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ASC Proceedings of the 38th Annual Conference
Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University - Blacksburg, Virginia
April 11 - 13, 2002        pp 331-336


Extending the Life of Commercial Carpet

Jeffery L. Campbell and Jay S. Newitt

Brigham Young University

Provo, Utah

More than 1.6 billion square yards of carpet are installed annually in the United States. Unfortunately, four billion pounds of carpet are discarded every year, accounting for approximately 2% of all volume in municipal landfills. Manufactures claim that they can extend commercial carpet life by attaching a polyurethane cushion. The objective of the research was to determine whether or not polyurethane attached cushion added life to carpet installed at Brigham Young University. The findings show that the attached cushion extends life 64% or 4.5 years. This is a direct annual savings to the university of $377,441 or $.16 savings per square foot. This significant study demonstrates the value of life-cycle cost planning and takes a step toward achieving building product sustainability.


Key Words: Life-Cycle Costing, Polyurethane Attached Carpet Cushion, Carpet Sustainability





Carpet covers more than seventy percent of the floors in today’s workplaces. More than 1.6 billion square yards (SY) of carpet are installed annually. With so much carpet being installed, life-cycle costing and maintainability must be carefully and scientifically considered (DuPont 1999). The disposal of carpet has an impact on the environment. Approximately four billion pounds of carpet are discarded every year in the United States. This accounts for 1.1% of all municipal solid waste by weight and approximately 2% by volume (EPA 2001). Extending the life of carpet will lessen the impact on the environment.


Traditional commercial carpet is a latex backed, direct glue-down product. Since the early 1990’s, several manufacturers have marketed a polyurethane cushion that can be attached to any commercial carpet. The typical polyurethane cushion is 1/8" to 3/8" thick. The polyurethane cushion is attached by the manufacturer to the carpet as a post-manufacturing process. The polyurethane cushion can also be attached to carpet squares. Manufactures claim that the attached cushion can extend the life of carpet. The objective of the research was to determine whether or not polyurethane attached cushion added life to carpet installed at the University. This research focuses on whether or not these claims can be substantiated.



Literature Review


Of all the components that make up a building’s finishes, flooring is the one that is subjected to the most daily wear. Still, most organizations fail to consider anything but initial costs when evaluating flooring options. The biggest problem with selecting flooring based on initial costs is that over the life of the installation, those costs are often small in comparison to the total cost of ownership. Carpet maintenance is generally six times the purchase price of the carpet over its lifespan (Annunziato 2000).


A simple life-cycle costing model considers the costs of installation, maintenance, cleaning and disposal over the life of the product. One of the largest components in the life-cycle cost of flooring is the cost of cleaning. When selecting a flooring product, trade-offs will have to be made among such factors as appearance, first costs, cleaning costs and expected life. It is necessary to find a product that will maintain its appearance throughout its rated service life. In order to do so, the right product must be selected for each specific application (Piper 2000).


Affect of Polyurethane Cushion on Carpet


A nationwide study showed that in fifty seven carpeted workrooms, the median cost of direct glue-down carpet without a cushion was found to cost more than installation of carpet with attached cushion when the expense of floor preparation, carpet removal and floor repair were considered. Installation of carpet with the cushion may be more expensive because it is heavier and more bulky to move. Life expectancy of carpet with the attached cushion is expected to increase by fifty to eighty percent (Getting the most out of your carpet, 2001, Goodman 2000, Norton 2001).


Facilities Managers may significantly reduce replacement cost over time by installing polyurethane foam cushion either under carpet or attached to the carpet backing. Some of the performance tests used on carpet are: the Roll Stool test, the Hexapod Drum test, and the Vetterman Drum Test. These tests simulate typical carpet wear such as rolling chairs, cleaning and foot traffic. The common conclusion from these tests is that polyurethane carpet cushion can consistently extend carpet life through improved appearance retention (Norton 2001). It has been found that polyurethane cushion acts as a miniscule shock absorber both to the carpet and to the human foot, making it more comfortable for those who walk on the carpet and extending the life of the flooring (Goodman 2000).


