063: Conversations about Flooring

Good Fit Poor Fit
Design Advisor Feedback
063: Conversations about Flooring

Show Notes:

The Spruce: Coefficient of Friction Summary

Flooring Discussed: COREtec


[00:00:00] Sarah: You’re Listening to Good Fit Poor Fit. A podcast that explores the interaction between people, design, and activity. Good Fit Poor Fit is part of The Universal Design Project, a nonprofit organization with a vision for every community across the USA to have a surplus of homes and opportunities for social participation that are universally and financially accessible.

[00:00:27] Learn more at universaldesign.org. 

[00:00:31] Welcome to another episode of Good Fit Poor Fit. If you’re a regular listener, you hear a lot about how different features of the home can make it easier for people with disabilities, and well anyone, to use the space easily and independently. Today in another episode of our Candid Conversation series, our OT student, Rachel and I are going to talk about the important product and feature of… flooring.

[00:00:54] You all know, I love a good story. So we’ve asked our design advisors to tell us about why flooring can be a poor fit and how it makes their lives easier when it’s a good fit for their needs or the needs of someone they work with or care for. Their comments really helped me understand how flooring impacts their daily activities.

[00:01:14] I’m sure you’ve all experienced many of these same frustrations too. A lot of effort and discussion gets put on planning the spaces in a home because there needs to be a good flow for daily activities and room to move around. So it is obviously important, but so are the surfaces you roll, walk, crawl, or hop on. So let’s chat about some of the frustrations our design advisors shared about flooring. One of the big things we see with floors in homes is the fact that some design trends have floors at different levels. This isn’t just a small transition in the height from one floor type to the other, like thresholds, which we’ll get into later. But as design advisor, OT, and business owner Felice Eckhouse describes, it’s those rooms that go up or down one step that are a deal-breaker for many. 

[00:02:05] Felice: I have seen split-level homes where you have to keep going up three little stairs, and the connections between the stairs to the flooring, is poor. Another design, not very good anymore, the sunken living room. You have this unevenness where you have to go down a couple of stairs to get to the living room and then return go up those stairs.

[00:02:28] Sarah: Rachel, can you share why this is such a poor fit for people in their homes?

[00:02:32] Rachel: Yeah. Stairs no matter how many steps, can pose a barrier for many individuals– People who use mobility devices, people with poor balance, people with impairments to their lower extremities, people with visual deficits, the list could go on. Homes that have stairs leading to common gathering areas do the homeowner a disservice because it potentially creates a division for social participation and ultimately does not create an inclusive environment. 

[00:03:01] In my childhood home, I can think of several examples where stairs have eliminated the opportunity for our friends and family to enjoy company together. Felice touched on many aspects that I have seen in my home and that I think may apply to many of our listeners as well. As I mentioned in our last podcast, my home is a two-story house with all the bedrooms on the second floor. We have had overnight visitors sleep on a couch in our living room due to their inability to walk up a flight of stairs. This creates a level of discomfort and disruption for everyone in the home. Additionally, my home has a day room that is only accessible by going down two small steps, which I imagine is very similar to the sunken living room Felice mentioned. As much as I love the home I grew up in, I can’t help but reflect on all that I’ve learned thus far in my internship with the Universal Design Project and want to address some of these poor fit designs that are seen in older homes, such as mine.

[00:04:00] Another important thing to consider is the type of flooring and all the characteristics, good and bad, that they bring to the functionality of a home. 

[00:04:09] Sarah: Yes. The big topic here today is the type of flooring we put in our homes and how they all connect together throughout the home. Our design advisors really gave us lots of feedback on what makes flooring a bad fit due to function, beauty, and durability. Many individuals that replied have experience using a piece of mobility equipment or work with those who use them.

[00:04:30] Big heavy power chairs can do a number on some types of floors, including vinyl. We’ve even had grout between tiles break up in our bathroom because the big power chair causes shifting and small pieces to the grout to come up. Quite a few design advisors sang the praises of wood flooring for durability and beauty. But Viola Dwyer mentioned, there’s also a maintenance component to consider as well. Felice mentioned that glare is a big issue to consider and how some types of floors are finished. It can make the tile or concrete look wet and cause people to worry about falling or light can bounce off of them, into their eyes, making it hard to see where they’re going or make an illusion of steps.

