Here’s a question that I get asked a lot: how do you know what materials to use and where in a construction project do you use them? The short answer is it really depends on what kind of project you are doing.
If it’s residential, go for it …… do whatever you want! Your material selection is only restricted by a possible budget issue or potential fire or safety hazard.
In non-residential projects, which refers to any space the general public uses such as a hotel, hospital, school or retail store, there are materials deemed applicable for use in those spaces based on a grading or a standards system using results from specific codes or tests. We designers rely on several references for what to base our specifications from, though we mostly refer to ASTM Standards for what we need to know. https://www.astm.org/ABOUT/faqs.html#std
One example of a material that uses a grading system is tile. Tile grades range from 0-5 based on how much the tile can handle foot traffic or water absorption rates as explained in this terrific post by Angela Miller from Dal-Tile.
Not only does Ms. Miller explain the difference in the grades for tiles, she also expounds on the various types of tile for its particular use such as porcelain or ceramic and she includes various stones.
Designing a hotel bathroom in the guestroom would require you specify a tile that has a commercial grade rating of 5 for the floor; and believe me when I tell you there are some gorgeous selections to be found in that grade. And it’s more than ok to use a decorative tile on the wall with a grade of 4 or lower. A fabulous way to save money is to use a less expensive wall tile with a grade of 2 or 3 and then add a glass or other kind of decorative liner to get that certain special design something happening. In this smartly designed bathroom the designer coordinated the decorative liner with several other important elements to create a strong balance in the design.
A technique that can be employed to avoid pricy tiles is to use different size tiles from the same line and turn a section on the diagonal to create interest. You can achieve this with a less expensive ceramic tile or a more expensive line of stone or porcelain. The key in this approach is the change of direction which creates the pattern as shown in this shower.
Fabrics use a whole other kind of grading system. We specifically look for the rating of NFPA 701 in non-residential projects.
For a fabric to be certified as flame retardant, according to standards developed by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), you must consider how the fabric will be used. Window treatments such as draperies uses NFPA 701: Standard Methods of Fire Tests for Flame Propagation of Textiles and Films. This test measures the flammability of a material when it is exposed to specific sources of ignition.
NFPA 701 (Small Scale) testing measures the ignition resistance of a fabric after it is exposed to a flame for 12 seconds while the flame, char length, and flaming residue are recorded. The fabric will pass the test if all samples meet the following criteria:
- An after flame of less than 2.0 seconds
- a char length of less than 6.5”
- the specimen does not continue to flame after reaching the floor of the test chamber
Fabric listed as flame retardant is certified to have been tested and passed the NFPA 701 test.
Tiles and fabrics are just 2 materials subject to ratings and grading systems designers have to adhere to for use in projects.
Other materials such as floor coverings (carpet, wood, LVT, and bamboo), furniture and lighting fixtures must also adhere to their own grades & ratings system. This webpage https://www.brewsterwallcovering.com/wallpaper-properties.aspx does an admirable job in not only listing the properties but informs about the wallpaper hanging language which non-designer folks might not know.
So, how do you know what materials to use and where in a construction project? First you determine what grades and standards you need to conform to with your material selections and then you let your creative freak flag fly!