Download as a PDF Updated: May 30, 2018

The majority of commercial floor coverings are designed to meet the general needs of the floored space. They are styled and manufactured to be aesthetically pleasing, durable and easy to maintain. But the very nature of commercial interiors, and the activities that happen in these spaces, has given rise to a new category of floor coverings—specialty floors. These products have enhanced physical characteristics and unique properties to fulfill the needs of special spaces and niche areas. Specialty floors offer value-added features and benefits for spaces where general floor coverings fall short on required or desired performance. For example, raised profile and flat surface flooring can help prevent slip and fall injuries in spaces where liquids spill or collect, such as around grocery produce aisles and building entryways. Flat profile floors have special slip resistant materials incorporated into their wear layers and surfaces. Raised profile floors allow water and grease to drain away in channels, leaving the top surface dry and slip resistant. Another specialty area is electrostatic control. Floors designed for these areas safely conduct or dissipate static to prevent damage to sensitive electronic equipment, circuit boards and people. These floors help reduce manufacturing downtime and provide a safer environment in computer assembly sites, classrooms and cleanrooms. And in spaces where cleanliness can literally be a lifesaver, such as in hospital operating rooms and other healthcare areas, antibacterial floor coverings can contribute to the overall sanitation of an area.

Specialty flooring began as a small collection of industrial problem solvers. Once upon a time these floors focused solely on performance. The category has evolved and now includes great looking products that go beyond mere functionality. They range from floors that improve the environmental “greenness” of a building to high-tech floors that contribute to employee productivity. Today, our competitive marketplace demands specialty floor coverings that are good looking, perform exceptionally, maintain easily and have a good cost/value relationship. The family of specialty floors is still growing, and many of the newer products have designs and colors that are as attractive if not more attractive than many general use products. Almost any building can benefit from the installation of one or more specialty floor coverings, in an ever-increasing number of areas. Some specialty performance features are:

  • Static Control
  • Antibacterial/Antimicrobial
  • Low Maintenance
  • Light Reflective
  • Acoustic
  • Cushioned
  • Green
  • Raised Access
  • Athletic
  • Slip Resistant

The universe of special needs in commercial spaces keeps growing, and with it, the world of specialty floor coverings keeps expanding. The selection of products includes hard surface, solid surface and carpeting. The key to making the right choice is understanding where you must use these products, and where using them as an option adds value to the building interior.


There are spaces where specialty floors must be used, either by law or municipal guidelines. But the number of spaces where specialty floors could be used goes beyond the obvious. Innovative specifiers and end users are catching on to the benefits of using specialty flooring in many areas throughout a facility. These floors can transform an ordinary interior into an extraordinary, exciting and more profitable space.


Where compliance to legislation and municipal guidelines mandate specialty building materials. Floor coverings in many public buildings must have special performance features. For example, to meet guidelines established by the Americans with Disabilities Act, slip resistant floors must be installed in handicapped accessible spaces. Slip resistance is described in terms of coefficient of friction (COF) ratings, with level surfaces needing a COF of 0.6 and ramps needing a COF of 0.8. And, in a growing number of municipalities nationwide, using “green” building materials, including flooring, is mandated. This may include everything from floor ingredients acquisition through floor disposal and/or recycling programs.

Where improving the facility ergonomics can attract more tenants. Instead of defaulting to basic floor coverings to make a facility more neutral for general use, many facility managers turn the scenario upside-down and install specialty floor coverings that add value and unique features to make the space more desirable. These include cushioned floor coverings for workers who must spend hours standing in one position or area. It also includes acoustic floors that make the workplace more effective by controlling overall sound transmission and absorption, and contribute to sound clarity and privacy in cubicle environments. When a space is designed with special value-added features, you can attract more stable, “higher rent” tenants in a competitive marketplace.

Where an upgraded floor covering can actually save money. Specialty floors may have an initial cost increase for purchase and installation, but this premium pales in comparison to the total cost savings that can be demonstrated when you specify and install these products. For example, insurance premiums may be reduced when floors contribute to occupant health and safety. These include slip resistant and light reflective products. Other upgrade options include low maintenance finishes, which can be either original to the product or added as an after-market coating. These can pay for themselves with long-term savings in cleaning labor and materials. Some of these finishes protect the floor’s aesthetics and extend the usable life, which saves money on renovation and replacement.

When you want to design-build for unique architecture and special-needs customers. The design of a building may provide a natural pairing with many specialty floor coverings. Energy efficient buildings with few or no exterior windows benefit from special light reflective floor coverings. These floors have fluorescence built-in and are designed to illuminate an area during a power failure. Another special design-build consideration is static control flooring. These products are often part of systems that include the flooring, grounding equipment and maintenance products. They protect equipment, and more importantly, people, from the harmful effects of static by either dissipating the charge or conducting it safely away.