[00:05:14] Laminate, tile flooring, and carpet can be chosen to add some extra design elements into the room. But really busy designs or flooring with lots of pattern in them can be hard on the eyes, making people feel dizzy and off-balance, even causing migraines. But there’s another design trend that goes in the opposite direction, which is a clean and sleek look.

[00:05:36] Rachel, can you share a bit about flooring, walls, and even cabinetry and countertops being installed all in one color and the potential issues with that?

[00:05:44] Rachel: Sure! I think the best visual I can describe is to imagine the space you’re in right now. If you scanned your environment and saw that everything was white, if everything was the same color, the same shade, how intimidating would that feel?

[00:05:59] The contrast between flooring, the wall, and even molding can be helpful to discriminate and is a support for individuals who are visually impaired. When design choices are too minimal or maybe too modern, the environment feels confusing. 

[00:06:13] Sarah: Exactly. So it’s kind of like, we need to find a healthy medium here between too busy and too monochromatic, or just using one color. A little contrast between flooring and other elements in the room is ideal to orient us to where things begin and end. 

[00:06:29] Rachel: If we continue with my example of using the color white in design choices, it is also important to note that it tends to show every piece of dust, dirt, and debris that finds its way on our floors. Even if you clean your home regularly, it can be difficult to maintain white flooring.

[00:06:46] One of our design advisors, Barry Long, is a realtor and also uses a wheelchair. He says, “When the bathroom or any flooring is white or very light in color, it’s super difficult to keep clean. My tires are inherently dirty. And when I roll into a room that has white flooring, I inevitably leave tire tracks, especially when leaving the shower.” Chau an OT also echos this when choosing flooring for bathrooms and says, “We should account for how easy it is to clean and doesn’t require a ton of scrubbing as that’s pretty hard for some people.”

[00:07:17] Sarah. Do you have any experience with this issue? 

[00:07:20] Sarah: Yes. We’ve seen this in our home and especially in hotels. My husband even has purchased non-marking wheels to help reduce this problem, but when things get dirty, it’s inevitable. Whether it’s a hard surface or carpet. 

[00:07:34] Speaking of carpet, we have lots of comments from our design advisors about carpet, and there was actually a little disagreement about this one. Most thought carpet wasn’t a very good flooring choice, but some actually preferred it in some locations around the home. For those that use wheelchairs, it was mentioned that it is hard to move on carpet, even if it is wall to wall or a big area rug. 

[00:07:56] In the carpet world, people often use terms like low pile and high pile for the thickness of a carpet and how short or how tall the fibers of the carpet are. Low pile carpet has shorter fibers that are flatter and more dense, making it easier to move on and easier to clean. The higher pile carpets are definitely more fuzzy and harder to clean; Think shag carpets here. Our design advisor, Barry Long said that quote, “Carpet is a huge issue for mobility as a manual wheelchair user, even a low pile carpet makes it feel as if there is a brake on when I push or roll.” End quote. 

[00:08:32] To add to his comment. I have seen this happen with carpet that has a layer of padding underneath it as well. It’s like pushing through mud. 

[00:08:40] Kira, also an OT and design advisor, makes a good point about old carpets that may have curled edges and that can create a fall risk. This is the same with throw rugs being a big tripping hazard. OTs are always recommending that these little rugs get removed in people’s homes. What tends to happen is when someone is walking or using mobility equipment, the corner or edge of that rug can get caught on a foot, wheel, or the end of a crutch or cane, and wrinkle up. This causes the rug to move and bunch up, creating an easy environment for someone to fall. The rugs can even get tangled up underneath equipment, causing the person to get stuck, or even tear the rug.

[00:09:19] But maybe there’s some good news and people are listening because design advisor and OT, Larissa said she actually hasn’t had a lot of issues with carpets lately. She says, it seems like people have given up on using carpets, or maybe they’re just more aware that they are unsafe and they’re not using throw rugs. But there’s always someone out there that needs to hear this tip, so spread the word listeners. 

