What is the best floor for a wheelchair user?
If you have a wheelchair user in your home, you have probably thought about what kind of flooring is the best floor for a wheelchair. You want something that is slip-resistant, but also some surface that would allow the wheels to roll freely. You want something that is easy to clean and will look nice for as long as possible. The ADA accessibility guidelines and the Accessible Design Guidelines can help make appropriate flooring choices.
Slip resistant floors are those which have a friction coefficient of around .5, according to flooring manufacturers. These include hardwood floors, laminate floor boards, some kinds of ceramic tiles and vinyl inlaid tiles and sheet vinyl. Look at the manufacturer’s information about material specifications to find the friction coefficient for slip resistance if you are not sure.
Read about Slippery Ramps.
Wood floors have been around for a long time. They are durable, long lasting, look great and work quite well for wheelchairs. Just be sure if you go outside that your wheels are clean when you return. Dirty wheels can wear and scratch the surface.
Standard wood flooring is normally ¾” thick, unfinished and can be rather expensive to install and finish correctly. If you’re looking for the best floor for a wheelchair, there may be a more affordable way to go.
Laminate Wood Flooring
When looking for laminate wood flooring the very first question you should ask is “What is the AC Rating for this floor?” The European Producers of Laminate Flooring (EPLF) has developed the Abrasion Rating System also called AC Rating. Every laminate is rated based on a series of rigorous tests, including abrasion test, burn resistance, impact resistance, stain resistance, and swelling under moist conditions. EPLF adopted a standard based rating which helps buyers understand the differences in durability among laminate flooring products. For higher traffic or for heavy users, choose the higher AC number. The laminate flooring that is AC3 /23 Heavy Residential is good for all residential applications. And the AC3 /31 Moderate Commercial is ideal for all residential applications plus light commercial such as hotel rooms or small offices. These should work for wheelchair, power wheelchairs, and walker users.
Vinyl flooring is a good choice because it is easy to maintain and water resistant. Inlaid sheet vinyl and tiles are more likely to be slip-resistant than sheet vinyl flooring. Vinyl tiles which have a foam backing are also slip-resistant and they install like laminate flooring boards; however, these are higher priced materials. Also, it is easier to replace a few vinyl tiles if there is damage to them, than to replace a whole-room of sheet vinyl. Vinyl is easy to clean also. If you do get a black scuff mark on vinyl, just use a soft pencil eraser and rub off the mark.
Ceramic tiles are more water-resistant than hardwood or laminates. The ideal tile size is 2 inches square. With a 2-inch tiled floor, there are enough grout lines to improve traction. Larger tiles are more fragile and likely to crack under the weight of a wheelchair. Tiles with greatly textured surfaces are more slip-resistant than smooth, slick surfaces. If ceramic tiles are in a bathroom, kitchen or any area around water, residents need to take precautions about slipping.
Some believe this is not the best floor for a wheelchair. That’s what takes ceramic tiles off my list of top choices for flooring in homes of patients and caregivers.
Carpeting has some advantages and disadvantages for wheelchair users, depending on the kind and pile. Carpets with a high pile won’t let the wheels roll easily. A very low pile carpet or a commercial carpet made for high traffic would be the best kind for wheelchair users. Carpeting should be firmly attached to the sub-floor and have a pile less than 1/2-inch high. Often wheelchair users find that the carpet’s seams do not stay secured and form humps and bumps. Durability is also an issue; wheelchairs are heavy and can make “tracks” in the carpet. Carpets are not good in areas where water is present. On the other hand, carpets are easy to vacuum and may be professionally cleaned. The best choice for those who want carpet may be to use commercial carpet tiles which are glued down. Commercial carpet tiles have a firm face and a vinyl backing, and no padding is required.
The quality of installation of any of these products makes a big difference in how they perform over time. Tiles or laminate boards which come unglued and pop-up or crack are safety hazards for everyone. Carpets which bunch or tear are barriers. Hardwood floors can be slippery when wet and can swell and buckle, which are safety risks. To get the best floor for a wheelchair, find a responsible installer and get a warranty on an appropriate product when you buy flooring.