Flexibility and Easy Maintenance


Today’s workspaces must be flexible. It is critical that changes are cost-effective and cause a minimal amount of disruption. Facilities professionals are looking for an installation process that will decrease the expense associated with moving and dismantling furniture, computer, telephone and electrical systems. Managers also want to increase employee productivity. Managers can chose the standard 12’ rolled carpet with attached cushion or select carpet tiles or squares which are generally 24" x 24" in size. Polyurethane cushion can be attached to carpet tile. Like regular rolled carpet, it has been found that polyurethane cushion can add two years to the life-cycle of carpet tile (Frank 2000). Modular carpet tile can easily be removed and replaced without removing entire sections of carpet. One study showed that operations and maintenance costs are significantly lower when carpet tiles are used because of the ease of repairs (Moussatche, Sep 2000).


An effective maintenance program is essential to extend the useful life of carpeting. Quality maintenance includes a preventative program that embraces good vacuuming programs and proper door matting (Building Management 2000). The soil-hiding characteristics of carpet flooring tend to justify lower operations and maintenance costs. A consistent, well-planned maintenance program extends carpet life by removing soil before carpet damage can occur (Lee 2000). In carpet, which has the attached polyurethane cushion, it has been found that air circulates more freely through the carpet cushion. This means that dirt can be more easily lifted out of the carpet. Lab results showed that sixteen to fifty-eight percent more dirt was lifted from the carpet (Getting the most out of your carpet 2001).


Ergonomics and Acoustics


A University of Chicago study also measured impact absorption value of humans walking over cushioned and un-cushioned carpet. Cushioned carpet reduced stress on lower legs and feet. Laboratory tests also showed that cushioned carpet offers more than twice the noise reduction coefficient of carpet without cushion (Getting the most out of your carpet 2001).



Research Scope


This research project was conducted at Brigham Young University (BYU). The objective of the research was to determine whether or not polyurethane attached cushion added life to carpet installed at the University. The life of carpet tiles was not considered in this study.


BYU has over 8.7 million square feet (SF) of building space on its main campus in Provo, Utah. Of that square footage, approximately 3,200,000 SF is carpeted with approximately 75% of that area having the polyurethane attached carpet cushion (2,400,000 SF). BYU began installation with the polyurethane attached cushion in approximately 1991. The carpeted space is used for a wide variety of purposes including academic facilities, administration, library, housing, sports areas and a health care center. The facilities are also heavily used on weekends for religious meetings. With a student population of approximately 30,000 and faculty, staff and administration of 10,000 there are approximately 40,000 who use the campus and its facilities.



Research Methods


The study included investigating current research and literature for key variables and best practices of life-cycle costing for carpet. Existing records and data collection practices were reviewed and qualitative interviews were conducted to discover how the polyurethane attached carpet cushion affected the life of the carpet at the university. Qualitative interviews where conducted with 8 departments and 10 individuals. Each individual was asked 16 qualitative questions about their perception of added carpet life due to the attached cushion. They were also asked to substantiate their answers with any backup data that they had collected. In most cases, not much backup data was available that supported their answers and observations. Their answers were primarily from personal observation and experience.





It was discovered that four areas had a direct financial impact on carpet life. Those variables are carpet cushion itself, decreased maintenance, ecology/recyclability, and business interruption. Other variables were found to provide positive results from the polyurethane attached cushion but existing records and current data collection practices did not provide enough information to draw any significant conclusions.


It is estimated that carpeted areas having the polyurethane attached cushion saves the University $377,441 annually. This amount is a $.16 savings per SF over previous non-cushion installations. It is believed that this is a conservative estimate. Refer to Table 1; BYU carpet cost analysis in Appendix A.