[00:09:43] Viola also makes a good point about carpet and keeping homes clean.

[00:09:47] Viola: Oftentimes they save money by installing wall-to-wall carpeting. And I don’t understand that because in the end you’re creating a much less hygienic environment, and more upkeep for the tenant and for the landlord. There’s all sorts of problems with carpet, especially wall-to-wall carpeting. And it, isn’t very easy to get around on when you use a wheelchair, whether it be manual or power. 

[00:10:14] Sarah: Yet on the flip side, some people want some type of rug for comfort when walking around, or it could be helpful for someone if they fall and it can be used as a cushion.

[00:10:24] Rachel: Right! After two years of spending so much time in my apartment due to COVID-19, I now recognize some of the benefits of rugs and carpets that people typically advocate for when an OT recommends removing it from the home.

[00:10:38] My apartment is heavily carpeted. And before now I’ve never lived in a space that had carpet. I saw the benefit of waking up on a chilly morning and having something fuzzy under my feet or the benefit of having a cushion from a rug while I was standing in the kitchen making that infamous quarantine banana bread. For some, it can be a safety risk and/or nuisance. However, for others, it can be a support. So I think there’s a fine line between what can work and what can’t work. 

[00:11:07] Sarah: So true, and oh, I love some good banana bread. I also think that carpet does help with the reduction of sound for downstairs neighbors, maybe, for example, a toddler jumping or maybe dancing, or maybe a dog chasing a ball, as well as helping to reduce the echo of sound in your home because there’s more surfaces to absorb the noise.

[00:11:29] There are definitely some ways to make carpet work. I know we’ve gotten big area rugs and put the edges under furniture as much as we could. There’s also ways to make sure the edges are kind of taut and tacked down with materials so they don’t roll and curl. Listeners, if you have any good rug suggestions, please let us know.

[00:11:48] In one post I actually found on Pinterest, I saw where someone had carpet installed into a section of hardwood and actually lowered the carpet down a bit to reduce the risk of tripping and falling, which is a worry that many of our design advisors discuss. But this design direction I saw on Pinterest also brings me to my next topic of transitions between flooring and thresholds.

[00:12:12] Our design advisors voiced a lot of concerns about how when these different types of flooring connect together, sometimes it’s not an even fit. And the seem to connecting the two different flooring types causes wheels, feet, and other objects to get hung up on them, causing a trip or fall. Listen to this scenario described by our team member and design advisor, Meaghan Walls.

[00:12:33] Meaghan: So in one client’s home, they did have narrow hallways and sharp corners, but then they also had thick carpet. She either was pushed through the house in a wheelchair, or they had a scooter that she could use and try to navigate, but it was made more difficult by that flooring. And then when it shifted to hard surface, that change in control always made her a little bit uneasy because it felt different to move around the house. 

[00:13:00] In my own house, we had tile in the entryway and then laminate wood that was on top of vinyl. So it was stepped up like an inch and a half, with this obnoxious bump then thick carpet in other rooms and the tile got slick. There was always someone slipping and falling. Someone always tripped over some of those thresholds too just running around the house with kids and stuff. When we renovated this year, everything came out and went level with just a LVP. It’s so much easier to move about the house and people aren’t falling and tripping as much. 

[00:13:34] Sarah: When renovating, it’s definitely hard to get all the flooring types level. Barry says even a very short transition will get his front wheelchair wheels to get hung up on the lip. Think about gravity here. If Barry’s wheelchair stopped suddenly, but his body is moving along with his chair. He has the potential to keep moving when his chair stops, meaning he could launch forward out of his chair, just because of that little threshold. Kira, also an OT and design advisor of ours says that people with visual and neurological conditions may experience difficulty going from one surface to another. And another design advisor, Larissa adds that it can make them feel incompetent and if they can’t use environments because they can’t get through successfully and safely, that’s a big issue. Felice also notes that during renovations it’s often people putting new flooring over old flooring. That becomes a big deal too.

