In most instances, selection of a particular flooring material is made by the group responsible for design and construction. One of their primary interests is to keep construction and renovation costs low. Maintenance and operating costs are not their concern, so they are rarely factored into the selection process. As a result, most flooring decisions are made primarily on the basis of lowest initial costs and appearance when new.
Flooring requires ongoing expenses for cleaning and maintenance, and there are costs for removal and disposal. Often overlooked are costs associated with the disruption to building operations while flooring is being installed. These factors vary with different flooring materials and must be considered if the organization is to get the most out of its investment.
Approaches and Cost Analysis
In contrast to the traditional approach of selecting a flooring option based on first costs, life cycle costing examines all costs associated with owning a particular type of flooring over its life.
A life cycle cost calculation can be simple or complex, based on the needs of the organization. In its simplest form, it examines only the major costs associated with the installation over its service life. In its more complex form, a life cycle cost calculation can include such factors as return on investment and present value. Both types of analysis are effective.
Using the simple model, the cost of ownership for flooring is equal to the sum of the installation, maintenance, cleaning and disposal costs over the product’s life.
The biggest portion of the installation costs will be for the preparation of the space and the purchase and installation of the new flooring. But installation costs also include other items that are often overlooked.
A new floor installed in an existing space causes disruptions to the building occupants. How extensive those disruptions are depends on the type of flooring being installed.
For example, the installation of carpet tile or vinyl floor tile disrupts operations less than does the installation of sheet vinyl or roll carpet. Even more disruptive is the installation of a raised floor. The cost of these disruptions can be significant and must be factored into the life cycle cost analysis.
Maintenance costs also vary widely. Relocating workstations and office equipment will require repairs or modifications to the flooring. If sections of the flooring are damaged, they must be repaired or replaced. The installation or modification of under-floor cabling systems will result in the need to make changes to the flooring. How often these repairs and modifications are required, how disruptive they are, and how costly they are depend on the type of flooring that is installed.
The facility executives must look at the maintenance history for the flooring systems in a facility. How often are repairs and modifications required? What do they cost? It’s important that the facility executive determine an average cost per square yard per year for the types of flooring considered for the application.
One of the largest components in the life cycle cost of flooring is the cost of cleaning. Depending on the type of flooring installed, its location and the level of traffic, flooring may require cleaning only once a week or as often as several times a day.
Again, the best way to identify actual cleaning costs is to review the historical cleaning cost record for a facility with a similar type of flooring in similar applications. Flooring manufacturers can provide recommended cleaning levels and estimated costs, but they may not reflect the actual conditions found in a facility. Using the best available data, estimate the annual cleaning costs for the different types of flooring considered.
Removal and disposal costs must also be calculated. These can be significant, particularly if large areas of the operation are disrupted during the removal process. Manufacturers can provide data on average costs for removal and disposal of their products.
Determining Service Life
One of the most critical elements in determining the life cycle cost for a given product is service life. Most flooring products have published or accepted service lives. For example, the rated service life is 25 years for hardwood flooring, 25 years for terrazzo, 15 years for vinyl tile and 10 years for carpet.
But rated service lives are averages, not absolutes. In many applications, flooring will need replacement well before the rated service life is reached in order to meet appearance standards for the organization.
In these cases, what might be called the material’s attractive life, not its rated service life, will determine when the flooring will need replacement.
Even then, the length of a floor material’s attractive life will vary from application to application. For example, a quality carpet may last eight to 10 years in many commercial applications, but only five to seven years in schools, or only three to five years in hotels.
Another factor that will influence the actual service life is churn. Organizations are in a constant state of change. People move. Operations undergo constant upgrading. Support needs change. As a result, the facility itself is in a state of churn.
This rate of churn will have an impact on the actual service life of a flooring product, generally shortening it well below the rated service life and frequently below the attractive life. Changes in space needs can result in the need to change flooring before it wears out.
For this reason, the most expensive flooring option, or the one with the longest service life, is not always the most cost-effective option for a particular application. Money spent purchasing performance beyond the expected remodeling date will be wasted.
It is essential that the proper value for service life be used. For organizations that undergo constant changes, the service life used in the life cycle cost calculations will be well below that of most flooring materials and must be based on historical renovation schedules. In other organizations, the service life will be determined more by the rated service life of the material and the organization’s experience with the attractive life of that type of flooring.
Life Cycle Cost Calculations
The life cycle cost of a flooring product is the total cost of ownership over the life of that product. To allow comparisons between products with different service or appearance lives, the life cycle cost is generally normalized on a per year basis.
For each product being considered, determine the purchase cost, the installation disruption cost, the annual maintenance and cleaning costs, the disposal cost, and the service or attractive life.
For example, assume that a particular flooring product costs $30 per square yard to install. The disruption during installation is estimated to be $10 per square yard. Annual maintenance and cleaning costs run $15 per square yard, and removal is expected to cost $5 per square yard. The product has an expected service life of five years. That would bring the total cost of ownership over five years to $120 per square yard.
Dividing by the expected service life of five years, the life cycle cost for this flooring option would be $24 per square yard per year.
Repeating the calculation for other types of flooring will give the facility executive the information needed to select the most cost-effective flooring for the application.
In this example, the initial cost of the flooring is only one-quarter of the total cost of ownership throughout the product’s life. In most flooring applications, the purchase and installation costs are relatively small in comparison to the total cost of ownership, making the performance of a life cycle cost analysis essential.
Evaluating Product Trade-offs
In selecting a flooring product, trade-offs will have to be made among such factors as appearance, first costs, cleaning costs and expected life. For example, in general, products with a longer expected service life will also have a higher first cost. But other trade-offs will not be so straightforward. The key to a successful flooring installation is to match as many factors as closely as possible to the needs of the application.
Start with the flooring service life. If possible, select a product with an expected service life equal to or slightly greater than the expected life of the space. Too short an expected life results in having to replace the flooring before the next scheduled remodeling. Too long a service life, and money will have been wasted in unused product life.
Look for a product with low maintenance and cleaning costs. These two costs typically account for more than 50 percent of the total cost of ownership.
Finally, look for a product that will maintain its appearance throughout its rated service life. If the wrong product is selected for an application, appearance will deteriorate too rapidly, and the flooring will have to be replaced before it has reached its service life.