Pandemic drives change in hotel flooring design

The COVID-19 epidemic may well change the way hotels look as well as operate. As the pandemic and subsequent travel downturn drag on, Alan Rowell, VP of sales at Aspecta Flooring, has been receiving inquiries from hotels about installing hard-surface flooring, particularly in guestrooms. These surfaces, he said, are easier for housekeepers to clean and sanitize—a vital advantage as brands and management companies roll out upgraded cleaning protocols. “A lot of the fabrics and softer textiles, they're actually removing out of the guest areas and [opting for] more of a hard-surface approach,” he said.

“Durable nonporous materials such as hardwood floors with a nonporous surface, especially those that are surface-sealed, make it easier to clean,” said Dwayne MacEwen, principal and creative director, DMAC Architecture, noting that porcelain tile is easy to maintain and sanitize. “Carpets, in general, are challenging to keep clean and looking fresh.”

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Lesley Hughes Wyman, principal and partner at MatchLine Design Group, concurred, reporting an increase in requests for enhanced resilient tile in guestrooms. These tiles, she said, “allow for faster, more efficient cleaning procedures between guests.” 

Molly Forman, an interior designer with D.C.-based firm //3877, said luxury vinyl tile and large-format porcelain tile likely are the easiest materials to sanitize. “LVT does not require the use of large joints for installation, and large-format porcelain tile reduces the amount of grout joints in the floor,” she said. “Grout joints between tile is where we see the most dirt and particles trapped.”

Tile Challenges

While hard flooring surfaces like polished concrete and hardwood may seem like safe options for hotels, the increased frequency of cleaning can cause these surfaces to degrade faster than they normally would, Forman said. “Prior to COVID, these surfaces may have been mopped daily and an automatic scrubber used fairly rarely. The frequent use of automatic floor scrubbers can quickly wear off floor coatings we use on concrete and wood flooring products, exposing them to cracking, chipping, and ultimately trapping dirt and particulates.”

And even with more frequent cleaning, tile can still trap dirt. “Tile flooring [that uses] regular cement grout presents hidden challenges that hoteliers might not know about, as it traps water, stains and possibly infectious bacteria,” Hughes-Wyman said. “We may see a switch to specifying more epoxy grout that resists staining and water penetration and can stand up to the more harsh chemicals that are now being used to clean everything. Epoxy grout is more challenging to install properly, but if done so, it has more longevity with the enhanced cleaning methods.”

Another potential challenge of replacing carpets with tile can be in the chemicals used to clean or disinfect hard surfaces. “We don’t want to compromise the air quality through increased cleaning frequencies,” said Natalia Sicilia, senior interior designer, GrizForm Design Architects. Sicilia said that disinfectants with peroxide and organic acids as the primary active ingredients tend to have the lowest impact on indoor air quality. “As designers, we can select solution-dyed nylon fibers that can be bleach cleanable for disinfecting without removing the inherent pattern or color of the product,” she said.

The Case for Carpeting

While tile is increasingly popular, carpeting still has its place in hotels and is not likely to entirely disappear. “As long as it’s disinfected properly, it can be safe,” Hughes Wyman said of carpeting, noting the difference between cleaning and disinfecting: “The former removes dirt and impurities while the latter kills germs on the surface after cleaning.”

As such, Hughes Wyman said, hoteliers haven’t entirely given up on rugs and carpet tiles. “Most guests still want the flooring to be soft underfoot and not have it feel so clinical.” Carpet tiles, said Sicilia, can be used as a canvas to create “seamless visual cues” that “help maintain social distancing policies and encourage safe traffic patterns.” 

Similarly, overlay or inset area rugs positively contribute to the acoustics of a space, according to Forman. “Without any carpet to help absorb sound, it can negatively contribute to noise between guestrooms. Overlay area rugs are certainly preferred in this climate since they can be replaced often and thoroughly cleaned.”