All of the flooring in your facility will see its share of wear and tear — but high-traffic areas are on another level. You may be looking to install a lobby flooring system to impress potential tenants and stand up to moisture, dirt and near-constant use. Or perhaps you’re searching for a material that can meet cleanliness and safety standards in patient rooms and stand up to frequent rolling in of heavy medical equipment.
Regardless of your facility goals, there’s one necessary common denominator for these busy spaces: durability.
While durability is always a consideration when selecting a flooring material, it’s an absolute must for high-traffic applications such as airport terminals, schools, hospitals and restaurants.
In this article, we’ll give you a complete rundown of six of the most durable commercial flooring materials based on cost, application and other major considerations. Using this as a guide for your materials search, you can achieve a flooring system that meets your aesthetic, cost and performance goals and stand up to heavy use.
Terrazzo: Upscale and LEED-friendly for large spaces
When it comes to durability in flooring, terrazzo is an obvious leader. Terrazzo can be made from a cement matrix, or an epoxy resin mixed with marble or recycled granite glass, and a wide choice of other aggregates.
And because terrazzo is one of the most aesthetically versatile products on the market, it’s perfect for incorporating custom logos and designs into your flooring. Terrazzo is used in situations where you want to impress: opry houses, showrooms, entranceways and high-end office spaces.
Although it’s incredibly durable and carries a low lifetime cost, its high upfront material and installation costs are prohibitive in lower budget applications. It must be poured in place, cured and then polished mechanically to achieve its signature shine. Generally speaking, terrazzo is not worth the cost in small rooms or sections of a building — the cost per square foot actually increases as the space decreases. It’s recommended to allow a scope of at least 2,500 square feet to achieve a cost-efficient installation.
Overall, terrazzo is best suited for large, high-traffic areas such as airports or showrooms where the designer is aiming for a chic look. For upscale applications, this LEED-friendly flooring is about as durable as it gets.
Quarry tile: Industry standard for commercial kitchens
Quarry tile is proven to withstand spills, foot traffic and grease buildup, making it a first choice for many commercial kitchens. While porcelain tile works in terms of function for heavy-duty applications, quarry tile — made from hard-fired clay — is much cheaper and offers the same functionality and durability benefits. Quarry tile will last as long as you need, provided it's installed properly to begin with and maintained properly throughout the lifetime of the flooring system.
It’s important to use the right materials — epoxy grout and thin-set adhesives — during installation. Although there are cheaper alternatives to epoxy grout, they’re not designed for high-traffic, hot water spills or grease buildup and will break down prematurely. To extend the usable life of your quarry tile system, ongoing maintenance and cleaning are key. Clean the floor daily and replace sections of flooring as they wear out.
Although it’s cost-effective, durable and easy to maintain, quarry tile doesn’t offer much design versatility. It’s typically laid in straight lines and comes in a limited range of colors. (Red is the most common color, but grey, tan and brown tiles are also available depending on whether more shale, feldspar or clay is used.) In the receiving and commercial areas where quarry tile is commonly found, however, function trumps form.
Check out our commercial kitchen guide to learn about all of the flooring products durable enough to withstand such a heavy-duty environment. You’ll learn more about the cost and performance of quarry tile, but also other durable options such as recycled PVC and epoxy flooring.
Luxury vinyl tile (LVT): Achieve any look for busy common areas
In the past decade or so, luxury vinyl tile (LVT) has taken the flooring industry by storm. This resilient material is made up of three layers: A base layer composed of vinyl to provide dimensional stability, a digital graphic film (able to imitate practically any other material) and an outer wear layer.
LVT has proven to be durable enough for high-traffic hospital common areas and attractive enough for upscale restaurants. With a variety of products in every price point and design, LVT is one of the most versatile commercial flooring products on the market today.
While LVT probably isn’t suited for high-impact industrial or commercial kitchen environments, it’s plenty durable to withstand the foot traffic, abrasions and spills of any office, hospital or school application. Especially in comparison with other resilient flooring products, LVT is more flexible and aesthetically appealing for commercial applications.
Further, the design possibilities are endless. It’s available in a wide range of sizes, colors and patterns to mimic almost any material from ceramic tiles to hardwood to terrazzo, and everything in between. With LVT, you can achieve durability without sacrificing your aesthetic.
LVT has proven over time to be able to withstand heavy traffic loads common to commercial applications. In our experience, restaurants, offices and daycares only replace their LVT because they want to change the design — not because it wore out. And because LVT is much quicker to install and cheaper than many of the materials it imitates, it’s a good way to cut flooring costs in a commercial construction project.
Epoxy flooring systems: Industrial-strength and versatile, too
Epoxy flooring is a cost-effective solution for a variety of applications — think of healthcare offices and food distribution warehouses. This flooring system is created by applying a thermosetting resin directly onto a moisture-treated concrete slab. The epoxy coating then prevents wear and tear due to abrasions, foot traffic and chemical spills.
Versatile and durable, epoxy is strong enough to serve as the flooring in manufacturing facilities and hangars, aesthetically appealing enough to find its way into retail spaces and sanitary enough for use in strict lab environments. Additionally, its ability to protect against staining, mold and odors has made it a vastly popular healthcare facility option as a LEED-certified product.
While epoxy flooring is designed for durability, it must be installed correctly to reap those benefits. The concrete needs to be cleaned and cracks patched with urethane prior to application of the epoxy coating. If applied before prepping, the epoxy is likely to peel or chip prematurely.
Finally, maintenance with daily sweeping and infrequent deep cleans should be sufficient to keep your epoxy flooring looking like new.
Carpet tiles: Easy install, easy replace
Carpet tiles are taking over the soft-surface flooring market due to their functionality advantages over broadloom carpets. While carpet tiles are more expensive than broadloom, carpet tile systems are easier to replace. For high-traffic areas especially, carpet tiles are your best soft-surface option — it’s much more cost-effective to replace a ruined carpet tile than it is to re-seam, re-stretch and replace an entire roll of broadloom.
With the rise of industrial-strength carpet tiles and water-resistant carpet tiles, concerns about spills and moisture have become less of an issue. Most carpet tile floors will adequately maintain their appearance with consistent vacuuming and cleaning, even under high traffic demands. And as sections wear out, the tiles are easily replaced — saving valuable time and money for your facility by avoiding a full-on replacement.
Rubber flooring: Safe and durable for hospitals and gyms
Not only is rubber flooring resistant to the wear and tear of heavy traffic loads — its cushioned design also prevents fatigue of employees and customers as they walk. It also reduces the volume of noise such as dumbbells dropping or carts rolling, prevents impact damage to the subfloor below and is slip-resistant, too.
While it’s easy to install and maintain, its “rubbery” smell will linger long after installation. And its lack of design and finishing options makes this more of a utilitarian product than an aesthetic one. Despite its drawbacks, rubber flooring is a great product for use in gyms, labs and hospitals due to its strength, durability and acoustic qualities.
Still have questions about durable flooring options?
In this article, we’ve shared the best commercial-rated flooring materials for use in high-traffic areas. But figuring out the best solution for your facility’s needs must take a variety of factors into consideration.
We can help with that. At Diverzify, we’ve installed nearly every type of commercial flooring across 500,000 installations and counting. Contact us today.