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Defining Wear Layers

When it comes to your building project, objectivity is crucial. Without independent testing standards to evaluate building materials, good decisions become nearly impossible. Imagine if each manufacturer had its own method of determining performance characteristics or its own definitions of functionality. Could you make meaningful comparisons between products and choose the right one? Would you trust the information you were given? Fortunately, there are universally applied standards, such as ASTM, to help you make “apples to apples” decisions that are not biased by the manufacturer’s desire to one-up the competition.

But even with industry-wide standards, there are some manufacturers that subtly use nonstandard technical data to gain an advantage. For that reason, it pays to give extra consideration to independently verified data and call into question data without citations of accepted standards.

Case in point, a wear layer is a critical part of vinyl athletic flooring. It protects the appearance and pattern of the floor. The standard definition of a wear layer can be found in ASTM F1303, which is a multifaceted standard for vinyl flooring. It states, “A wear layer is “the portion of a resilient floor covering that contains or protects the pattern effect. [It] may be transparent, translucent, or opaque. A background or pattern under the wear layer may be printed with suitably formulated, color stable inks, or otherwise prepared to create a color stable pattern.”

However, the manufacturer of the flooring cross-sectioned in figure 1 publishes that its wear layer is a substantial 2.1 mm (ASTM F1303 is noticeably missing in the technical data). This “wear layer” includes everything from the surface to the foam backing shown in purple. The wood grain pattern of this floor is located approximately 0.5 mm from the surface. This means that 1.6 mm of the asserted wear layer is below the pattern. Does that protect the pattern effect? If the definition found in ASTM F1303 were applied, the wear layer in figure 1 would be closer to 0.5 mm.

The intent of the manufacturer’s nonstandard definition is clear. A 2.1 mm wear layer looks much better on paper than 0.5 mm, which is what most other manufacturers would publish. So what harm does this do? The 2.1 mm measurement does not relate to functionality in the same way. You might purchase this particular floor under the pretense that 2.1 mm provides more protection when in fact it does not. This manufacturer also creates a loophole to avoid warranty payouts. For instance, the floor in figure 2 (the same product cross-sectioned in figure 1) has not yet worn through the “wear layer” according to the manufacturer’s definition, even though it is now an unattractive surface that may no longer have the proper coefficient of friction.

Industry-wide standards help avoid situations like the one above because they are not only objective, but also focus on functionality. They approach the decision from your perspective, not that of the manufacturer who wants to push a particular product. ASTM F1303 is no exception. It outlines wear layers in terms of actual usage (see an excerpt in figure 3) that can give you a clearer picture of expectations. After all, functionality is the primary concern for designing and operating a sports facility. Don’t let a subjective representation affect your decision-making and ultimately your building.

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