Pros and cons of carpet tile in long-term care

At almost every design meeting with a new client the question gets asked about how I feel about carpet tile vs. broadloom carpet with a moisture barrier backing.

The question used to be about regular backing vs. moisture barrier. Now it’s a given that moisture barrier is the backing of choice in the common areas of long-term care homes. Resident rooms are still in question as to whether to invest in the higher priced moisture barrier carpet or use throwaway residential carpet and seal the concrete.

This is an interesting discussion topic in that with all design decisions, it’s important to find out the “question behind the question.”

When digging for the answer, we first need to understand the background of the client, who or what has influenced them and/or educated them to ask the question about carpet tile, and what the core benefits are as they see them.

Typically, this can be from a carpet representative that has made a pitch, information picked up at a trade show that was recently attended, or the client himself/herself came from the corporate world or in an education setting where carpet tile is often used.

So, what does the client usually know about carpet tile? That it’s very durable and easy to replace. But how much do they know about the pros and cons?


only replace what is damaged

moisture barrier

easily create fun patterns by 1/4 turning and multiple types of tile.

less waste


damaged tile makes older tiles look really used

seams every 12", 18" or 24"

not residential in look or feel

Then there are the pros and cons of broadloom carpet with a moisture barrier backing.


residential look and feel

seams ever 12' that can be chemically welded

moisture Barrier


more waste

must remove furniture to reinstall

Residentially we do not see carpet tile being used in the home. You may see it once in a while in a very hip apartment or in kid’s room.

As long-term care designers, we see great applications for carpet tile in adding unique looks by mixing tiles and patterns in purpose-built senior living spaces such as coffee shops, gyms, spas, game rooms, etc.

However, I find it difficult to recommend carpet tile over broadloom carpet with a moisture barrier backing for the following reasons: Seam sealing every tile on all sides seems very labor intensive and/or probably unlikely to happen even if specified; no one replaces a “tile—you have seen this in airports and all it does is point out how awful the existing tile condition really is; and finally, until they start carrying it at carpet stores, it’s just not what older Americans consider residential.

As designers we must make every effort to maintain our designs in a residential feel while meeting code and being able to maintain the environment.

A (brief) history of how carpet tile came about

From what I have been able to gather, carpet tile came out of high-rise buildings in inner cities experiencing difficulty not fitting 12' long rolls into the elevators. The solution was to cut the carpet into manageable tiles that could easily go into an elevator. A backing needed to be added to stabilize the carpet; hence the vinyl backing that was a moisture barrier. The intent was not to create a moisture barrier carpet.

The squares then had the benefit of being able to be swapped out when a single tile was damaged or too dirty to clean. Office furniture that was installed over carpet tile was also able to be left in place and have new carpet tile installed under it without having to remove and reinstall all the furniture—which equals a HUGE savings.

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