[00:14:27] Felice: I’ve seen hardwood placed over tile and sometimes tile placed over hardwood. In any event, when you add the threshold, and the new design makes it completely uneven to what was on the other side of the threshold. So completely uneven and causing all these safety issues and lack of confidence for people to walk on this uneven surfaces. The other idea of thresholds when you’re going through sliding doors to a patio, nothing much to hold onto. Although they’re sometimes helped by those metal thresholds that you can attach to make a ramp on one side and get over and then go down the other side, not too far of a distance. These are big problems. 

[00:15:07] Sarah: Thank you, Felice! I’m so glad that you mentioned flooring from inside of a home to the outside. Those transitions over sliding doors are the worst. You may be negotiating over an inside floor. That’s a different height from the outside floor. Plus, when you’re dealing with the tracks of the door, it’s like going over railroad tracks.

[00:15:27] We have a swing door out onto our porch with an even transition from inside to outside. And it’s a perfect fit for our entire family. When the exit out onto a porch is a bad fit, those transitions can be unsafe, but jarring going over those bumps. Another uncomfortable transition or threshold is going into the shower as referenced by Viola. 

[00:15:49] Viola: The thresholds are a big deal because when you roll the shower chair over like a big bump like that from the tile to the vinyl, it’s very uncomfortable. I can take it, but somebody who is less able wouldn’t. 

[00:16:03] Sarah: I’m sure we’ll get to talking about walk-in showers in another episode, but the type of flooring and how slick it is is definitely something our design advisors wanted to note. Many bathroom tiles become slippery when wet and become a safety problem says OTs, Jedida, Larissa, and Chau. Some suggested choosing types of materials to make the space more grippy. And I’d like to add, to make sure there is a flooring type that is chosen that has a high slip coefficient or COF, coefficient of friction.

[00:16:36] On a website, The Spruce, they define the slip coefficient as an objective standard, that is a rating on how slippery flooring will be and is published by tile manufacturers and retailers. So they’re pretty easy to find for U.S. brands. This helps you ensure that tile in a bathroom and kitchen area will have more friction on it as those are areas that are most likely to get wet. The higher the rating, the less slippery it will be. Natural stone and glass are rated lower and have very little friction, for example.

[00:17:08] This got me thinking, Rachel, maybe that’s why some people use a small throw rug in their bathroom as they get out of the shower. They like to step on that fuzzy surface as to not slip on the bathroom floor when their feet are wet. 

[00:17:20] Rachel: I think you may be on to something, Sarah! That small bathroom rug absorbs a good portion of the water that remains on us after bathing. The natural routine of stepping on that rug to dry off has a purpose, which is not to spread shower water on your bathroom floor and ultimately to not fall due to a slippery floor. It’s like a towel for your feet! 

[00:17:41] I remember when I was younger, my parents would fuss at me and my sister, if we left water on the bathroom floor after bathing, because it could cause water damage, which would not have been ideal, considering that that bathroom was on the second floor, right above the kitchen.

[00:17:56] This brings me to our next talking point. I’d like to transition into talking about what our design advisors had to say about flooring that wears out and the issues they bring on people in their homes. Most of our design advisors brought up the issues of wear and tear on hardwood flooring. Sally Kiker said, ” The wood flooring in my apartment is getting old and beginning to split in some places, leaving small holes and cracked wood in the floor because of this. I’ve had to throw away so many socks with holes in them. This is a very small barrier to participation, but it is definitely an annoyance.” Kira, a design advisor who is also an OT, also mentioned those pesky nails by saying that they stick out from the floor when a wooden piece is missing. 

[00:18:40] Design advisor, Ruchika mentioned that she has seen engineered hardwood become warped due to water damage near the entry door. So the door could not fully open. Which makes entry and exit frustrating. She recommends that it is best to use 100% waterproof flooring. Ruchika also brought up a good point regarding carpet and said that folds in the carpet often need stretching. This makes it difficult and unsafe to use mobility devices. Sally Kiker echoed that statement and also mentioned that carpeting can be a barrier to participation in activities like house maintenance and navigation through spaces. 

