Blog # 6 – Flooring
This is going to be a relatively short blog post, because there is only so much you can say about flooring as it relates to accessibility. It does, however, have a surprise ending!
Carpet is clearly the least functional flooring for both accessibility and the elderly. Wheelchairs can bog down in the pile and many senior citizens either shuffle or don’t lift their feet high enough and stumble on carpeted floors. If you must have carpet, use styles with a very short or tight pile, like Berber wool or commercial carpet.
Tile is probably the next worst choice, especially if the grout lines are ¼” wide or greater. The grout lines make the wheelchair operator feel like they are on a bumpy road, feeling the change at every tile. However, the hard surface is significantly better than carpet.
Wood floors come in many systems and styles, from laminate flooring to engineered wood to genuine wood floors. The various styles of wood flooring have different surface finishes. Some have a finish that looks like hand-hewn wood and others have chamfered edges to create the appearance of individual boards. Like tile, the wheelchair operator will feel each bump rolling across this type of floor, so the type and style of wood floor selected is critical.
The last type of flooring is vinyl flooring. For those who think of vinyl flooring is boring or ugly, I will tell you that the industry has matured and it’s not your grandmother’s vinyl. Vinyl flooring may be purchased in large sheets or individual pieces. I recently selected for a client a vinyl floor that had a wood look. It came in “plank” lengths and actually looked like wood when installed. When friends and neighbors saw the floor, they asked for information on where to purchase it, because it was so beautiful, and yet functional, that they wanted for their homes.
Of course, you can go with no flooring and simply stain (or paint) the concrete.
Now here is the surprise: When I was researching flooring options, I was told by a flooring expert that some manufacturers will void their warranty if the flooring is installed in a location with constant wheelchair use. If you are installing a floor in an accessible home, you MUST check the manufacturer’s warranty to ensure that the product is designed for and warranted for constant wheelchair use. Otherwise, you could get an expensive surprise when the flooring wears out prematurely.