Most ESD flooring failures and liabilities stem from 7 avoidable mistakes. Find out what they are & how you can easily escape these common pitfalls.
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In the past, ESD floors, designed to serve a utilitarian purpose in static-sensitive work spaces, were available in a handful of unattractive colors. Today, manufacturers produce a variety of ESD flooring materials, in attractive colors and designs inspired by nature.
Great to have so many choices! But, with myriad options, selecting the right static-control floor can be confusing for the novice, and sometimes even for experienced engineers or architects.
Choosing the wrong floor can be worse than having no static protection at all.
Part of the confusion stems from the fact that different environments require different solutions. Conductive vinyl, for example, works well in an electronics manufacturing services (EMS) environment, where standard operating procedures mandate the diligent use of static-control footwear. In mission-critical data or call centers, there are no mandates to control footwear. Minus ESD footwear, the same vinyl floor will actually generate enough static to corrupt data, blow headsets, and damage sensitive electronic components.
Further complicating matters is a general lack of knowledge about static-control specifications and standards—exacerbated by the trove of information (reliable as well as not) and contradictory data available on the web. No wonder designers and specifiers often make the same common mistakes when selecting static-control flooring materials.
Common Mistakes in Selecting Static-Control Flooring
Mistake #1: Unfamiliarity with Static-Control Terms
In sales pitches and marketing materials, sellers use a number of terms to describe static-control flooring: conductive, dissipative, antistatic, and ESD being the most commonly misused. Often used as if they were synonymous, these terms are not interchangeable.
For example, a conductive floor is not the same as a static-dissipative floor. Conductive and dissipative describe the electrical resistance properties of a floor—measured in ohms. While the values meet in the middle—with flooring measuring ≤ 1.0 x 10E6 ohms considered conductive and between ≥ 1.0 x 10E6 and ≤ 1.0 x 10E9 ohms dissipative—the descriptors also include the extremes on both ends of the resistance range. At the far end of each range, measurements could differ by as much as eight orders of magnitude.
Designating a flooring material as antistatic does not necessarily mean the floor can be grounded. Some so-called “antistatic” materials, such as low kV computer-grade carpet, inhibit static generation but lack the conductive properties necessary to ground the floor.
Note: The term “antistatic” has recently lost favor to the more accurate term “low charge generating“.
Calling a floor “ESD flooring”–a generic term encompassing all types of static-control floors—is the same as saying, we need a floor because we have an ESD problem.
Before writing a specification, designers and specifiers should have a fundamental understanding of static-control terminology. Referencing one of the numerous ESD industry glossaries should eliminate most of the confusion regarding simple terminology.
Definitions for the following key terms can be found in our Static-Control Glossary.
Computer Grade Flooring
IBM Burroughs Standard
Resistance to Ground
Walking Body Voltage
DO familiarize yourself with static-control flooring terminology and have at least a general understanding of standards and specifications.
Mistake #2: Believing Internet Hype
The Internet is only as good as the researcher doing the research. Too many people assume that, if it’s published on the web, it must be true. Remember: any individual can publish anything on his or her own website, whether or not the information is accurate.
Be aware of hyperbole and meaningless platitudes. Question any source that describes products as having infinite conductivity, offers “unparallelled” performance, or says any property will last “forever.” If a claim seems inconsistent with information you see elsewhere or strikes you as too good to be true, it probably is.
Beware of any claims that are not supported with independent, objective references to standardized test methods that count, quantify, qualify, differentiate or identify performance parameters by some objective, universally accepted scale or longitudinal performance criteria. For example, if you read, “this floor is best for extreme static-control applications due to its high level of conductivity,” ask the supplier for the lab data supporting the claim. Most grounding standards view higher levels of conductivity as a disadvantage, because a high conductivity poses an unnecessary danger to personnel working in the area.
Remember: Stating that an ESD floor will meet ANSI/ESD S20.20 is not a legitimate stand-alone claim. ANSI/ESD S20.20 is a process document, not a test standard.
Specifications are meaningless unless they’re derived from respected, reliable, objective sources. The two most important ESD test methods for qualifying flooring are:
Scrutinize and Cross-check Data.
ESD flooring test results referencing ESD Association standards should be available from an independent test lab. When evaluating performance data, the results of independent lab reports should always be viewed as more credible than supplier-generated data and descriptive performance claims found in marketing materials.
The same is true for articles, blog posts or website editorials that offer opinions and comparisons. When evaluating technical information, look for articles that originally appeared in respected industry journals. Unlike the information in website advertorials, published articles are subjected to professional editorial review before they are published.
Do look for independent test reports and articles published by respected trade journals or industry associations, including National Emergency Number Association (www.nena.org), and EOS/ESD Association (www.esda.org).
Mistake #3: Using an Unfamiliar Flooring Installer
Some buyers believe they can save money or gain technical advantages by hiring a static-control flooring installer or contractor they found in a Google search. Mistakenly, they believe a web company, perhaps marketed as specializing in static-control, will know more than a conventional and local flooring contractor about installing flooring in their facility. In fact, the opposite is typically the case.