[00:19:19] Sarah: Yes. Flooring can really be a big barrier in so many ways, and I’m glad our design advisors mentioned those situations in which flooring is in disrepair. Unfortunately, many people just live in their homes with flooring that needs fixed because of the cost and time it takes to refinish or replace it. People have to figure out how to remove all of their furniture and live in a construction zone for a bit. Ellen Farber is a design advisor and an interior designer, and she works with those who want to age in place.

[00:19:47] She says, quote, “As far as flooring, most clients stick with what they have known out of fear, especially if they’re older. Making changes can be very difficult. So if you’re recommending a change, maybe you can suggest they talk to other clients that have used your suggestions or provide some reviews on products that you are recommending for how they can improve their quality of living, help them navigate their space while keeping maintenance, costs, overall look, and style in mind.” 

[00:20:13] For example, in one of Ellen’s most recent projects, they did a complete renovation for a woman who had been blind since birth and in a wheelchair for the last 25 years. She was moving to a different apartment in the same building and had a variety of flooring in the apartment. She allowed Ellen and her team to run waterproof luxury vinyl flooring called COREtec Plus throughout her apartment, except in the bedrooms. She still wanted the plush feeling of carpet on her feet when getting out of bed. COREtec actually has a variety of products now with the transition molding and overlap reducers, making transitions between a variety of finishes, much more seamless than ever. Ellen says, “Working through fear and making sure it still fits their client’s design aesthetic is very important. Plus the support from their family or friends to help them make those decisions is important as well. It’s never easy.” End quote.

[00:21:07] I love how Ellen shared about the product COREtec. That seems to help solve some of the issues that we discussed earlier. I’ve heard great things about this product and some of our team’s discussions in that it is durable and scratch-resistant, waterproof, great for bathroom areas or areas with potential water, and also installed with a layer of cork underneath for making it quieter and adds a little warmth. It comes in a lot of different colors and styles as well.

[00:21:34] These comments help us segue into other comments. Our design advisors shared about flooring when they’re a good fit for them or someone they care for. Rachel, can you tell us what our design advisors said? 

[00:21:44] Rachel: Overall, our design advisors said good flooring has some style, decreases fall risk, is good for mobility and the use with mobility devices, promotes accessibility and confidence, improves independence and safety, and is easy to clean. Of course, a good fit for most everyone was seamless transitions between all spaces of the home and not going from carpet to another hard surface. Design advisor, Jedida Milton mentioned that it’s great when the flooring is continuous between all spaces. I think this probably to reduce the need for transitions, but it’s also helpful for some people to have some different types of colors to indicate when entering one room from another. Some of this is preference, but it’s good to know different perspectives on both sides of the spectrum to help inform design decisions.

[00:22:35] Another example of this is that design advisor Barry Long loves a darker floor color because it doesn’t show his wheelchair wheel marks, but others may prefer a lighter color so they can see if they drop something on the floor.

[00:22:48] As always our design advisors identified a lot of components for good fit design. All of which provide an inclusive environment for residents and visitors. Our home’s flooring is literally the foundation for all the things we do within our spaces. So it’s important that it serves as a support for us as we move throughout our homes. It is a pretty major component of the house that often gets left untouched in home remodels. So it can be an overwhelming design feature to consider. 

[00:23:16] Sarah: Well, and probably because it’s costly and a big project to tackle if you aren’t going to do a major renovation, I feel like when people invest in flooring, they’re doing so for the long haul and aren’t looking to change it frequently.

[00:23:29] It’s kind of like changing out your roof. Viola Dwyer was honest in her response to us and said she really wasn’t sure what was out there in regard to flooring. I think it also echoes Ellen’s comments above too because we only know what we know and sometimes it’s helpful to do some research and ask professionals about their opinions and newer products that might be out there to meet her needs. All Viola knew was she wanted flooring to be durable, to have some sort of cushion for her husband who is prone to falling, but have it easier for her to move around in her power chair. 

