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Carpet Tiles and Sustainability

By: Chris Hogan MSc - Updated: 3 Oct 2012 | comments*Discuss
Carpet Tiles Tiles Wear Worn Rotation

Carpet tiles are often touted as a sustainable form of carpeting and while that can be true to an extent, a little delving into their provenance is required to make sure you really are using them in a sustainable way.

We mention carpet tiles briefly in some of our articles in the 'Carpet' section of this site, noting that carpet tiles aren’t necessarily a solution to the problems of environmental sustainability and pollution. In this article we'll examine the carpet tile situation in more detail.

Spreading Wear Around the Tiles

The main argument for carpet tiles is that they can be moved around throughout their life. Worn tiles can be replaced by others that haven't seen so much foot and furniture action. For example, in a bedroom you could take the tiles up from the area in front of the door after a few years and replace them with the ones that are under the bed.

The truth is that carpet tiles are much more likely to be used in commercial installations and the areas of wear are never clear cut. It's rarely one or two tiles that get heavy traffic, but different sections of a number of individual tiles.

Tiles also fade under the sun, so attempts to replace tiles near a door with others that have been in a dark corner would not look good. The tiles from the dark corner will be less faded than those surrounding the worn tiles that you took up.

Tile rotation, and Why it Fails

It's better, in that case, to rotate all the tiles once a year, then the wear and fading will be evened out. No tiles will ever get too worn and none will get too faded. This does mean that they will all require replacing at the same time, but if the process has been done properly carpet tiles should last longer than an equivalent carpet.

The problem is one of practicality in a business environment. With there being no such thing as a job for life these days the chances of the person who arranged for the carpet tiles to be installed is very likely to be promoted to a different job or have moved on to another company. This means that the rotation plan may not survive, even if the company stays in the same building for long enough to make it worthwhile.

This short term nature of modern business means that short term decisions get taken. If it's accepted that a long-term rotation plan isn't feasible but a company wants to use carpet tiles anyway, then the next best thing is to make sure that the tiles are at least sourced sustainably.

Different Carpet Tile Backing Materials

The biggest problem with carpet tiles (and, to be fair, many roll carpets as well) has been the backing rather than the carpet weave itself. But most manufacturers selling to the United Kingdom have either abandoned PVC or at least offer an alternative backing.

Compounds made from natural products like rubber are widely available now. Many newer carpet tiles are backed with a gel developed from latex and rubber which is not only less harmful to manufacture but also lighter and more flexible.

Scrutinise the Pile

With the pile surface there are now mixes that are mostly wool with a low plastic content (100% wool is not normally hard wearing enough for commercial use) and many that use recycled plastic fibres in the pile so at least you are not adding to the damage done by manufacturing more plastic-based pile.

Reusing is the Most Sustainable Way

You could consider re-using carpet tiles. There are plenty of offices where spare tiles left over from fitting the office have been kept to replace damaged ones. Often they have been there for so long that the tiles they matched have been lifted and thrown away long ago.

Have a root round places where you work, or ask friends to look in their offices, to see what stock-piles can be found. And one of the benefits of carpet tiles is that if they don’t match exactly you can still use them with other tiles, using different patterns to mix and match.

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