Light Reflectance Values (LRVs) are something which comes up a lot when talking about flooring and flooring accessories. LRVs are covered in two Building Regulations - Document K: Protection from falling, and Document M: Access to and use of buildings. They are also referred to in British Standards (BS) 8300:2:2018, the newest update on designing inclusive environments in the interior of buildings, as well as BS 9266 and BS 5395.
LRVs and Stair Nosings
When stair nosings are involved, the colour of the stair nosing is required to differ from that of the floorcovering on the steps. Every colour has an LRV between 0 (Black) and 100 (White). There should be at least 30 points difference between the stair nosing LRV and the floorcovering LRV, e.g. If the floorcovering has an LRV of 50, then the stair nosing should have an LRV of between 0–20 or 80–100. This creates a ‘ladder effect’, which helps people to easily identify where they should be stepping when ascending or descending stairs. This is especially important for partially sighted people. The Quantum Flooring Solutions range of tread and channel (uPVC) colours have LRVs ranging from 5 to 81, for instance, in order to offer a wide choice of colours depending on the colour of the floorcovering on the stairs.
I have encountered stairs and steps where the Building Regs have been misinterpreted many times. The example of this that I come across most frequently are the staircases across the Network Rail estate. These tend to have yellow stair nosings on the top and bottom steps, with white stair nosings on all of the steps in between. There is simply no reason to do this. If you perceive yellow as the safer colour, and the LRVs bear that out, then all steps should have yellow stair nosings. Having different colours on the same staircase is likely to cause more confusion rather than less. After all, you are just as likely to fall on the middle steps of a staircase as you are on the first or the last ones.
Every single flooring product has an LRV, and every manufacturer should be able to provide an LRV for each of their products. This allows specifiers and contractors to plan their flooring colours for each specific environment. For steps, this means making sure that the LRV differences are greater than 30. This creates a warning for those using the steps that there will be a drop. This also applies to other critical surfaces, such as the contrast between floors and walls, and walls and doors. In other cases, such as transitions in dementia friendly environments, the aim is to achieve the opposite effect between the transitions and the floorcoverings, making them match as closely as possible.
LRVs and Flooring Transitions
I had the pleasure of attending the Dementia Services Development Centre (DSDC) at Stirling University with Forbo Flooring Systems. The research they have done into dementia is cutting edge and shows the effect floorcoverings and flooring transitions have on someone’s ability to use a building if they have dementia. For people living with dementia, LRV affects both mood and wayfinding. For instance, dementia patients can experience anxiety crossing a visible line and this can go as far as preventing a patient from being able to cross.
The DSDC’s research shows that floorcoverings and the transitions between them should have similar LRVs (within at least 10 points on the LRV scale and, if possible, within 3 points) and be as close to solid colours as possible. The transition strips should also match the tones of both floorcoverings.This means metal transitions should be avoided as well as sparkly or patterned flooring. With the number of people living with dementia in the UK soon to be over 1 million, this is more than just a consideration for care homes. It is also important in the wider environment, in buildings such as community centres, banks and hotels.
The recommendations involve a large LRV difference of at least 30 in critical areas. Steps, door frames, and the junction between floors and walls are all possible hazards. Therefore, an LRV difference of 30 allows these danger areas to be seen clearly in contrast to the surrounding area. For floorcoverings and transitions, the opposite should be the case. Transitions should match floorcovering LRVs as closely as possible, ideally being within 3 LRV points of each other. This allows for safe use of a building, minimizing the possibility of slips, trips or falls. It also makes for more accessible buildings both for those living with dementia and for others.