I just completed my umpteenth-hundredth carpet specification section and I’ve had it—especially when it comes to specifying for public projects. As many of you may know, public projects typically require open competition for projects, including the selection of products that are specified. So, as a response, specifiers are typically tasked to include a minimum of three products in the specifications to ensure competition. So what is the problem? Actually, there are a couple of problems—however, if one is resolved, the other goes away.
The first problem is getting designers to select three acceptable carpets. Since carpet is such a visual item, the specifier should not be left with the job of finding two other carpet selections in addition to the one selected by the designer. Selecting carpet is a mix of color, pattern, and performance. Carpet color and pattern are characteristics that belong to the designer, but “performance characteristics” is the area where the specifier lives—and is the source of the second problem.
The second problem is finding carpeting that has similar performance characteristics—it’s like asking someone to find three similar marbles in a barrel of marbles. And to compound the problem, there is no standardization in the way carpeting information is presented—manufacturers' carpet data use inconsistent terminology and inconsistent units of measurement (if they even bother to provide the units of measurement).
For example, I see “tufted weight,” “face weight,” and “total weight.” All have different meanings, but not all are provided in manufacturers’ literature—mostly, they provide one or maybe two of those characteristics. The Carpet and Rug Institute (CRI), which should be the leader in the industry, doesn’t mention any of those in their glossary—what they provide is “finished yarn weight”—is this a fourth weight characteristic, or is it an alternative for one of the previous three terms? I don’t know, because the multitudes of online carpet glossaries vary widely in their definitions, which make it difficult to compare, and almost all don’t define more than two of the terms. Surprisingly, ASTM D 5684, Standard Terminology Relating to Pile Floor Coverings, doesn’t provide a single definition in regard to weight!
Adding to the confusion is the frequent use of proprietary names by manufacturers to describe components of their carpeting, such as fiber and backings. So, how is a specifier (let alone a customer) supposed to compare the construction and performance of carpeting if the use of terminology by manufacturers is all over the map? This specifier’s answer: STANDARDIZE!
Other building finishes use standards to either classify products or to provide a minimum product specification. An example of a classification standard is ASTM E 1264, Standard Classification for Acoustical Ceiling Products. An example of a specification standard is ASTM F 1303, Standard Specification for Sheet Vinyl Floor Covering with Backing. Products complying with these standards are categorized based on physical and performance characteristics. Therefore, two products with the same type and grade (vinyl flooring), or type, form, and pattern (acoustical ceilings), may not be equal, but they can be considered comparable; thus narrowing the field of acceptable products to ease the selection process for the designer or specifier, or simplifying the substitution review process.
If the carpet industry would just sit down and create a logical method to identify comparable carpet products, then all the specifier needs to do is provide something like the following:
Carpet: Style B; Type III; Grade 3A.
Which could mean the following:
Style B: Tufted, multi-level loop
Type III: Woven primary with foam secondary backings
Grade 3A: 3 = Total density is greater than 1800 and less than or equal to 2000 oz./cu. yd.
A = Critical radiant flux not less than 0.45 W/sq. cm
If other characteristics are important, such as fiber material and pile thickness, then those could be added to the specification, along with a basis-of-design product to establish a color and pattern to achieve.
Of course, to make such a standard worthwhile and beneficial to design professionals, manufacturers would need to use the system in their product literature. Also, measuring density would need to be standardized through a standard test method.
This may be a specifier’s a pipe dream, but if the paint industry can pull it off, so can the carpet industry. It took years, but a system was developed to help categorize an ever-changing paint industry; the system isn’t perfect, but it’s a start. The carpet industry needs to take a lesson from their fellow manufacturers of architectural finishes who have standardized their respective industries and follow suit.