Average Brit's spend around 90% of their time indoors. Now imagine if you have mobility issues and rely on walking aids or carers to navigate your environment, the time spent indoors could be much higher.
Now consider the ambient room temperature that a care home should maintain, recommendations state that this should be somewhere between 18-21 degrees. During the colder months of the year, it’s tempting to try and keep residents warm by keeping all the windows and doors shut, but good ventilation has been proven to reduce infection risks and can improve the health and well-being of people living and working within care homes.
Many new build care homes have invested heavily into ventilation systems, especially in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, but older homes may rely on traditional heating systems in the winter and in the warmer months natural ventilation from windows, which provides no opportunity to filter out potential pollutants, or air conditioning units that just cool and recirculate air.
So, what issues should we be aware of when it comes to indoor air quality in a care environment and how can the installation of carpet help to improve the quality of air circulation within care homes?
Airborne infections and Microorganisms
Influenza viruses and the likes of Covid-19 are spread through the air by aerosols that are exhaled by the infected individual. Such aerosols can be suspended in the air for hours or fall to the ground so in a poorly ventilated space, where there are a lot of people, particles can build up and increase the risk of cross-contamination.
Microorganisms are part of our everyday lives and include many diverse organisms. They include bacteria, fungi, yeast and algae that are found wherever moisture, temperature and food sources allow. Some of these organisms are beneficial and a natural part of our environment. Others can cause serious problems including deterioration, defacement, rotting, surface degradation, staining, and health problems ranging from simple discomfort to physical irritation, allergic sensitisation, toxic responses and infection and can be found on any flooring surface.
There are systems such as air purifiers and companies that supply fogging services to disinfect rooms and remove microorganisms, bugs, bacterial and viruses, but there is one solution that you may already have in your home that can provide the first line of defence against airborne bacteria and viruses and that is an antimicrobial carpet.
Carpets that come with a permanent antimicrobial coating attract contaminated airborne particles to the carpet surface. When the tiny microbes come into contact with the carpet fibres the antimicrobial coating acts a little like a sword, by puncturing the cell membrane and rendering it inactive, which means it’s unable to re-populate or cause harm to others.
Many such treatments offer a four-log reduction, which is a 99.99% reduction in bacteria and viruses. This kill rate is superior to the hand gels many of us have been applying throughout the pandemic to keep us safe from contaminated surfaces. Therefore, carpets that come with an antimicrobial treatment helps with purifying the indoor air and reduce the spread of many infections and bugs including MRSA and C-Diff.
In addition to the carpet helping to deactivate microorganisms, it has also been proven that fewer bacteria are transferred from carpets to hands than other flooring surfaces. A rigorous study conducted by Lankford et al (2006) suggests that certain pathogens such as VRE (Vancomycin-resistant enterococci) survive less well or for shorter periods on carpet than on other floor coverings, including rubber tile, linoleum, and vinyl sheet goods, that carpeting also transferred less VRE to hands via contact than rubber and vinyl flooring and performed just as well in cleaning as any other flooring tested.
Therefore, should residents find themselves coming into contact with the carpets, there will be less transmission of bacteria and bugs from the floor to their hands.
The basic dust particle
Did you know that air quality is 5-10 times worse inside than it is outside due to less square footage and ventilation? Throughout the last 10 years, there have been numerous studies into the use of carpet versus hard floor surfaces and what effect these two flooring solutions have on indoor air quality.
Fine dust can present a significant health hazard, especially for allergy sufferers, as particles may cause irritation when they are breathed in and enter the respiratory tract. Many of the studies suggest that carpet fibres attract and retain dust particles, unlike hard surfaces where they lie on the surface and regularly become air born. If carpets are regularly vacuumed these particles, and allergens that are bound within the carpet fibres, are removed from the room without causing discomfort.
In 2006 the GUI (Gesellschaft für Umwelt- und Innenraumanalytik) carried out a study commissioned by the Deutscher Allergie- und Asthmabund e.V. (DAAB). The air in over 100 randomly selected homes was analysed. During this analysis, the concentration of particulate matter in carpeted interiors was compared with that in living spaces with hard floors. The results of the study were clear-cut: the average concentration of fine dust in interiors with a hard floor was twice as high as in carpeted interiors. The limit applied in Germany for external air (50 µg) was exceeded by 20% in interiors with hard floors.
Therefore, as long as you have a structured cleaning and maintenance schedule in place, which includes the use of a vacuum with a beater action to agitate the carpet pile and remove the dust particles, carpets should help to minimise dust particles and the chance of them being inhaled by both residents and staff.
Other indoor air pollutants
VOCs are volatile organic compounds that easily become vapours or gases; along with carbon, they contain elements such as hydrogen, oxygen, fluorine, chlorine or nitrogen. VOCs are usually found in emissions from chemicals commonly used in the manufacture and maintenance of building materials, interior furnishings, and cleaning supplies. Even that new car smell is down to VOCs.
Short-term exposure to VOCs has little impact on health, but when exposed to them for long periods, and where there is limited ventilation, they have been associated with eye and respiratory tract irritations, headaches, dizziness, visual disorders and impaired memory. Long-term exposure to high levels of VOCs has been linked to sick-building syndrome and cancer.
With flooring, VOCs may be emitted during installation, maintenance, and post-installation of both soft-surface and hard-surface flooring, though in different amounts.
As part of the manufacturing process carpet is effectively baked in a finishing oven at 150-170 degrees. This drives off most of the volatile chemicals including solvents in adhesives and raw material, leaving a product with a low remaining VOC content.
Polishes, waxes and strippers that are commonly used in the maintenance of vinyl flooring and other hard surface floor coverings vary greatly in their formulations and can potentially be high emitters of VOCs.
When compared to other building materials with significant indoor exposure, carpet is a minor contributor to VOC emissions. Approximately 90% of all VOCs discharged from the carpet are related to installation and dissipate within 2 days of installation.
One way to check whether your carpets are low in VOCs is to check the declaration of performance or to see if they have been awarded certification such as Eurofins Indoor Air Quality. Such certified carpets help to promote low-emitting products and demonstrate compliance with all relevant requirements in Europe and beyond.
Carpets create a home
Carpets have therefore ticked the box for helping to create a healthier indoor environment, but let us not forget some of the other benefits carpets can offer residents and staff.
- Warmth and comfort underfoot; carpets help to reduce energy consumption as they are natural heat insulators and may also help to reduce energy bills.
- A soft landing should trips and falls occur; the chance of a bone fracture on a carpeted floor is a lot lower than if someone was to fall on a hard surface floor. It has also been proven that carpet increases confidence in movement in the elderly, which may result in your residents moving around communal areas more.
- For those that work within Care Homes having carpet underfoot has been proven to decrease muscular strain, which is particularly important when people are on their feet for most of their working day.
Finally, this is someone’s home, people residing in care homes today are not from the laminate flooring generation, they may even have carpets in their kitchens and bathrooms! So, let us create an environment that is familiar and promotes a positive and healthy living and working environment for everyone.
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