Wood floors can be a beautiful addition to any commercial project, but it is important to understand that specifying wood floors for commercial spaces differs significantly from specifying them for residential spaces.

The wood floors used in commercial settings must be able to stand up to rigors that most residential wood floors would never be exposed to. The most obvious example of this is increased foot traffic.  While residential wood floors have to withstand the wear and tear of a busy family life, commercial wood floors will be exposed to thousands of people walking on them constantly day in and day out. They need to be able to withstand scuffs from shoes, scratches from moving merchandise displays or chairs around frequently, dents from dropped items, and stains from spills and food being dropped onto their surface. In other words, the same things that might impact wood floors at home will be impact commercial floors in the same way, many times over.

Construction of a commercial space is a consideration as well. Most commercial jobs include steel-sided construction as opposed to the wood-framed construction of most residential spaces. Most commercial projects also are constructed on a concrete slab as opposed to the wood subfloor that is used in many residential projects. This means that, generally speaking, an engineered wood flooring material will be best-suited for a commercial project.

Concrete is a popular commercial building material for a variety of reasons. It is one of the most cost-effective building materials available. It provides superior fire resistance in commercial projects, and it provides good energy efficiency as well. Concrete also provides excellent sound control, so works well as a subfloor material in commercial spaces, especially for projects like condominiums or apartment buildings.

Wood floors can be installed over concrete subfloors very successfully, but because the flooring material will directly reflect the shape of the subfloor, it is very important that the slab is flat to the wood flooring manufacturer’s specification. Typically, manufacturers will specify a flatness tolerance of 1/8” in a 6-foot radius and/or 3/16” in a 10-foot radius. Professional contractors can remove high spots by grinding, and fill depressions with approved patching compounds. Concrete subfloors also can be flattened using a self-leveling concrete product.

One of the most critical steps in installing wood floors on concrete subfloors is moisture testing. Concrete subfloors should be allowed to cure for at least 60 days and must be dry before installation can begin. A wood flooring professional will conduct moisture tests to identify the moisture content of the slab.

Once the subfloor is determined to be in good shape, installation can begin. For most concrete slabs, the wood flooring material is glued directly to the slab. Many wood flooring adhesives include a vapor retarder in the adhesive compound, which provides additional moisture protection for the flooring material. This installation method provides excellent long-term performance for the flooring material as well.

Species hardness will play an important role in specifying commercial wood floors. Because commercial wood floors will receive significantly more foot traffic than residential wood floors, it makes sense that specifying a harder species will help the floor perform better in its environment. Harder species will be less susceptible to denting, scratching, scuffing, and other incidental wear and tear.

Sound control is another important consideration when specifying commercial wood floors. This is especially important in multi-family structures like apartment buildings or condominiums.

When specifying wood floors in multi-family dwellings, it is necessary to take into consideration both the Uniform Building Code and the BOCA National Building Code requirements. Areas of the country that do not follow either of these code standards may have local building code regulations with their own sound control requirements.

The BOCA National Building Code addresses air-borne noise in its section 1214.2. It states that floor/ceiling assemblies separating dwelling units from each other or from public service areas shall have a sound transmission class of not less than 45 for air-borne noise when tested in accordance with ASTM E90. It also addresses structure borne sound in section 1214.3, which states that floor/ceiling assemblies between dwelling units or between a dwelling unit and a public service area within the structure shall have an impact insulation class rating of not less than 45 when tested in accordance with ASTM E492.

Apartment and condominium associations may have a set of protective covenants with even more stringent regulations than the Uniform Building Code or the BOCA National Building Code. The type of sound control system used will be dependent on a number of variables, including the type of flooring used, concrete thickness, ceiling suspension, and framing structure. These all will influence sound control effectiveness.

The finish used on a commercial wood flooring project will have a big impact on its overall look, feel, and functionality. Some finishes are more effective than others for commercial projects.

Surface finishes are very popular because they are durable, water-resistant, and require minimal routine maintenance. Surface finishes are blends of synthetic resins and often are referred to as urethanes or polyurethanes. This type of finish remains on the surface of the wood to form a protective coating.

Acrylic impregnated finishes are injected into the wood flooring material to create a super-hard, extremely durable floor. They are well-suited for high traffic areas in commercial settings such as malls and restaurants. By some estimates, wood that is acrylic impregnated is twice as resistant to indentation as non-impregnated wood.

The final step in specifying a commercial wood floor is to recommend a maintenance routine that will keep the floor looking beautiful for the lifetime of the floor, and functioning within the high demands of the commercial space.

Clients should be encouraged to avoid using water to clean their wood floors as this can dull the finish, and even damage the wood over time. Excessive water use on wood floors also can lead to cupping.

Cupping occurs across the width of a floor board. It is characterized by raised edges and a lower center on the floor board. It typically is caused by exposing the flooring material to excess moisture over time, which can include wet mopping.

Instead of water, routine maintenance can be as simple as sweeping or dust mopping the floor on a regular basis. A vacuum can be used for this purpose as well. Regular use of a professional wood flooring cleaning product recommended by the flooring manufacturer will produce the best long-term maintenance results.

It is important to clean spills immediately, especially in commercial spaces where they can occur frequently. Allowing liquids to sit on the floor can dull the finish and possibly damage the wood. To clean the spill, use a slightly damp cloth to wipe up the liquid, then use a clean, dry cloth to dry the area thoroughly.

These routine maintenance suggestions will help keep wood floors looking beautiful and at peak performance for many years. When other issues arise, such as damaged boards, it is best to consult with a wood flooring professional so that the issue can be resolved quickly with little or no disruption to business.

The National Wood Flooring Association has detailed information about wood flooring installation, sand and finish, and repair. More information is available at nwfa.org/technical-standards.