Services & Maintenance: Carpet 101

By Bill Gregory
Published in the March 2006 issue of Today’s Facility Manager

When making carpet purchases, facilities managers need straightforward information. This is an investment that will have a major impact on everything from operations to acoustics to overall cleanliness. In order to make a well planned purchase, facility professionals should evaluate the following three points in the product life cycle of carpet: selection, maintenance, and disposal.

Start With Selection

Considerations for selecting new carpet include designs compatible with the surroundings. Components include: anticipated useful life; preferred colors and patterns; backing systems appropriate for expected wear; and warranties to reinforce product claims and customer expectations.

The anticipated life of the carpet depends on the setting. For example, product in executive areas will be changed less frequently than carpet in high traffic corridors. Color, design, construction, and traffic patterns are additional factors in terms of wear and maintenance costs related to replacement.

On the surface, carpet colors and patterns can contribute to productivity in a room and can enhance the signature design of a building. There are multiple options specifically created for various facility types and for all areas of use—corridors, ballrooms, offices, labs, classrooms, spas, and other applications.

In addition, carpet backing can improve the appearance retention and durability of the product; determine the level of noise reduction; lower the likelihood of accidents and cushion against injury in the event of a fall by providing a non-slip surface; and add insulation to help control temperature and conserve energy.

Finally, product warranties should include protection for antimicrobial, moisture barrier, edge raveling, delamination, resiliency, wear, bleach resistance, colorfastness, lightfastness, atmospheric contaminants, flooring compatibility, and loss of pattern appropriate for the intended use.

Sustainable Options

For facility managers looking to evaluate environmentally sound product offerings, members of the carpet industry have made comparison easier on several points with the introduction of the first sustainable product standard. Last year, the Carpet and Rug Institute and the Institute for Market Transformation to Sustainability announced the Sustainable Carpet Assessment Standard (SCAS).

Facility managers concerned with IAQ and other green issues will benefit when manufacturers begin using SCAS this summer. Clarity in labeling as a result of this effort will allow carpet customers to make better comparisons between products and thus save time.

The standard also identifies reproducible test methods, processes, and procedures to determine environmental preferability and sustainability. It will be administered by the not-for-profit NSF International and published as an American National Standards Institute (ANSI) draft standard for trial use following registration. This will move the standard into a well-established, transparent ANSI process.

Before a purchasing decision is made, facility managers may want to ask the following questions when selecting carpet:

  • Does the product contain PVC or other chemistries that may affect IAQ?
  • How long will the designs be available if replacement material is needed?
  • What warranties are provided?
  • What is the anticipated downtime for installation?
  • If LEED points are an issue, have we made a thorough comparison?
  • What are the end-of-life options with this product?

Take Good Care

Like any building element, carpet life is extended—and overall costs are reduced—as a result of proper maintenance. Unfortunately, there is no single solution for all cleaning situations.

For instance, a typical detergent-in-hot-water method is effective for areas with heavy grease, animal traffic, or similarly extreme environments. On the other hand, detergents used in wet systems create residue that can have a damaging effect on the carpet causing rapid re-soiling, which leads to poor appearance and a shortened life.

Systems using dry polymer—either as the primary cleaning agent or as a follow up to hot water for areas with heavy soil for typical business environments—can help maintain a consistently good appearance and prolong the overall life cycle of carpet. Additionally, polymer based systems don’t require a high level of water, driving down utility costs and minimizing the amount of waste water produced through the cleaning process.

The extent to which workplace air is freed of fiberglass, dust mites, dead skin, and detergent residue itself is also a key distinction between wet and dry systems.

End Of Life

After a useful life of five to 15 years, carpet is eventually replaced. Disposal in landfill is no longer an option for many facility managers. In fact, depending on the location, fines may be severe. An increasing number of jurisdictions have passed regulatory restrictions that ban products with PVC, which includes some carpet, from local landfills.

The carpet industry has responded to the problem of high levels of construction waste once sent to landfills. Through the actions of the Carpet America Recovery Effort (CARE), member manufacturers voluntarily support activities to prevent carpet from burdening landfills. This joint industry-government organization focuses on developing carpet reclamation and recycling methods.

Recognized as the most efficient carpet recovery process with the least impact on the environment, carpet renewal (or a closed loop system) has an extremely low impact on the environment. Donation to charities presents an environmentally sound, socially beneficial, and economically conservative means for managing surplus materials.

Recycling of components into new carpet or other products keeps carpet out of landfill. The final option for carpet recovery is waste to energy.

In this industry, carpet’s life cycle is beginning to reduce its impact on the environment while presenting customers with appealing choices from conception to care to removal. As a result of these efforts, facility managers should find it easier to make smarter decisions with regard to this important investment.

Gregory is director of sustainable strategies for the Floor Covering Division of Milliken & Company, based in LaGrange, GA. He is also a member of the International Facility Management Association (IFMA) and the Alliance for Sustainable Built Environments. Gregory can be contacted by e-mail at