Most general contractors would never hire an unfamiliar installer, for a number of reasons. First, there’s no reason to hire a sub-contractor they don’t know or have never worked with. Other than following simple grounding procedures and using conductive adhesives, there is little difference between installing conventional flooring and static-control flooring.
Laws vary. In some states, it’s permissible to hire laborers who are not bonded and have no worker’s compensation insurance. Other states, including West Virginia, California, Nevada, Oregon and Arizona, do not permit construction labor by unlicensed, out-of-state contractors.
In a litigious society, it doesn’t make sense to use a contractor with no regional office or local representation. What happens if there are problems after the job has been completed? Who will handle ongoing installation, warranty work, and repairs?
Few installations are complete after the last tile is placed or grounding strips are bonded to building steel. Often, tiles are damaged by moving equipment and must be reinstalled.
If the installer leaves as soon as the floor install has been completed, who will certify its static-control properties?
The certification of electrical properties should not be finalized for at least several days after the installation is complete—i.e., when the floor or adhesive is fully cured.
And what about insurance?
According to the National Safety Council, slips, trips and falls are one of the most common and costly workplace incidents—costing businesses $11 billion in 2014 alone.
Again, some states do not require contractors to provide worker’s compensation insurance. No cost savings from hiring out-of-town laborers could possibly compensate for damages from one accidental liability claim filed by an employee who, for any reason, was injured after tripping over a poorly installed tile.
As with any construction project, it usually makes sense to hire locally. Local contractors are reliable in part because they’re interested in obtaining all of their customer’s flooring business, not just in a one-shot deal involving a few thousand feet of conductive flooring.
ESD flooring installation is not some kind of black art. ESD floors are no more difficult to install than ceramic flooring, regular carpet or conventional tile. In many cases, larger electronics manufacturers utilize members of their own in-house facilities department for their static-control flooring installation. Grounding is simple, new carbon-free conductive adhesives are easy to spread, and clean-up is usually done with soap and water.
DO ask flooring manufacturers for names of local, approved and experienced installers. If the manufacturer can’t confidently recommend an installer, find a different manufacturer.
Mistake #4: Relying Too Heavily on Warranties
While it’s reassuring to have a long-term warranty in hand, many buyers forget to read the fine print. Assuming the warranty covers the life of the floor, they figure they’ll be compensated for any problems encountered down the road. But what good is a lifetime warranty if it excludes the most common causes of product failure? Lifetime warranties on some popular brands of carpet exclude pile crush, for instance—the single biggest reason carpets fail.
Nor do warranties cover the costs of lost production, which can be substantial if a factory must be shutdown to replace failed flooring materials. And, in most cases, workmanship on the installation is covered for only a year.
The financial stability of the warrantor is another factor buyers sometimes overlook. Warranties are only as good as the financial backbone of the warrantor (sometimes their supplier as well). Any warranty becomes null and void if the supplier is out of business a few years after the floor was installed—when problems typically arise. If the supplier is no longer in business, what happens if the floor begins delaminating or losing conductivity?
Although asking for references seems like a good idea, references are only as good as the objectivity and experience of the company or individual providing the reference. As with evaluating a job applicant, due diligence could save a lot of money downstream.
The best insurance against future problems is not just a long-term warranty, but rather, a detailed evaluation of both the product and the contractor under consideration.
When evaluating a supplier’s integrity and financial stability, consider doing the following:
DO thoroughly evaluate your supplier. Call references, check credit history, check the suppliers bond and insurance information, and ask about old installations.
Mistake #5: Failing to Investigate Site Conditions
Often, ESD flooring failures are the direct result of problematic—yet correctable—site conditions, such as contaminated concrete and moisture vapor drive. In fact, moisture is the single biggest reason all types of flooring installations fail. Concrete and moisture problems are detected easily by pulling concrete core samples and performing ASTM moisture tests.
These tests can be arranged by the flooring supplier and should be performed by a local, certified contractor. Often, contaminated slabs can be salvaged by double shot-blasting. Moisture problems can be alleviated by installing topical moisture barriers, moisture resistant sheet flooring or roll-type underlayments such as Versashield®.
Before agreeing to a firm price from any flooring contractor, ask the following questions:
DO test and evaluate every sub-floor properly—regardless of previous experience—before flooring is installed, and never ignore defects or marginal moisture vapor readings. If the building will be purchased or leased, it’s a good idea to perform this testing prior to signing any real estate agreements.
Mistake #6: Overlooking Total Cost of Ownership
The initial material and installation costs are only part of the total cost of owning a static-control floor. Every floor, whether standard or ESD, requires some kind of maintenance and repair. Over five years, these maintenance and repair costs can be significant. Calculated over the long-run, a less expensive floor may actually cost a lot more than a pricier option.
The way the floor is maintained directly impacts its lifecycle and appearance, as well as its ability to eliminate static electricity. Before purchasing a static-control floor, evaluate the material’s durability and long-term electrical performance—and be sure you understand exactly what maintenance people will encounter. Results are usually best when the people who will occupy and maintain the space are involved in the final flooring selection.
