Along with their ability to be custom cut to fit, carpet tiles offer a unique advantage over broadloom carpet: Stained and snagged modules can be replaced without anyone being the wiser. “I love that you can … replace tiles that may become damaged,” says Gunnar Larson, a senior interior designer with Homepolish in Brooklyn, N.Y., who frequently specifies carpet tiles for high-traffic entryways and walkways.

Also called modular carpet or carpet squares, tiles can help unify otherwise disparate programmatic areas. Gensler senior interior designer and associate Megan Fogel, based in Atlanta, recently specified carpet tiles for the new global headquarters of financial technology giant NCR Corp. “Since this is a campus, there are various … areas that call for a different look and feel of carpet,” she says. “We stuck primarily with carpet tiles for flexibility and durability.”

Carpet tile currently accounts for about 25 to 30 percent of carpets installed today, according to Spectra Contract Flooring, and is suited for projects on a time crunch since tiles do not require a separate carpet pad. Below are the qualities Fogel and Larson look for in a good tile, both on and off the spec sheet.

NSF/ANSI 140 Sustainability Assessment for Carpet recognizes commercial carpets and rugs with a silver, gold, or platinum status depending on their evaluation by NSF International and ratings in six categories: public health and environment, energy-efficiency, bio-based content and materials, manufacturing, reclamation and end-of-life management, and innovation. Fogel also looks for the Carpet and Rug Institute’s Green Label Plus, which, she says, “recognizes carpets, backings, and adhesives with low VOCs.”

Dye Method
How the carpet fibers are imbued with their color is a clue to how their hues will withstand use, Fogel says: “If it is solution-dyed, I know that the color will hold up in high-traffic areas or areas exposed to intense sunlight” because the carpet is dyed all the way through the material. “If it is a printed or piece-dyed carpet, I know I can get a great range in color and pattern, but it may not hold its color long-term under a lot of foot traffic” because the carpet fibers are only coated with color dye on the top.

Ounce Weight
“We have some clients that have minimum standards for their carpet weight,” Fogel says. The more fiber per square yard of carpet, the plusher the carpet will be, and the more wear and tear it can take. Builder-grade carpet is about 25 ounces per square yard, while anything 50 and up is pretty plush.

“This is something I typically see immediately when looking at a carpet, more than something I read about in the specs,” Fogel says. “Each [construction] type contributes something to the overall look, from a woven to a loop to a tip sheer. It all depends on the look and feel we are going for in the space.” Construction options listed on a spec sheet may include tufted pattern loop, patterned loop, and cut and loop pile. Low, dense carpet with a loop pile will show traffic patterns the least. Beware cut-and-loop or tip-sheared carpet with a high percentage of tip shear as the pattern could dissipate as the carpet mats down.

Pile height measures the yarn from the tile backing to top. An entry will require a lower pile height and stronger, more durable fibers than a space that receives less traffic or is designed to evoke a residential feel, “where thicker pile is more desirable for comfort,” Larson says. Dense pile will also provide more of a barrier to dirt and stains than will loose pile.

Tiles can be peel-and-stick, attached to the flooring substrate with glue-free stickers or with a thin film of adhesive that prevents lateral movement but also enables easy removal. The right type of integrated backing will help with performance, longevity, sound control, and even occupant comfort. Typical options include foam rubber, urethane, plastic, and jute. Adhesive on a foam rubber backing may eventually break apart the foam. Urethane and plastic last longer, and jute lasts the longest but is the most expensive and hardest to find.

Recycled Content
Both Larson and Fogel look at the recycled content when choosing a carpet tile—and the more, the better! Interface has one new line with as much as 87 percent recycled content. “We have the responsibility to make an environmental impact, regardless of if a project is [pursuing] LEED or not,” Fogel says.

As always, money matters. Fogel asks of any project: “Will this company be staying in this space for an extended period of time? Is budget a major concern? Are there corporate standards we need to adhere to?” Most of the cost of a carpet—about 80 percent—will be in the face material, also called the pile yarn or fiber system. Standard tiles cost from $1 to $11 or more per square foot, not including installation.