[00:24:01] Viola: I really want to do more research to find out what options are out there. I’ve heard of a company in New Zealand, but I don’t even know if they’re still in business. Apparently they absorb up to 80% of the impact of a fall. That is very intriguing to us and our household because my husband is a really extreme fall risk.

[00:24:24] I think that my preference would be something very, very durable, but it looks like wood and it’s very, very easy to clean.

[00:24:32] Sarah: One other point I thought was helpful from a design advisor was that a good fit for flooring also means less wear and tear on the bodies of people who have different abilities.

[00:24:42] Rachel, can you dig into this comment a little bit? 

[00:24:45] Rachel: Sure. As mentioned by several design advisors already, carpet is just not ideal for most people to easily move throughout their home and perform their desired occupations. It creates more effort for individuals which can ultimately lead to some physical issues as well. For a manual wheelchair user, the amount of force and effort it takes to try and roll over a carpeted surface can put a strain on upper body muscles and joints. When the movement is applied over and over again, as one travels throughout the house, this can lead to pain and fatigue. For a power wheelchair user, not only is carpet difficult to move through, but other issues arise as well. The thresholds that divide rooms often pose opportunities for individuals to compensate for their inability to navigate these bumps, and others like it, by moving their bodies out of ergonomic positions, which can lead to injury.

[00:25:37] It is also worth noting that individuals who use other mobility devices, such as walkers and canes run into issues with maneuvering throughout the home as well. Flooring that is uneven or in general, not smooth causes potential problems. Smoother flooring allows people to glide their mobility devices while walking, which reduces the risk of falls. Whereas if the mobility device can not glide on a surface that is more difficult, like carpet, it requires the individual to pick up and put down the device, leaving room for them to lose balance and can lead to an injury due to a fall. 

[00:26:11] Sarah: Yes, and I’ll add that injury can occur to people’s legs and feet. If they’re moving around on even or broken flooring, like we discussed earlier by banging a toe or scratching their foot, even catching their foot on an uneven surface can cause a tumble leading to injury. So overall I think flooring is something that isn’t often considered in conversations surrounding accessibility, and it should be discussed more. 

[00:26:33] I think Felice agrees.

[00:26:35] Felice: Good fit flooring makes all the difference. It’s so much easier. In bathrooms when a certain kind of floor finishing or small tiles that you can get around easily. In bedrooms or living rooms, dining rooms, low pile wall-to-wall carpet works nicely or wood floors that have area rugs with non-slip backing typically works without the fringe. A lot of good thoughts. 

[00:27:03] Rachel: I agree. There are a lot of good thoughts here and throughout our podcast today, I think we’ve all gained a little more insight into the important role flooring plays in home design. Sarah, do you have anything else to add about floors? 

[00:27:17] Sarah: Yes. I also wanted to share one more thing about flooring that we experienced in Colorado that was a good fit for me and may help those who want a warm surface to step onto and getting out of bed if a throw rug is too risky. We stayed in a condo for a few months that had heated floors, and this was especially felt on the tiles. It was a great way to not have cold feet, heat up the room, and not worry about having those throw rugs in the way, especially in front of sinks in bathrooms and kitchens. These were heated by warm water under the floors. And there’s also options to have this powered by electricity as well. 

[00:27:52] I wanted to mention this in this episode because I thought it was a unique feature that others may benefit from. But as we wrap up, I’m sure there’s much more we could dig into about floors and specific products, but I hope you all learned something new today about how flooring plays an important role in our design choices for making it a good fit for all people.

[00:28:11] Of course I couldn’t finish this episode without a big, thank you to our design advisors. You add so much to these episodes and in the designs we are working on internally. We are grateful for you and your feedback. 

[00:28:22] Have a great day, and we hope you join us again soon.

[00:28:26] Thanks for listening to Good Fit Poor Fit. I’m your host Sarah Pruett, Program Director and Occupational Therapist at The Universal Design Project. Learn more about our work at universaldesign.org, and find more episodes and links to subscribe at goodfitpoorfit.com If you have questions or topics you’d like to discuss, email us at [email protected].[00:28:53] Thanks for fitting us into your day!


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