-fit, wood-effect plank system was specified.

For architect Kirsty Henderson it was the ideal flooring solution for the cafe, dining room, hairdressers and multi-purpose rooms, as well as the first floor sun room, at the 32-flat complex in Penicuik, Midlothian.

The client had considered a timber floor, but was keen for a softer finish and it had to be fully waterproof for the cafe area and, of course, have durability. Henderson says:

“We didn’t want it to feel like a care home as we were aiming for the quality and appearance of a boutique hotel, so it had to be convincing.

“Architects and designers want to offer their clients aesthetically pleasing designs with a good colour bank of flooring with coordinating handrails and wall protection. Beyond the general wards and corridors, there are additional rooms such as physio rooms, hairdressers and nurseries where a performance floor is required. That means, good companies need to offer solutions with different designs with the same high standard throughout the ranges”.

In this case, Kirsty, of Edinburgh practice Hackland + Dore chose looselay interlocking wood-effect plank system with a ‘Wear Group T’ rating.

These systems offer ease of cutting and handling, so flooring can be laid swiftly into corners and against edges, while planks can be replaced individually if necessary.

Some of the best can be easily laid and require no adhesive, grouting or welding. It can also be installed over existing subfloors with minimal disruption and no need for businesses to close for refurbishment.

The polyurethane treatment provides excellent resistance to scratching and chemicals and it can be cleaned easily and hygienically.

The architects also specified round, 40mm section timber effect handrails for the corridors, supplied with bactericidal joints optimising hygiene for end users.

As Henderson points out:

“It’s a great idea to have handrails that match and compliment the flooring. It makes the building look a lot less institutional.”