Make Mine Modular

When Pepperdine University renovated its Elkins Auditorium in 2009, it gutted the building down to the studs, added 100 additional seats, and remodeled the interior. As part of the project, the roll-up carpeting was replaced with patterned carpet tiles.

The University, in Malibu, CA, found the carpet tiles were so easy to maintain that it has decided to incorporate them in all renovation projects on campus. When carpet sections are stained, maintenance workers can simply replace the soiled square with a new tile. Not only are they easy to replace, but they also are made of at least 40 percent recycled content.

“When we do new projects or renovations, we’ve committed to using carpet tiles,” says Rhiannon Bailard, associate vice president for Pepperdine’s Center for Sustainability, Governmental, and Regulatory Affairs. “I think it actually looks better aesthetically, and it’s a really good quality product.”

As colleges and universities focus on strategies to make their campuses more sustainable, they are increasingly turning to green flooring products such as carpet tiles. While many schools are still installing traditional broadloom carpeting, they are using carpet tiles on floors that were once covered with vinyl or other hard surfaces, such as those in classrooms.

A Sound Choice

At Oregon State University, for example, carpet tile has been installed in 20 buildings on campus, mostly in classrooms that previously used vinyl tile flooring. The carpet tiles give the classrooms a more “finished” look and also improve acoustics by reducing echoes, says John Gremmels, the University’s senior project manager for Campus Operations Planning and Development.

“It has better acoustic qualities and it makes the room feel more like a college than a high school classroom,” Gremmels says. “You feel like this room is more professional.”

An additional benefit to using carpet tiles in classrooms is that they can be easily replaced in areas that experience asymmetrical wearing, for example from heavier use near doorways and from coffee and soda stains. Nevertheless, in less-frequented rooms such as staff offices, the University is still relying on broadloom carpet, which, as Gremmels points out, can also made from recycled material.

Carpet tiles, Gremmels says, can cost 10 to 15 percent higher than broadloom. Because of cost considerations, Oregon State is still using hard floors and broadloom carpet when it remodels residence halls, although one new residential facility for international students did incorporate carpet tiles.

Tandus Flooring, a company that manufactures carpet tiles for higher education and other markets, offers flooring products that contain between 25 and 75 percent recycled content but can also custom order broadloom carpeting with as much post-consumer material as the client requests, says Jonathan Stanley, vice president for higher education at Tandus, based in Dalton, GA. Yet he agrees that traditional rollup carpet is not always the popular choice for many colleges and universities.

Options Are Available

While half of Tandus’ higher education clients use carpet tiles, the other half are opting for a product called hybrid-resilient flooring, which has a vinyl backing with a top layer of textile, making it look like carpet. The product is manufactured in sheets but can also be cut and installed as squares.

“Carpet tile is not just the only product to be used in higher education for performance,” Stanley says. When meeting higher education clients, Stanley recommends a range of products, including luxury vinyl, rubber flooring, hybrid-resilient flooring, carpet tiles, and broadloom, letting the school choose what will best meet its needs.

Yet carpet tile may be more attractive to higher education institutions looking to “green” their supply chain, says Wendell Hadden, vice president for market development of Interface, a company that manufactures carpet tile in LaGrange, GA. Interface’s carpet tiles contain between 40 and 70 percent recycled material, and the company also takes back all the carpet to be recycled when it needs to be replaced.

Installing broadloom carpet also creates waste, ranging from 12 to 14 percent, because it is typically manufactured in 12-ft. rolls that must be cut to fit the rooms. The waste associated with carpet tiles is much lower — between 1.5 and 2 percent, Hadden says. “It makes no sense to throw out 12 percent of a new carpet into a landfill 30 days after you make that investment, particularly if it’s a public investment,” he says.

Cornell University now uses carpet tiles as “standard practice” because of the price it has negotiated with Interface and because of the extended shelf life created when the University swaps out worn tiles for new ones in heavily trafficked areas, says Jeanne Boodley-Buchanan, Facilities Engineering architectural designer at Cornell. She estimates that carpet tiles are being used in 90 percent of new construction and in75 percent of renovation projects at the University in Ithaca, NY.

“We have an aggressive recycling requirement for projects on campus, and carpet tiles are typically returnable to the manufacturer for recycling,” Boodley-Buchanan says. “This assists us in our efforts to deliver LEED-certified buildings and spaces.”

Advantages Start With Installation

Another advantage to carpet tile, Boodley-Buchanan adds, is a new system developed by Interface that has eliminated the need for glue in the installation process. With the new technology, the carpet tiles have four plastic squares placed in each corner that have adhesive on one side, which locks the carpet tiles together.

Instead of needing to repair floor slabs that can be damaged when glued carpet is pulled up, the carpet tilesuse no adhesive on the floor surface. “What this has done is eliminate the hidden expense of floor prep forever,” Hadden says.

While broadloom carpet typically needs to be replaced every seven to 10 years, carpet tile has a 20-year warranty, another factor that has made it an increasingly popular flooring option in higher education. “It might be a bit more expensive,” says Bailard, of Pepperdine, “but it lasts longer, and instead of replacing the whole area, you can just replace one section of it.” 

Sherrie Negrea is an Ithaca, NY-based freelance writer specializing in higher education. She writes for university and educational magazines and websites across the country.

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