Monday, April 4, 2011

ADA: What type of flooring is best for wheelchairs and walkers?

Flooring that will be utilized in a home for wheelchairs and walkers needs to be smooth flooring or low pile carpet.  Plush carpet and textured carpet can be difficult for wheelchair or walker propulsion.

Goals for Choosing Flooring
  • Low-maintenance, durable.
  • Slip-resistant.
  • Resilient to allow for minimum injury or breakage from drops or falls.  The flooring should be a fairly smooth or regular surface for ease of use by persons with mobility or balance issues.
  • Matte finish, highly polished surfaces create glare and are usually slippery.
 Low Maintenance/Durabilty

No one has time or the inclination to install a floor that requires excessive upkeep and maintenance to look good.  The most popular thought when thinking of installing flooring in a home with a wheelchair or walker is hardwood flooring.  Hardwood flooring looks beautiful when first installed but with the wear and tear of a wheelchair or just daily living hardwood begins to show signs of wear.

If you do decide to install hardwood flooring, the harder the wood the better it will wear.  The Janka hardness test measures the hardness of wood. It measures the force required to embed an 11.28 mm (0.444 in) steel ball into wood to half the ball's diameter. This method leaves an indentation. It is a good measurement technique to determine the ability of a type of wood withstand denting and wear.

The hardest woods on the Janka hardness test have ratings of 100 for Balsa wood and 3692 for Brazilian Ebony.  The following are the Janka hardness ratings for woods common for flooring in the USA.  Click here for more information for Janka hardness ratings.

Janka Hardness Ratings

Bolivian Cherry                  3650
Hickory                              1820
Hard Maple                        1450
Natural Bamboo                 1380
White Ash                          1320
Teak                                    1155
Pine                                     870

The following flooring tends to wear well, but whatever style flooring you choose, commercial grade flooring is always the most durable.  Most all of the flooring comes in a rainbow of colors and patterns.
  • Residential inlaid sheet vinyl (NOT standard roto-vinyl, but inlaid)
  • Commercial inlaid sheet vinyl
  • Vinyl composition tile
  • Luxury vinyl tile and planks
  • Ceramic tile
  • Stone
  • High end, commercial grade laminate wood
  • High end commercial carpet tile
There is a company called FLOR that has interesting, fun, durable carpet tiles that can create a multitude of looks.
                                      FLOR tiles from the FLOR company.

Laminate Flooring

The core of product is typically made of High Density Fiber (HDF). The top layer is a photographic layer that should appear identical to the product it replicates, be it wood, vinyl, tile, etc. The product is generally 3/8” thick and is a floating install with tongue and groove glue less locking system which allows you to install and uninstall the floor several times if desired. Laminate flooring is less expensive than wood flooring, more stain resistant and durable. 

When people think of laminate flooring they normally think of wood laminate but laminate can be made to look like tile as well.

Laminate Flooring

Slip Resistant

Slip-resistance in the kitchen and bathroom is vitally important.  A floor that is somewhat slippery and not safe for anyone.  Flooring manufacturers us a slip-resistance rating called the coefficient of friction, with higher numbers indicating greater slip resistance.  Click here for more information on the coefficient of friction and how to identify friction ratings on flooring products.

Small tiles are usually less slippery than larger tiles.  Tiles no larger than 2"x 2" should be used for shower floors and preferably bathroom floors.


Carpet is not a good choice for bathrooms and kitchens due to water and mess factors.  Carpet however is not a bad choice for rooms that are for enjoying and relaxing such as bedrooms and living rooms.  Smooth flooring is often cold and uninviting so rugs are used to soften up the room and to add warmth.  If someone has wheelchair, balance issues, visual issues or utilizes a wheelchair, rugs become a tripping hazard and can be very difficult to propel a wheelchair over and on.
Low Pile Carpet

Recommendations for wheelchair/walker friendly carpet:
  • Low pile (1/4" pile is the best), even loop carpet.  Plush carpet is difficult for wheelchair propulsion and walker legs tend to get catch on plush carpet, not a good choice.  Textured carpet is not recommended either for the same reasons.  
  • No carpet pad.  Eliminating the carpet pad eliminates the resistance of the carpet.

  • Commercial grade.  Commercial grade is more durable and stain resistant than standard carpet, it's always best to use high quality products that wear well and won't fall apart.
Click here for reviews of specific flooring quality and types.

Click here for a blog on Accessible Design.

What experiences have you had with flooring and wheelchairs/walkers?  Anything you would recommend or not recommend?  Any tips?  Please share.
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