Innovative, sustainable flooring solutions – fit for a better normal

By Paul Woolvine, IOBAC Ltd.’s CEO

We Brits spend around £30bn on household goods and improvements every year. It’s undoubtedly already a huge industry. But this year, under pandemic-induced  lockdown and a large portion of us working from home or furloughed, it looks set to grow further. Many of us have taken this time to improve, makeover and/or renovate  our homes. So much so that online sales of building materials in the first half of March 2020 saw demand at record levels, with up to 48% year-on-year growth.

Time spent doing DIY increased by a massive 147%. This shows no sign of abating, especially in light of Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s stamp duty holiday. In the weeks  following, Rightmove and Housing Today reported a 15 per cent increase in house sales; buyer enquiries were 75% higher in July than a year ago, and housebuilders’  shares soared. 3 Homeowners on the move will be looking to makeover their current homes to help with the sale. Others will already have an eye on making changes to their new home.

Now is the time for change

The UK government has already set its stall out to ‘build, build, build’ its way to recovery, which points to what is likely to be a huge increase in demand for building materials, including flooring solutions. It feels like a transformative time for the built environment; an opportunity to do things differently and better than before. Why  not make the flooring solution you choose – whether you’re a housebuilder, homeowner, or flooring contractor – an inherently more flexible and sustainable one?

Sustainability from the ground up

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought the environment and what we’re doing to it into sharp focus. There’s no doubt it was front of mind for the Construction Leadership Council (CLC) when it wrote and published its recent Roadmap to Recovery, an industry recovery plan for the UK construction sector. Sustainability and a decarbonised society are placed right at its very heart, proven with the inclusion of this statement under its key outcomes and benefits:

Reducing carbon emissions and improving the sustainability and resource efficiency of the construction and built environment sectors and making measurable progress towards delivering net zero carbon.

While the CLC’s report is encouraging, sustainability has, unfortunately, always been at the mercy of market forces. Stakeholders too often opt for traditional solutions deemed ‘cheaper’ than newer, more innovative solutions, like flexible magnetic flooring. It’s these market forces that risk stifling the sustainable innovations that the  construction and housebuilding industry so desperately need. Now is an especially important time to keep green building principles at the forefront of everyone’s mind.

Indeed, the need to ‘build back better’ has been addressed by prime minister Boris Johnson and the government’s Race to Zero campaign, as well as by the CLC’s  Roadmap to Recovery. Specific details are, however, currently sparse.

There are a multitude of materials that need to be properly governed if vital green benchmarks are to be hit. Concrete is often cited as the construction industry’s ‘dirty’  addiction, but in our world, traditional flooring solutions – ones that are unsustainable to manufacture, require adhesives to affix, and are difficult to recycle – are the

Greater flexibility and design freedom

In the UK, on average, we decorate our living room every 25 months, our bedroom every 29 months, dining room every 37 months, and hallway every 45 months. Amazingly, a quarter of all UK homeowners admit that their home is in a constant state of redecoration. 5 Over a lifetime, that’s a lot of redecorating. Fashions and our  own tastes and needs are constantly evolving and it can be an upheaval each time we redecorate. It can also be expensive and time-consuming. But it doesn’t have to be  that way. If people had the option to change their flooring quickly and easily with flexible magnetic flooring, by themselves, in just two to three hours, how many more  would opt to do it? They may even opt to do just that rather than redecorate an entire room. Add to that the options to stow away the flooring that’s been uplifted for re-  use, recycle it in an environmentally-friendly way, or simply just swap some sections that are more worn than others, and you’re left with a transformative solution to  what is an old problem.

The solution?

Flexible magnetic flooring solutions that use dry-laid magnetically receptive underlay can take away all of the messy, time-consuming issues that arise with traditional  solutions. There’s minimal sub-floor preparation needed, you simply roll out the underlay and cut to size. It is waterproof, naturally anti-microbial and easily cleanable.  It’s perfect for reuse time and again and ticks all of the sustainability boxes. Flooring systems that are wet adhesive free also ensure that surface tiles remain uncontaminated when uplifted and can therefore be easily recycled or reused, unlike tiles fixed with adhesive which are often difficult to uplift and recycle.

Things are hotting up

The government’s recent Green Deal announcement is set to help homeowners make energy-saving improvements to their home and find the best way to pay for them.  As you would expect, heating and, more specifically, underfloor heating, is one of the improvements listed under the Green Deal criteria. This is, of course, framed by the  wider context of the UK government’s target to bring all greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050.

More efficient heating solutions will undoubtedly have a central role to play in reaching this objective. After all, almost 40% of all human greenhouse gas emissions in the  world come from buildings, with more than half of these from residential properties. The fact remains, however, that underfloor heating can still be overly  complicated and excessively expensive.

New, innovative heated flooring solutions should overcome some of the issues commonly associated with conventional electric mats and water-based underfloor heating  systems. Underfloor heating is still thought of as a costly, luxury option. And a disruptive, complex option at that. It’s also complicated and time-consuming to remediate  any issues with traditional systems and, vitally, they’re not as efficient to run as expected. They often have long heat up times and no option for renewable energy inputs.

Solutions should be non-disruptive, with no disturbance to existing pipe and/or electric system. On top of that, it needs to be easy to remediate by simply removing the  floor tile and coating and repainting. Heated flooring, to truly be beneficial, should be three things: non-disruptive (which we’ve touched on), cost-effective and  sustainable. In terms of cost-effectiveness, it needs to be highly efficient to run and quick to heat up to 27ᴼC, not to mention offering far-reduced install and future  remediation costs. Sustainability wise it also needs to be able to be powered renewable supply (either DC or AC).

A better way forward

It does feel like a transformative time for the built environment. Demand for building materials and flooring solutions will continue to be high and homeowners, housebuilders and flooring contractors will be faced numerous building material options. Now is the time for society to opt for newer, more innovative It doesn’t have to be a new normal, as has been quoted so often in recent times. Rather, the materials and flooring solutions we choose now can help contribute to a better normal.

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