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Carpet Cost of Ownership
By: Doug Berjer

It’s a toss-up. While it does appear that more commercial facilities, including churches, are moving away from carpeted floors and installing different types of hard surface flooring, according to the well-respected Fredonia Group, which studies market trends, “Carpet and rug products will continue to remain locked in competition with hard surface flooring products such as ceramic and vinyl tile, hardwood flooring and laminates.”  

The reason why some building owners/managers select hard surface flooring is that they believe overall it is easier to clean and maintain. Plus, if comparing carpet to a typical resilient floor, such as vinyl tile, invariably the hard surface floor will be less costly than carpet. However, carpet has its benefits as well, and this is likely the reason for the “locked competition.”

Carpet offers certain benefits that apply specifically to church facilities, such as:

Acoustics: Carpet absorbs sounds.  In a sanctuary or similar auditorium setting, it keeps background noise to a minimum.

Energy savings: Carpet acts as a form of insulation. It minimizes the transfer of cold from below floor surfaces, which can reduce energy costs

Indoor air quality: Carpet absorbs dust, pollen and other particles, preventing them from becoming airborne. Studies have shown that people with asthma and allergy problems have seen symptoms improve with carpet, according to the Carpet and Rug Institute.

Appearance: While this is a subjective issue, especially in residential settings, most commercial locations believe carpeting improves the overall look, feel, and appearance of a facility.

Although carpet certainly does have its benefits, there is that old cost issue that can be a true stickler for most building owners/managers, especially church facilities on very tight capital budgets. (Capital investments, as used here, typically refer to building improvements differing from operating expenses, which are expenses that may be required to maintain the investment.) We can all agree that unless some type of marble, granite, or similar stone floor is being installed, a hard surface floor will likely be less expensive. However, is this true for the long-term, as well? 

Determining the True Cost of Ownership
Before we venture further, we need to get some terminology clarified. We all know what it means when a merchant says an item, such as flooring, costs so much money to purchase.

We can call this the “sticker price,” but that does not reflect the “cost of ownership” of the product.  The purchase price for a product is part of the cost of ownership, but the other costs relate to how much it costs to service, repair, or maintain the item along with how long it lasts.

So, when it comes to flooring, whether hard surface or carpet, our true cost of ownership depends upon not only the purchase price, but also the costs to clean, maintain, and repair it if necessary, as well as its life expectancy. 

In most cases, the life expectancy of a typical VCT (vinyl composite tile) floor in a commercial facility such as a church is ten years. Carpeting in a similar location may last only six years. 

When the costs to clean and maintain both types of floor coverings are calculated and their life expectancies brought into the mix, the cost of ownership of the VCT floor will likely be less. 

But what if we increased the amount of money spent on cleaning and maintaining the carpet?  Would that make carpeting the more cost effective investment?

The 28 Million Square Feet Experiment
Probably the most detailed study on the cost of ownership of carpets compared to tile floors—and certainly the largest when it comes to square feet—was conducted in 1994. This involved a U.S. insurance company with retail and office facilities throughout the country. Each facility had about 100,000 square feet of retail/office space, totaling 28 million square feet of carpet throughout the country.

After many years of tests and evaluations, it was determined that the carpet would only last six years so 5 million square feet were replaced every year. In 1994 dollars, the insurance company paid $350,000 to purchase and install carpet in each location. 

Over its six-year life, the prorated cost for carpeting a single location was $58,334 per year. The insurance company also invested 15 cents per square foot in cleaning and maintenance of the carpeted area of each location—an additional $13,500 annually—making the total cost of ownership of the carpet nearly $72,000 per year.

A carpet cleaning expert was called in to see if the cost of ownership of the carpet could be reduced. Analyzing the situation, the expert suggested that if the amount of money invested in cleaning and maintenance was increased, something the insurance company did not want to hear, the overall cost of ownership of the carpet would be reduced.

Accepting his advice, the company allowed the expert to test his suggestion. The amount of money spent cleaning and maintaining the carpet—usually  with the use of portable carpet extractors, considered the most effective way to clean carpets—was increased from $13,500 to $27,000 per location. 

The result was that the carpets lasted not six but twelve years before they had to be replaced.  This brought the prorated cost of the carpets down from $58,334 to just over $29,000 and brought the cost of ownership of the carpet down to slightly over $56,000—about 22 percent less than the $72,000 per year they had been paying.

Faith in Numbers
Would such reductions be possible in a church facility? Of course every facility is different, but it does appear that by increasing the amount of time and funds devoted to cleaning and maintaining carpet, the long-term result will be a savings, very possibly a significant savings. 

For this reason, when it comes to carpet or any other capital investment, church administrators should make sure they consider not only the cost to purchase an item, but how much it will cost to maintain the item once selected.  It could be quite revealing.

Doug Berjer frequently writes on carpet and flooring issues. He is now Eastern Division Sales Manager for Tornado and CFR, manufacturers of professional carpet cleaning equipment.  He may be reached via his company website at www.cfrcorp.com or www.tornadovac.com.

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