It was found from the review of the interviews that surface preparation ($4.00) was the same for both types of carpet. It was assumed that the heavier and bulkier carpet with the cushion would be more expensive to install. The sub contractor who installs the carpet charges the same rate for either. This amount may be skewed by the fact that the contract installer is performing a large volume of work for the university and is giving a blanket price that would not other wise be offered. The cost of the carpet is constant ($21.00) per SY. The university typically purchases higher grade carpet because their experience shows that it lasts longer.


Each of the four areas were annualized so that an effective comparison could be made between costs of the standard latex backing, direct glue-down and the polyurethane attached cushion.


Carpet Cushion


The BYU Capital Needs Analysis Center is in the process of establishing a new life expectancy for carpet life, partly due to the polyurethane attached carpet cushion. The past carpet life expectation was 5 to 10 years (average of 7 years), depending on usage. Since adding the polyurethane attached carpet cushion the new proposed life is now 8 to 15 years (once again depending on usage). For this analysis an average of 11.5 years was used as the new desired life-cycle period. That is an increase of 64% or 4.5 years from the previous standard.




The qualitative research showed that carpets having polyurethane attached cushion do have an impact on carpet cleaning. This is due primarily to the flexibility of the cushion that helps loosen dirt and stain deposits. It is concluded that there is a savings range from $.02 to $.15 per SF. Unfortunately; there were not adequate records to provide conclusive evidence. There are so many variables in carpet cleaning that until controlled research is conducted, overall cleaning savings will not be known. From this reasoning, the lowest value of $.02 was used in the calculations. This represents an annual savings of $48,000. Repair cost was found to remain constant between the direct glue-down conventional latex backed carpets and carpet backed with the polyurethane attached cushion.




Due to the extended life of the carpet, there is a direct savings from carpet removal and disposal at landfills. Due to the extended life, the annual savings is $8,050. It is believed that as landfill costs increase and more recyclable programs are available, more savings will be realized in the future.


Business Interruption


Business interruption is the cost of moving existing furniture then replacing it when the new carpet is installed. It is very difficult to calculate the loss of employee/student productive time and it was not included in the study. The actual cost of the moves was calculated. A typical 5,000 SF space move including computer movement and reconnection costs approximately $1,500. Therefore, the square foot cost is $.30. It was found that the business interruption savings from the extended life was $40,249.





It is concluded that using polyurethane attached cushion to carpet has made a significant impact on the life cycle cost of carpet at BYU. It is believed that the $377,441 annual savings from the attached carpet cushion, maintenance, ecology/recyclability and business interruption represent a conservative value. It is believed that future benefits, especially ecological/recyclability issues will continue to enhance the value of the polyurethane attached cushion.





Annunziato, L., (2000, July). When You’re Floored with Options: Carpet vs. Hard Surface. Facilities & Design Management, 18.


Carpet’s Impact on the Bottom Line., (1999, September). Buildings, (insert by Dupont).


EPA: Extended Product Responsibility (2001). [WWW document]. URL http://www.epa.gov/epaoswer/non-hw/reduce/epr/products/carpet.html


Frank, S., (2000, April). The Comfort Of. Buildings, 68.


Frank, S., (2000, May). Form & Function in Flooring. Buildings, 46.


Alliance for Flexible Polyurethane Foam, Getting the Most Out of Your Carpet (2001). [WWW document]. URL http://www.afpf.com


Goodman, J., (2000, October). Cushion Extends Life. Facilities Design & Management, 54.


Lee, D., (2000, August). Asset Preservation. Buildings, 26.


Moussatche, H., Languell-Urguhar, J., Woodson, C., (2000, September). Life Cycle Costs in Education: Operations & Maintenance Considered. Facilities Design & Management, 20.


Norton, M., (2001, January). Wears Less, Lives Longer. Buildings, 28.


Piper, J., (2000). Flooring: The Real Bottom Line. [WWW document]. URL http://www.facilitiesnet.com


Smith, J., (2000, January). Jigsaw Carpeting. Buildings, 30.


Taking Care of Business (2000, November). [WWW document]. URL http://www.buildingmangement.com/cob/tcb12.htm


Appendix A

Table 1:
BYU carpet cost analysis