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3 Big Trends in Access Flooring

By David Wood, Access Flooring Specialist

Raised access flooring has been on the commercial construction scene for decades. But where and how it is being used is evolving, as business needs and product capacity changes. Here are three trends we are seeing in the raised flooring work we are doing at Corporate Floors.

1. Not Your Mama’s Data Center. It used to be that data-heavy corporations like Google or Microsoft managed and housed their data in-house. But not so anymore. Corporations are realizing that it is more efficient to rely on co-location data farms whose specialty is managing large volumes of data. That enables corporations to focus on running their business, instead of devoting valuable space, utilities and people to managing its data. Companies like Cyrus One, for example, provide leased space to tenants to house their data in large collective data centers that provide redundant power capacity in case of power outages or surges, fail-safe security systems and intense cooling systems to protect equipment.But all that equipment creates heavy power demands, making access flooring the obvious choice for data centers. With it, they can run massive volumes of air conditioning from under the floor, up through the lines, to efficiently cool servers. Unlike consumer-facing businesses where aesthetics are important, customers don’t typically visit data centers so aesthetics are less important here. Here, the trend is to run data overhead using a  cable tray that hangs from the ceiling grid, with data coming directly into the server cabinets.That frees up the underfloor space solely for electrical, conduits and mechanical piping, with little restriction to access.

2. Making a Bet on Access Flooring. When you’re sitting at a slot machine, it’s doubtful you are thinking about the power required to run it. But those slot banks take a lot of electrical power to light, operate and deliver performance information back to the casino. Unbeknownst to you, that power likely is being delivered beneath your feet, several inches under the floor. Casinos also are placing their money on underfloor HVAC to climatize their facilities and ensure cleaner air to its customers. HVAC housed below raised access flooring delivers the air conditioning from under the customers’ feet, blowing fresh air directly to the occupied zone and up through the ceiling. The result is continually fresh air to the occupant sitting at a slot machine, with less energy load, no unsightly wiring and less mechanical requirements.

3. Pick your finish. For many years, access flooring had few options for floor coverings other than carpet tiles. While carpet tiles still are frequently specified for office environments, today’s raised floors can be finished with virtually any product an architect or designer might choose. The casinos and corporate offices we work with often choose high-end finishes like terrazzo, porcelain or wood for lobbies or conference rooms. In mission-critical environments like a 911 call center, access floors are finished with electrostatic dissipative solutions to meet their stringent  ESD regulations. Just like the traditional 2 ft. x 2 ft. carpet tiles, these high-end and specialty finishes now come in 2 ft. x 2 ft. panels as well. That means the floor covering, regardless of selection, can be placed directly onto the 2 ft. x 2 ft. floor panel in advance of delivery. Today, access floors are installed with the floor covering of choice already on it.

4. Not Just for New Buildings Anymore. One of the most exciting trends for commercial property owners is the development of low-profile, fixed height access flooring. These flooring products now make access flooring possible in older buildings where higher flooring would not be an option. Before, installing access floors in existing building that had not been designed for raised floors often weren’t a viable option due to low ceiling heights, and need for step-ups to accommodate an extra foot or so of underfloor wiring. Now, older buildings can accommodate power management, voice and data underfoot with only a 1.5-inch raised floor. Such a small change in floor height goes virtually undetected by the user, and still allows plenty of ceiling height even in lower-ceiling spaces.