5 considerations when choosing veterinary flooring

What facility owners, managers, and designers should bear in mind during the selection process

Modern veterinary facilities and animal shelters face the same weighty challenges as human healthcare settings, with the added concerns of zoonotic pathogens, odor control, and managing patients of different species. Biosecurity ranks high on the list of priorities, as does overall patient comfort, both of which can significantly influence treatment outcomes.

Toward this end, incorporating evidence-based design (EBD), the study of what really works in hospital design to help improve healing, patient well-being, and staff member satisfaction can be of great benefit. Now widely adopted by designers of human healthcare campuses with great success, EBD is starting to make its mark in the design of veterinary facilities.

Because floor coverings are present in every room throughout the building, careful attention to optimal flooring selection can positively influence many aspects of a veterinary practice. Having the right flooring systems in place can help save time and budget over the long term, plus help keep staff and visitors safer and potentially improve animal patients’ outcomes.

Below are five top considerations for facility owners, managers, and designers to bear in mind during the process of new veterinary and animal facility flooring selection:

1. What are the needed performance properties?

Every veterinary clinic, hospital, office, and shelter is different, and the broad spectrum of large animal, small animal, and combination practices have different requirements in terms of flooring surfaces. And while some locations offer surgical or specialty services, others focus on general veterinary practice and initial patient exams. Below are some important performance properties to consider:

Compressive strength; impact, abrasion resistance: For example, areas accessed by hooved animals versus those with tender paws may require varying levels of traction and slip-resistance. Equine and bovine facilities need protective flooring with high compressive strength and good impact resistance. And just like human healthcare facilities, outstanding abrasion resistance is imperative, as shoes, hooves, and claws can abrade lesser finishes, creating tiny, hard-to-sanitize fissures where soil and germs can accumulate.

Chemical, urine, stain resistance: Veterinary examination and treatment rooms, as well as surgical suites and animal housing, receive frequent cleanings with harsh disinfectants and other solutions. Select high performance flooring with excellent chemical, solvent, acid, and alkali resistance, as well as a surface impervious to urine, animal waste, and bodily fluids. The material should of course resist absorbing stains and odors. Ask manufacturers about flooring with Betadine stain resistance.

Static control: Where enhanced imaging modalities, such as digital radiology, nuclear scintigraphy, CT, or MRI are used or stored, static control flooring can be an ideal choice. By consistently dissipating electrostatic charge from the room, this type of floor finish can play an important role in a practice-wide program, helping to safeguard patients and personnel, as well as the sensitive equipment itself.

Waterproofing: Depending on the building layout, well-selected flooring systems can help protect the property’s physical structure or even mitigate certain conditions that could otherwise become harmful. As an example, waterproof floor systems can offer extra protection in wet areas like animal bathing bays, especially when lower levels are used for important dry storage or are occupied by other tenants.

Moisture vapor mitigation: Special moisture-tolerant and moisture-mitigating flooring can be used in situations where underslab moisture vapor barriers are either absent or improperly functioning. Experienced flooring contractors regularly test the concrete substrate for moisture and moisture vapor transmission prior to installation in order to help ensure proper treatment of the concrete substrate to allow best floor covering performance.

Antimicrobial properties: The composition of some flooring, such as epoxy and other fluid-applied resinous systems, are not an attractive food source for microbes and therefore do not encourage their growth and proliferation. Some manufacturers offer extra antimicrobial protection with custom additives that can be incorporated into the liquid components at the factory. This can further discourage the spread of bacteria and pathogens and help support facility hygiene protocols.

Slip-resistance: Areas accessed by hooved animals versus those with tender paws may require varying levels of traction and slip-resistance. Mild slip-resistance that’s gentle on tender paws, such as “orange peel” textured epoxy-quartz flooring, is ideal for small animal facilities.

Understanding the impact of these and other physical performance characteristics can help managers hone in on the best flooring for their unique practice.

2. Do the materials support good indoor air quality?

Indoor air quality (IAQ) can impact the health and comfort of all building occupants, human and animal alike. Green building programs recognize this fact and encourage the use of construction materials that do not interfere with good IAQ.

Off-gassing: Much has been seen in the media in recent years about the dangers of specific petroleum or formaldehyde-containing products in indoor environments. These chemicals can have the tendency to enter the atmosphere, or “off-gas,” over time, endangering the health of sensitive individuals. Common off-gassing culprits in the flooring world are vinyl tile (VCT), vinyl sheeting, carpeting, and many laminate floor systems. In addition to the flooring materials themselves, the industrial tapes and adhesives used to affix the products to the substrate can also contain chemicals that off-gas. Alternatively, resinous flooring systems can help support good IAQ, as the systems are applied directly to prepared concrete in their liquid from, without the use of tapes or adhesives. Once cured, resinous floors are inert, with no off-gassing.

Hidden mold: When plank, tile, sheet, or similar floor coverings are removed during the replacement process, mold growth can frequently be found on the flooring underside. This is often due to dark, moist pockets—the perfect environment for mold proliferation—developing between the concrete surface and the underside of the flooring material. Once in the environment, mold can impair occupants’ health and healing and must certainly be avoided in veterinary clinic and hospital environments. One way to avoid having hidden pockets of mold develop is to utilize epoxy or other resinous systems, where the floors themselves are completely bonded to the concrete and do not offer mold spores a place to take hold between the substrate surface and floor covering.