Building tenants that expect frequent changes in personnel, office configurations and equipment upgrades will appreciate the benefits of modular raised access flooring. These floors enable building tenants to have easier access to subfloor wire and cable systems by giving service technicians a convenient gateway to their work area. The flooring, which is often configured in modular panels, is designed for frequent removal and replacement, and minimizes disruption in the workplace when subfloor access is needed.

When sanitation is the primary requirement. The well-being of building occupants is a top priority for designers and end users. Nowhere is this more critical than in healthcare operatory, laboratory, cleanroom and pharmaceutical facilities. Specialty floor coverings play a vital role in making sure people work in, sterile products are developed in, and medical procedures are performed in, sanitary environments. These include the growing category of antibacterial, antimicrobial and antifungal floors. These floors are designed to limit, if not eliminate, surfaces where microorganisms or infection might get a foothold. This physical composition of these floors is inherently more sanitary, and they are engineered to withstand rigorous maintenance materials and procedures that ensure continued sanitation. In addition to critical healthcare areas, building owners and managers are increasing their use of antibacterial, antimicrobial and antifungal floors in buildings where large numbers of people congregate and interact, including elder and daycare facilities, offices, transportation depots, houses of worship, education and government facilities, and retail centers.

When you want to “humanize” your design and facility. Marketers have moved towards people focused, relationship-oriented communications to promote their products. It’s easier to do this in a service business than in a building environment, but you can position your designs and your building as being more sensitive and responsive to your customers’ needs by using and promoting your use of “green” and “ergonomic” products. Flooring that offers environmental benefits range from those made with natural ingredients to those that contribute to sustainable design. Flooring that is ergonomically designed improves productivity by enhancing working conditions and worker comfort. Using floors that improve our built environment and working/living conditions make people feel good about partnering with you.


We touched on the eventual payback of using specialty floors in the previous section of this newsletter. You can recoup your investment many times over with more effective spaces, reduced liability, easier maintenance, and overall facility enhancements. Plus, there are more subtle benefits that are hard to put a dollar figure on, including healthier and happier building occupants. The added cost of specialty features may actually be lower than you think. Many floor coverings that have a great cost/value relationship to begin with, such as vinyl composition tile, rubber flooring and base-grade carpeting, are still great bargains when value-added specialty features are incorporated during manufacturing. Many after-market treatments are cost effective too, when you factor in improved safety, enhanced performance, or product lifecycle benefits. You may pay as little as a few cents more per square foot or yard, compared to general use flooring, for some value-added features such as low maintenance finishes. Expect to pay more for more sophisticated floor coverings including static control systems, or when highly skilled labor or specialized equipment is needed to install the product.

Whether you are on a tight budget or if liability compliance means selecting the right product at any cost, we use the strength of a nationwide network for buying power, product selection, and installation expertise through Starnet. You can depend on us to find the best product, negotiate the best possible price, and complete the installation professionally. We have the knowledgeable and comprehensive services that benefit your bottom line and peace of mind.


Unlike many flooring contractors who work with a limited number of manufacturers and distributors, the StarNet flooring cooperative gives its members unlimited access to the complete array of specialty floor covering products available nationwide. So, whether your need is for antimicrobial flooring for acute healthcare, or cushioned flooring for retail cash/checkout areas, DCOCF can source the widest selection of materials that are available. Better still, confer with us during your building’s design and specification stage. We will be able to add insight about the types of floor coverings that are available and can make recommendations for where specialty floor coverings should, or could, be used. Most spaces can be easily renovated with specialty floor coverings too. Specifying and selecting the right specialty floor coverings can transform your building from a simple aesthetic “facelift” into a state-of-the-art facility.

Where once flooring was considered a low-tech business, large and niche market manufacturers are jumping on the specialty floor covering bandwagon to develop new products and to meet the needs of a diverse customer base. They recognize that specifiers and end users will continue to demand more selection and more types of specialty floor coverings. Floor covering accessory, maintenance, and service companies are in step with this trend too. This burgeoning trend is driving product growth in many areas. One of the largest is “green” floor covering, which includes the products, the installation systems, plus recycling and disposal services. Other key growth products, driven by litigation, are safety flooring and flooring that helps protect against injury and infection. A new and exciting growth area for specialty floor coverings is sports and entertainment products. Floors are now being designed for specific sports and disciplines such as indoor track, golf clubs and gymnastics. The Gen X philosophy of catering to micro-athletic markets is obviously not limited to just shoes!

DCOCF is committed to learning about the latest trends and applications for specialty flooring, and want to share this knowledge with you as your building project takes shape and your tenant needs change. We recognize that most of your flooring needs can be met with general floor coverings. But, like that special ingredient that defines the success of an entire recipe, finding the right specialty floor product and installing it correctly can mean success or failure for your building project. Count on DCOCF to help counsel you during the design/renovation stage for both general and specialty product selection. Rely on us to find the best products from all sources, and to install them perfectly. And finally, make sure your investment is protected by maintaining the floors properly. We are knowledgeable about the products that are available, how to install them, and how to maintain them for optimum performance. We are ready to service your needs.