Defining Performance in Flooring

A new engineered surface is changing what designers should demand from the floor
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Sponsored by Ecore International

Learning Objectives:

  1. Identify the characteristics of performance in flooring beyond typical expectations and evaluate options to deliver the best performance for a specific space.
  2. Define key terms and criteria to achieve flooring performance, focusing on three areas with direct impact on users: acoustics, safety, and ergonomics.
  3. Compare the performance needs of different types of spaces, including commercial, health care, education, and hospitality, with examples of how flooring was selected to achieve objectives in specific projects.
  4. Examine options now available with new engineered performance flooring that can be tailored for the individual design and performance goals of any space.


AAA 1 Structured Learning Hour
AANB 1 Hour of Core Learning
AAPEI 1 Structured Learning Hour
SAA 1 Hour of Core Learning
MAA 1 Structured Learning Hour
NSAA 1 Hour of Core Learning
OAA 1 Learning Hour
NLAA 1 Hour of Core Learning
NWTAA 1 Structured Learning Hour
This course can be self-reported to the AIBC, as per their CE Guidelines.

Most flooring is selected with two basic priorities: looks and affordability. Where money is no object, flooring might be chosen primarily for its aesthetic role in the overall design. Where cost is the main driver, a color will be picked at some point, but the selection is contingent upon the bottom line.

Central Library in San Diego

All images courtesy of Ecore International

Whatever the purpose of the space, the performance of the floor can improve the performance of the people working, playing, or living there, just as it is at the new Central Library in San Diego, pictured here.

In very specific applications, such as flooring for a surgical suite, an auditorium, or a basketball court, performance becomes an important issue, requiring adherence to established standards or technical guidelines. In the majority of spaces, however, the floor is taken for granted as a passive surface, not a performing one.

But that assumption is being challenged by new flooring products developed after extensive research, testing, and advances in materials and engineering. The right floor is an active surface that can do a lot more than look good or cover the slab inexpensively. The flooring in almost any space can make a positive contribution to the performance and well-being of the people using it, and if it doesn’t, that’s a wasted design opportunity with long-term negative impact.

So what is performance in flooring, and how can it be measured? There are specific characteristics that can guide designers to select the best floor for the space, not only for its looks and cost effectiveness but also for how well it performs.

This course will present a new working definition of good performance in a floor, what designers should demand, and how they can achieve it, focusing on three critical areas: acoustics, safety, and ergonomics. Each section will include a brief overview of what performance means in specific applications, followed by an explanation of key concepts, terms, and criteria to use when evaluating product options.

The course also introduces a new flooring technology specifically engineered to provide active surfaces with exceptional performance in a variety of applications. Especially in view of strong design trends to remove carpet and replace it with smooth surfaces, this new flooring can change expectations for what a flooring product should do—not just in traditional ways such as durability and maintenance but also in significantly improved safety, comfort, acoustics, and human performance.

Basics: What is a Performance Floor?

A performance floor can be defined as a surface that responds to the users in its environment in a way that supports and enhances their activities. Whatever the purpose of the space, the way the floor functions can improve the performance of the people working, playing, or living there. The key benefits fall into three major categories, all working together: safety, ergonomics, and acoustics.

fitness center at USC Village Center, University of Southern California, Los Angeles

The new fitness center at USC Village Center, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, features an engineered performance surface with a natural woodgrain vinyl wear layer fusion bonded to a performance backing, which provides safety, ergonomic, and acoustic benefits.

For example, a performance surface in a hospital corridor would respond to footsteps, voices, and moving equipment by delivering the right combination of comfort and mobility to protect staff and sound control to protect patients from noise. The performance surface in a school corridor might be designed to respond to running school kids with a different combination of characteristics, perhaps more emphasis on protection from injury in case of a fall, while still isolating classrooms from the noise in the hall.

The precise composition of a performance floor can be tailored to react to the different needs of users in different spaces. At the same time, performance in almost every floor should also include durability and good environmental performance, measured by how long it will last until it needs replacing, how easy it is to maintain, and how sustainable the source materials and manufacturing are.

The basic options for flooring include:

Hard surfaces: For example, natural and manufactured wood, ceramic tile, laminate, terrazzo.

Soft surfaces: Primarily carpet.

Resilient surfaces: For example, linoleum, sheet vinyl, vinyl composition tile (VCT), cork sheets and tiles, rubber, and the new engineered surface discussed in this course.

Each type of flooring is useful for specific purposes, and each has disadvantages. Hard surfaces have aesthetic value and recently have been part of a style trend toward more streamlined modern interiors. But they tend to amplify noise, creating loud, confusing spaces, and they can present safety issues as well. Carpet tends to be more forgiving and can also muffle sound, but is difficult to clean and even more difficult to disinfect, disqualifying it for many applications such as health-care settings. Additionally, in busy applications like hospitality, carpet can look “dirty” even when it is well maintained. Many conventional resilient surfaces are easy to clean, and products are available in a range of prices and different levels of durability. But very few of these conventional surfaces can meet new acoustic, ergonomic, and safety performance expectations.

The engineered performance floors discussed in this course combine positive characteristics of hard, soft, and resilient surfaces. While there are high-performance homogeneous surfaces consisting of solid-composition rubber, in this course, we are specifically focusing on heterogeneous resilient floors composed of a surface-wear layer fusion bonded to a composition rubber base layer. The wear layer can be made of a variety of materials: no-wax vinyl, rubber, turf, carpet and others. The sustainable composition rubber base layer can be varied in structure and thickness to provide tailored performance characteristics. The fusion-bonding process creates a single, integrated product with broad application and design versatility.

The following are definitions of basic terms used in this course.

Key Flooring Material Terms

  • Heterogeneous: A floor comprised of two different materials.
  • Homogeneous: Flooring composed of only one material, e.g., a solid rubber floor with a similar color and pattern throughout the product.
  • Vulcanization: a process using heat and chemicals to make natural or synthetic rubber durable enough for commercial use. All rubber products, including flooring, are made out of vulcanized rubber. See Making Rubber Better sidebar for more details.
  • Composition rubber: product of a manufacturing process that incorporates rubber reclaimed from various post-consumer sources, granulated, cured, and combined under pressure with other active ingredients, to create a material with increased strength, durability, and scratch resistance.
  • Engineered performance surface: a heterogeneous floor consisting of a wear layer fusion bonded to a composition rubber base layer, created with specific performance characteristics.
  • Dual durometer: a term used in many industries to indicate a fusion of materials with different physical properties into one uniform product. The term is used by some flooring manufacturers to indicate flooring systems that combine a number of ergonomic benefits; for example, firm footing, shock absorption, and durability.
engineered performance flooring product

Shown is the cross-section of an engineered performance flooring product. A wide range of surfaces are available, and the thickness and properties of the performance layer can be tailored to different performance requirements.

“Calendared rubber” is a term used to describe another manufacturing process for a manufactured material comprised of vulcanized synthetic rubber. In this process, rubber is poured into a mold and then rolled into a sheet or cut into tiles. With this rolling method, performance characteristics tend to be lost, and the product can scuff and scratch more easily, typically requiring a finish in order to avoid maintenance challenges.


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