Compared to other types of commercial floor covering, today’s resinous flooring systems offer excellent support for IAQ. Nearly all systems contain zero or very low volatile organic content (VOC), discourage mold growth, and do not off-gas after final cure.

3. Does the surface continue to be easy to clean?

Floors in veterinary facilities receive frequent cleanings with harsh sanitizers. Some areas may even get hosed down or power washed. Many standard commercial floor covering materials cannot stand up to this type of wear and tear. While seemingly impervious during initial months, lesser finishes can get worn away from the scrubbing action and cleaning chemicals over time, eventually allowing for the absorption of contaminated water and other fluids into and through the floor covering, where they can remain indefinitely and cause further damage. Development of such an unsanitary situation is far from ideal in any facility, least of all in a veterinary healthcare environment. Such undesirable conditions can be avoided by selecting high performance, industrial-grade flooring materials designed for heavy-duty use. Examples include proven animal clinic and healthcare floor systems comprised of urethane, epoxy, or polyaspartic resins, which were originally developed to withstand extreme industrial conditions over the long haul.

4. Does the floor system impede or support pathogen control?

Every seam, grout line, and angle in a floor surface offers dirt and microbes a place to gather, greatly impeding pathogen control efforts. By avoiding such breaches in floor finishes and choosing a system with a monolithic surface, including a seamless, integral floor-to-wall cove base that extends 4 to 6 inches up the wall, rooms can be more effectively and easily sanitized. By requesting an integral cove base rather than a glue-on plastic cove, the nearly impossible to clean 90-degree angle, where the floor and wall meet, is eliminated, thus enabling better facility hygiene.

Additionally, in rooms with floor drains, good sanitation depends on having the floor surface slope properly toward the drain with no puddling. Eliminating low spots where liquids tend to collect is another way to reduce moisture-loving mold and pathogen growth.

In contrast to tile floors, which introduce a matrix of unhygienic seams and/or hard to clean grout lines, seamless epoxy and other resinous systems are ideal sanitary medical floor surfaces. They can be used to correct floor slope and are regularly installed with integral cove bases for optimal cleanability and pathogen control.

5. Can available design options help boost patient well-being?

While today’s marketplace provides abundant possibilities to accommodate nearly every design vision, practice managers can best focus their floor covering search by employing veterinary and animal EBD during the selection process. By reducing animals’ and handlers’ stress, design can greatly contribute to better veterinary facilities and improved patient outcomes.

While today’s marketplace provides abundant possibilities to accommodate nearly every design vision, practice managers can best focus their floor covering search by employing veterinary and animal EBD during the selection process. By reducing animals’ and handlers’ stress, design can greatly contribute to better veterinary facilities and improved patient outcomes.

Professor Mary Temple Grandin’s work* is a prime example of how visual cues can greatly influence stress hormones and behavior in animals. And our better understanding of the way animals see colors is another instance of how science is helping to inform architectural interior design in veterinary locations. When it comes to color selection for small animal practices, the Fear Free color palette, for example, takes into account the latest research on canine and feline vision in presenting a broad range of proven comfort-enhancing wall and floor colors for patients.

According to these principles, flooring color and gloss levels can either add to or detract from animal patients’ comfort. These same factors can influence facility energy consumption. While darker colored floors in matte or low gloss finishes can visually “absorb” light, requiring increased illumination from electrical fixtures to get the same room illumination, lighter colored floors with high gloss are the most reflective and can minimize the need for extra overhead fixtures. These factors, including the potential energy and budget savings of lighter colored, high-gloss floors, must be balanced with creating surroundings that promote healing and comfort for animal patients.

Veterinary flooring selection made easy

Among the products on the market, fluid-applied resinous systems, including the wide spectrum of decorative epoxy, urethane, and polyaspartic floors, offer veterinary facilities the heavy-duty performance and pathogen control support they need, plus the flexible design and aesthetics they desire. Manufacturers offer a variety of standard solid colors with different gloss levels as well as floors that incorporate exciting decorative elements, such as natural or synthetic chips and aggregates. Special colors and blends can typically be easily accommodated and levels of slip-resistance are custom-installed by factory-approved contractors per facility owners’ preferences.

Few other floor covering types offer animal healthcare facilities the exceptional durability and sanitary performance; urine, odor and stain resistance; beautiful aesthetics; and simple maintenance of fluid-applied systems. Seamless resinous flooring systems offer practice managers some of the lowest lifecycle costs available, provide outstanding veterinary flooring value.

Sophia Daukus is marketing communications manager for Florock Polymer Flooring, manufactured in Chicago. Florock offers epoxy flooring and concrete floor coatings with solutions to address nearly every application.

* Grandin, Mary Temple, “Livestock Behavior as Related to Handling Facilities Design.” International Journal for the Study of Animal Problems, 1980;Vol. 1, pp. 33-52, andFeedlot Cattle with Calm Temperaments Have Higher Average Daily Gains Than Cattle with Excitable Temperaments.” The Journal of Animal Science, 1997;Vol. 75, pp. 892-896.

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