How to Think About Safe Floors

The statistics are telling: This year, over 60% of older Americans will slip and fall in or around their homes. Many of these falls will cause severe injury and expensive hospitalizations. In some cases, the outcomes will be worse; unthinkable and, with careful planning, unnecessary.

So, when you sit down to begin considering aging in place modifications, floor safety should be top of mind. We know it is for Sadler Construction. We’re deeply involved in safe floor technology and applications. In this post, we want to pass on some of the issues we think about when designing and constructing aging in place environments for our clients. Our perspective is always to maximize client safety without compromising great design and appearance. Given that overall framework, here are some of the items we consider.

NO-SLIP. Perhaps the most important consideration is the “slipperiness” factor: Or put another way, how slip resistant is the floor. Ceramic tiles with a low COF ratings (COF should be greater than or equal to 0.60) and highly waxed wood floors are a few of the culprits.

WALKABILITY. What’s the best floor surface for mobility, either walking or navigating a wheelchair, cane or walker? The answer involves paying attention to ultra soft or “snaggy” surfaces as well as a reduction of seams and joints.

CUSHIONING. Hardwood flooring, stone, or something more forgiving, like carpeting or soft tile. You don’t want to fall on a hard surface but you also don’t want to trip on high-pile soft rug surfaces

KEEPING IT CLEAN. We pay attention to how easy is it to keep a floor clean. Dirt and soil add to the slipperiness factor, particularly on harder surfaces.

FEELS GOOD. This is a livability factor that runs through our consideration of everything else. If you don’t feel comfortable in your home, then we have failed in our planning.

There’s more.

We always think about lighting. Perhaps nothing reduces fall rates more than proper illumination, particularly in hallways, stairs and bathrooms. In a later blog post, we will spend some time discussing lighting issues and the amazing variety of products on the market that bring great solutions to this problem.

Wet flooring. This is frequently a bathroom or a kitchen issue. The simple advice is to mop up spills immediately, but we’re not perfect….so we think about using more absorbent flooring in areas where spills are likely. We’re talking about using can mean special purpose materials near sinks, bathtubs and laundry areas. We like to make sure these “area” coverings are heavy and have an effective non-slip undersurface. And that’s because….

As a general rule, we are not overly fond of area rugs and mats. While they can look great, provide color or texture contrast, etc., they always trigger our danger radar. Small area rugs and mats slide easily and create uneven surfaces. Older adults don’t lift their feet as high when walking and can trip if they catch on one of these floor coverings. Maneuvering walkers and wheelchairs are also made more difficult. However, if you love the look or have a particular purpose in mind, again make sure these decorative pieces have a grippy undersurface that won’t slide. And minimize the differences in elevation between the smaller floor covering and the adjacent primary surface.

One last point: we try to limit the number of floor types we build into our aging in place designs. The issue is transition zones, like saddles, seams, and thresholds, that are trip traps. Again the danger is the tendency of older adults to drag their feet. The problem can be alleviated by equalizing the height difference between the flooring types, or, when possible, removing thresholds at door openings. Lots of solutions available, proper planning essential.

There’s a huge variety of flooring products in the marketplace designed to ensure that the flooring you install is safe and attractive. It’s a pleasure to share our knowledge of flooring and help you make choices as you begin planning your aging in place solutions. Feel free to contact Sadler Construction for further information. And stay tuned to this blog site for further information. We will be discussing more specific flooring solutions in future posts.

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