Hanging with Hafen: The beginner's guide to flooring

Hanging with Hafen: The beginner's guide to flooring

It's the most-asked question in veterinary hospital design: "What kind of flooring should I use?" Here's a guide to outfitting the floors throughout your hospital.
Feb 08, 2011

Twenty years ago at the end of my first day-long presentation on the complexities, conflicts, vagaries, and potential of veterinary hospital design, someone asked, “What material do you use for run floors?” Since that day, this has become the most-asked question I face on a daily basis.

From my point of view as an architect, there are bigger things we face when it comes to successful facility design. I like to think that we’re designing hospitals that answer larger needs. We design facilities that enable and empower people to do their jobs better, to entertain and engage clients, and to care for animals in the best possible way. But along with the big picture, the small details are also important. If you have a mess on your floor and you can’t clean it up, then all the fancy schmancy, big-picture design strategies aren’t going to help.

So today I’m going to answer this question once and for all. And while I’m at it, let’s also talk about flooring in waiting room and treatment areas.

While the functional flooring needs of veterinary facilities have remained unchanged over 20 years—practice owners need materials that are resistant to animal waste, durable, and easily maintained—the actual materials have changed some. This isn’t to say you need to use the new, hot thing. I’ve learned that the new, how thing isn’t necessarily the best thing. Many years ago I watched another veterinary design expert stand up before a crowd of veterinarians and recommend highway striping paint for painting run floors. The very next year he recommended swimming pool paint. Neither of these solutions ever panned out. For the most part, I like to let other architects gamble on the new products while I use the tried and true answers.

Reception and exam rooms
For the public areas of your hospital, including waiting and exam rooms, we recommend porcelain ceramic floor tile with epoxy grout. I’d suggest you use the largest practical size tile with the smallest practical grout joint (one-eighth inch). Because porcelain tile is the same material all the way through, you can’t wear down the top layer and get to the “other” layer. The clay in porcelain tile is also denser than normal ceramic tile, so it wears better.

Epoxy grout is the other critical piece of the puzzle. You can use other latex additive grouts, but epoxy is really the answer. You’ll get some discoloring of the grout because as you camp mop, the mop waste has a tendency to rub off on the joints. To mask this, select a grout color and a tile that match your local dirt color.

Medical areas
In the medical areas, we recommend a heat-wielded, homogenous, PVC vinyl flooring like Armstrong’s Possibilities. Granted, this isn’t a “green” product like rubber or linoleum, but it’s more forgiving in terms of maintenance. In the past, we’d recommend Armstrong’s Medintech flooring, but it was hell to take care of. Without wax, it always looked bad, and once you start waxing it, you’re stuck in the old “wax, buff, strip” cycle.

New products like Possibilities are actually less resistant to staining, but because they feature more color, they obscure stains better. They’re also shinier than the Medintech, so while the manufacturer still recommends that you wax the floor, on a more practical level, you can get by with simple wet mopping.

Finally, don’t forget the heat-welded seams. The manufacturers offer a chemical-welded seam, but in a couple of years this will look like an erupted linear volcano as the seams separate, curl up, and begin collecting dirt. Remember to have your flooring installer use a “flashed cove” base where the vinyl sheet is actually turned up the wall four to six inches.

Now for the most critical area. For the runs in your facility, we recommend a troweled-on epoxy flooring like Stonhard’s Stonblend. Many manufacturers make this product, but Stonhard is a company we know. The product is not really sexy looking, but it’s strong and durable. It’s often used in manufacturing, food processing, and even chemical plants. It’s seamless and can actually be rolled up the walls. It can also be hosed, scrubbed, and even sanitized with bleach.

The basic product has been around for a while. It’s essentially a liquid epoxy spread over the floor by hand with a trowel or roller. The installer then sprinkles granular, multi-colored quartz grit into the wet epoxy. When that dries, he spreads another layer of clear epoxy over the grit to seal and smooth the floor. It’s a pretty low-tech process, but done well, it’s a durable floor. The grit makes it slip-resistant and gives the floor its color.

In recent years, manufacturers have begun offering acrylic latex paint chips in lieu of the quartz. I prefer this to the quartz, because you have a greater range of colors to choose from, and the chips are not quite as “pointy” as the grit. This gives you a smoother—yet still slip-resistant—floor. Most manufacturers also offer an MMA (methyl methacrylate) resin flooring in lieu of the epoxy. This is actually a “greener” product and is slightly less susceptible to cracking or flaking, but it also costs more than epoxy.

With any of these recommendations, the most important part of the installation is to pick a subcontractor or installation crew you know and trust. Have them approve the existing substrate where they’ll be applying the product. Finally, ask them to provide you with a significant (at least four-foot by four-foot) sample of what the finished floor will look like in place.

If you have a better flooring solution or ideas on the other complex veterinary design issues we face, feel free to call or write—I’m ready to listen and learn. There really is no “right” answer, and I enjoy a lively dialogue!

Veterinary architect Mark Hafen, AIA, is a Veterinary Economics Editorial Advisory Board member and co-owner of Animal Arts in Boulder, Colo.