For years commercial buildings and surfaces were designed and manufactured to be impervious and withstand many environments and most cleaning compounds. Builder’s, designers and cleaning crews learned through trial and error, developing a knowledge base selecting materials suitable for a commercial structures form and function. Many of these surfaces were reliable, inexpensive and could be easily replaced if damaged.
Sustainable interior designs offer up a new pallet of surfaces and looks that are attractive and make environmental sense. Sometimes they may be an expensive initial investment but provide a longer term esthetic and financial benefit. Many of the these materials are new and there is very little experience with long term usage or interactions with cleaning chemicals, or soiling specific to the intended environment.
Therefore new surfaces require a new selection and evaluation process in that several decisions are necessary in making a sustainable surface evaluation or selection. They are the same decisions that had to be made previously but unlike those materials you no longer have a historical understanding of their performance and longevity.
- Will the surface or equipment function adequately within the confines of the environments intended use? For example, a compressed sesame seed or sunflower seed table may work well in a commercial office or doctor's office, but is it adequate for the customer area in a restaurant with high levels of grease and oil and food spills?
- Will the surface or equipment hold up to the cleaning requirements necessary for the environment? Hospital surfaces are exposed to high disinfectant levels; food service to high soil loads and sanitizers; with office buildings requiring high aesthetic value and clean ability with low soil loads.
- Who selects and evaluates your cleaning products?
- Is your cleaning program internal or is it performed by a third party?
· Make sure that the supplier bidding for your project understands where and how their surface will be used and do they have a history with your requirements. This should be in writing and specified to protect you from a product failure claim in that you used the material in a manner which it wasn’t intended.
· Request all supporting documentation for how the surface should be maintained along with cleaning recommendations. This should not be an issue if your project is going for LEED accreditation.
· Request 1-2 material samples from three different production lots to test under your intended conditions. This means testing the surface with soils that may be associated with your environment and the current cleaning program or new cleaners under consideration. A general test overview is provided at the end of the article.
Testing of new sustainable surfaces is an additional step that is new to the building process and can be difficult to manage and coordinate as well as to understand how much time should be allotted. The material supplier or chemical cleaning supplier may be willing to provide the testing if your account is substantial or they may be willing to provide the name of a third party evaluator and cover or share in the costs. Be leery of any material that does not have any historical data for you application. It’s not that it will not work but the supplier may not be aware of all of your applications. Document…document…document or test.
SSS-Cubed (Sustainable Scientific Solutions)
David Harry, Consultant
Gabriele Medley-Harry, LEED AP BD&C
Director of Sustainable Construction