Hard Walls, High Style

Decorative protection panels bring style, durability, resiliency, and safety to commercial settings
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Sponsored by Formica Group
By Kathy Price-Robinson

Types of Protective Wall Treatments and Their Strengths and Weaknesses

The designer or specifier must choose from several types of wall protection for commercial spaces. This section discusses various types of materials, with particular emphasis on their strengths and weaknesses.

Following are the most common choices for the designer or specifier. We will look at each of them separately.

  • Wall coverings
  • Fiber-reinforced laminate (FRL)
  • Polyvinyl chloride (PETG/PVC)
  • Fiber- or fiberglass-reinforced plastic (FRP)
  • Decorative protection wall panels with a fiberglass core

Wall Coverings

High-quality, advanced wall coverings seem like a natural choice for creating more durable walls. Specialized wallcoverings can provide some impact resistance. They are flexible, and come in large rolls for fewer seams.

However, while the wall-covering material itself is impact resistant, the wall behind can dent with impact, defeating the specifier’s main goals. Also, with a relatively soft surface, they are quite easy to scratch, mar, tear, and scuff. And because they are generally made of vinyl, they will not be the first choice for many designers. It would be rare to find one that has a GREENGUARD certification.

In terms of installation, the long rolls and minimum seams are a plus. But they must be installed by an experienced wall-covering installer. Generally, the wall must be primed 72 hours in advance of installation, and pre-pasted 24 hours in advance, which may affect the schedule. And of course, bubbles may occur.

Fiber-Reinforced Laminate (FRL)

Fiber-reinforced laminate (FRL) panels combine fiberglass and Kraft paper in the core construction with their melamine surface to offer a high level of scratch and mar resistance for walls in commercial applications. They are often available in a wide range of stylish designs.

In terms of impact resistance, they offer less protection than other choices. The dimensional stability may be less than stellar because of the Kraft paper within the core. The hybrid core construction can lead to delamination. Fire resistance tends to be less than Class A rating required for commercial settings.

For installation, FRL products can often be attached directly to drywall but are typically not recommended for use with other substrates. They may require a 72-hour acclimation time before installing, rather than the 24-hour acclimation period of other choices.

Polyethylene Terephthalate Glycol/Polyvinyl Chloride (PETG/PVC) Products

Polyethylene terephthalate glycol/polyvinyl chloride (PETG/PVC) products are attractive as wall protection because they are lightweight and offer good impact resistance. They are also priced as much as 50 percent lower than other choices.

For commercial applications, however, the lack of a Class A fire rating is the big concern. These products burn, drip, and can create a toxic environment; some at a rapid rate. The relatively soft surfaces are easy to scratch, mar, and scuff. Due to their composition and off-gassing, they are not likely to have a GREENGUARD certification.

Installation can be tricky for PETG/PVC panels because of their thinness. Tearing of sheets is not uncommon, and sheets must be moved by two people in order not to kink the product. These products can be glued to drywall, but new drywall must be sanded and primed first. After adhesive is rolled on, the installer must go over entire sheets for air bubbles and reroll if necessary. In some cases, if bubbles cannot be resolved, the sheet must be removed and cannot be reused.


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