DO consider the long-term costs of repairing and maintaining your static-control floor.
Mistake #7: Specifying the Wrong Product
Every static-control flooring application presents some unique challenge. For example, 9-1-1 call centers and FAA flight towers rely heavily on sensitive electronic equipment that is extremely vulnerable to static electricity. A static event could cripple their mission-critical operation, jeopardizing public safety and security. For this reason, designers of these 24/7 mission-critical spaces do not hesitate in specifying some form of static-control flooring.
It is all-too-easy to select the wrong flooring material, particularly if the supplier is unclear about the capabilities and deficiencies of a particular ESD floor. For safety reasons, for instance, most mission-critical grounding standards—e.g. Motorola R56 and FAA 019f—prohibit the use of conductive carpet around electrified equipment. Other static-control flooring materials—conductive vinyl, HPL, and computer-grade carpet, for example—either do not inhibit static generation or cannot be grounded, thus will not prevent random static discharge; nevertheless, they are often incorrectly specified for these critical applications.
Forgetting to Account for Footwear
Independent lab studies using ANSI test methods show that vinyl, HPL, and epoxy will not prevent static—unless every person in the space uses special static-control footwear. In a real-world environment, where people are not required to wear special ESD footwear (e.g. a data center), these materials do not—and cannot possibly—prevent damaging events caused by random static discharge.
Rubber and carpet, on the other hand, are ideal ESD flooring solutions for mission-critical spaces. ESD rubber and ESD carpet inhibit static generation on moving personnel—regardless of the type of footwear they’re wearing.
To solve static problems in a mission-critical environment, the floor must be groundable as well as low charge generating—in other words, the floor must safely discharge static to ground and provide static mitigation with or without the use of static-control footwear.
To meet these guidelines, floors should be evaluated for body voltage generation, and tested with both controlled and uncontrolled footwear, using ESD STM97.2 methodology.
Due to electrical safety concerns, most mission-critical grounding standards forbid any type of conductive flooring. To adhere to minimum resistance requirements, beware of product data sheets that describe a flooring material as having a wide resistance range—such as 2.5 x 10E4 – 1.0 x 10E8 ohms—running a vast spectrum, from highly conductive to static dissipative. Resistance measurements can be negatively affected by environmental conditions and even vary from tile to tile; products specified with a wide resistance range should be carefully scrutinized and potentially avoided.
Always ask about the advantages and disadvantages of the materials under consideration. After all, no ESD flooring product is perfect or universally applicable for every application.
Because ESD is an invisible phenomenon, it’s impossible to know the floor isn’t working properly to eliminate static—until, that is, a computer crashes or some other event occurs.
Remember that applications differ in their static-protective requirements. Be sure the floor you select is the right floor for your application. If you’re not sure, ask a static-control expert for help.
Require the flooring manufacturer or their representative to test the floor and warrant in writing that the floor meets the industry standard that was specified. However, beware of claims that a product “exceeds” a standard. Some salespeople argue that a more conductive floor exceeds the performance of a slightly less conductive floor.
Example: Per FAA 019f for airports or Motorola R56 for 9-1-1 dispatch areas, ESD carpet must measure > 1.0 x 10E6 – < 1.0 x 10E9 ohms. Floors with lower resistance measurements (higher conductivity) may not be used in these applications. In electronics manufacturing and Class-0 applications, per ANSI/ESD S20.20, the floor, in combination with ESD footwear, must generate no more than 100 volts of static.
Be sure you require the right test method for your specific application.
Do It Right the First Time
As we all know, it is much easier and less expensive to install a floor in an unoccupied space than it is to remove and reinstall a floor in an occupied building. In most cases, when the wrong floor was installed it’s because the proper homework was not done up front.
Idiosyncratic and constantly changing requirements of technology businesses challenge the expertise of even the most capable building professionals. Technically trained static-control specialists should be enlisted to help decipher and explain ESD terminology and jargon. Both suppliers and installers should be properly vetted, and references should be checked carefully. When selecting a floor, consider the long-term investment, evaluating the total cost of ownership, based on maintenance requirements and anticipated repairs.
Most important, be sure the ESD floor you choose is the right floor for your application.
Left solely in the hands of construction companies that build on “spec,” black-and-red factors like low price and speed of installation will always prevail over more important criteria like performance, appearance, and cost of ownership. Fortunately, sufficient technical resources exist to prevent the selection of the wrong ESD flooring material.
- Choosing ESD Flooring for:
- ESD Footwear: What Is It and When Is It Necessary?
- Facility Managers’ Guide to Selecting ESD Flooring
- Keeping Architects Grounded
- The Need for Due Diligence in Specifying Static-Free Flooring
- Standard of Care for Specifying Floors in Mission-Critical Spaces
- Static-Control Footwear for Electronics Manufacturing and Handling Applications
- Understanding the Hidden Costs of ESD Flooring
With Staticworx ESD flooring, you never have to choose between performance and aesthetics. Our beautiful, high quality ESD carpet tile, vinyl, EC rubber tile and sheet goods, and ESD epoxy floors are as beautiful as they are functional.