Raised access floors create space for operational infrastructure between the subfloor and the finished surface. Most facilities managers realize the benefits of keeping cables organized beneath the floor and the potential cost-savings using an underfloor air distribution system rather than ductwork. However, there are many heights and styles of access flooring, and many factors contribute to proper selection. Before ordering a raised access floor, consult this guide or speak to one of our access flooring experts via telephone, email, or live chat to discuss your floor's requirements.

What Factors Should You Consider When Choosing An Access Floor System?

When choosing a raised floor system, examine your specific application to determine the material, underfloor height, and weight load necessary for your facility. Much of the decision will depend on what's stored underneath, which could be a combination of data cables, electrical wiring, piping, and air handling systems. The elements to consider include:

1. Application

Access floors are used in various commercial settings for many purposes. The particular application will affect many aspects of the raised floor. Different environments will require different heights and material construction. Common applications for raised flooring include:

  • Data centers and server rooms: Raised floors are standard practice for data centers or the server room within an office building. Their usage is so commonplace that access floors are often referred to as access computer floors. Data centers will need to consider their configurations and whether they are using the platform for airflow or cabling. A low profile floor can work if it's accommodating cabling and not airflow. However, if using a raised floor for air circulation, a data center will need much more space under the floor. Separate solutions for cabling, such as a combination of overhead and underfloor cable management, may be required since thick cables could otherwise restrict airflow.
  • Offices: While traditional raised floors are commonplace in data centers and server rooms, raised access floors are also a staple for office buildings and applications. They provide simple cable and electrical wiring management and may also be used for air distribution. Conference rooms and open office areas alike can benefit from a modular raised floor design with the ability to remove panels and insert new outlets easily. In an office setting, the primary consideration will be a low profile solution to maintain vertical space and ceiling heights. Applications without dense cabling needs should prioritize the lowest platform possible.
  • Control rooms: Like data centers, control rooms contain equipment and often perform mission-critical operations. Found in IT departments, manufacturing facilities and factories, utility companies, and refineries, control rooms cannot afford downtime. Here, raised floors provide low-maintenance cable management and air distribution. When maintenance must be performed on the floor, cables, or air handlers, a raised floor's modular design will not disrupt control room operations.
  • Educational facilities: Many older educational institutions have air quality issues linked to overhead and wall air distribution systems. As schools transition to smart classrooms with computer stations for every student or need enough outlets to support bring-your-own-device policies, a raised floor should accommodate both cabling and electrical wiring. When facilitating both airflow and wiring, the raised deck will need additional height.
  • Casinos: The array of electronic gaming machines available at most casinos require access to electrical outlets throughout the gaming floor. Casinos also need to prioritize guest safety by keeping power cords and cables out of footpaths. To maintain a healthy gaming environment, casinos need to consider noise control and air quality, especially in facilities that allow indoor smoking.
  • Emergency dispatch hubs and call centers: Telecommunications centers need telephone and data cabling at every desk. In 911 call centers, each desk requires additional technology, since every dispatcher will have an array of monitors and communication devices to support critical operations. The dense cabling needs in these facilities require an efficient cable management system, accomplished through raised computer floors. Ease-of-maintenance is a vital concern since these facilities cannot afford downtime.

While many environments are well-suited for raised flooring systems, several others cannot support them. Access floors are not suitable for bathrooms, kitchens, and other areas that are exposed to moisture, especially when in-floor drainage is required. Any raised floor application will require subfloor assessment, and applications in high seismic activity zones will need additional considerations.

2. Height

While raised floors have customizable heights, they fall into two categories — low profile and standard, or full-height. Low profile floors are typically under 3 inches and can get as low as 2 inches. Low profile floors are usually the preferred options for retrofitting since they will not significantly impact ceiling height. They offer simple cable management and electrical wiring solutions.

While standard raised floors encompass any floor taller than 6 inches, they are usually at least 12 inches and can reach as high as 6 feet. Full-height floors are used whenever air distribution is necessary or when larger amenities, such as an 8-inch water chiller pipe, will go beneath the raised tiles.

If the floor requires underfloor air distribution, the height will typically be at least 24 to 48 inches. Access floors between 12 and 24 inches can support air distribution if that is the only thing they are used for. If wiring, cabling, and pipes are also necessary, a 24-inch raised floor may be too short. Your mechanical engineer can determine the exact amount of underfloor room you need to accommodate your ductless underfloor airflow, wires, cables, and pipes.

Full-height floors meant for air distribution are often too high for applications used just for wiring and cabling, as would be typical in a conventional office space. In general, it's best to use the shortest floor possible. A raised floor is measured by the finished floor height. So, when budgeting for underfloor space, subtract the tile's thickness and account for the floor hardware.

3. Material and Finishes

Access floors come in a range of tile materials for different applications and finishes that can be used to customize their appearance. Lightweight construction will be a priority for applications where frequent access to the underfloor is required. Other materials may be necessary to withstand the weight load or environment where they are installed. The materials available include:

  • Concrete: Cement raised floor systems have a layer of lightweight concrete sandwiched between a steel top surface and a formed steel well. These tiles are the industry standard for most IT applications and are often used in telecommunication rooms, mission-critical facilities, and assembly areas. Finishes include high-pressure laminate, vinyl, and bare steel designed for carpets or rubber flooring.
  • Calcium sulfate: These raised floor system tiles have a heavy-duty core of recycled calcium sulfate with an ABS sealed trim. The upper surface is finished with high-pressure laminate or vinyl and the bottom is made from galvanized steel. These tiles provide the best resistance against humid environments and changing temperatures.
  • Hollow steel: Hollow tiles are a lightweight option to facilitate frequent maintenance without sacrificing strength. The panels have a smooth steel surface and a hollow formed steel well on the bottom layer. They come with the same finishes as concrete panels.
  • Wood core: Wood core tiles perform best for acoustic control while providing excellent durability with a commercial-grade composite wood core. These tiles come encased in galvanized steel on both the upper and lower surfaces. Their finish options include high-pressure laminate, vinyl, and bare steel painted finishes.
  • Aluminum: Aluminum floor systems are best for high-tech environments or applications that require antimicrobial, easy-to-clean surfaces. Die-cast aluminum panels are the industry standard for everything from clean rooms, medical centers, and X-ray rooms to biomedical environments, microelectronic manufacturers, pharmaceutical companies, and laboratories. They're also a suitable option for data centers and are available in high-pressure laminate, vinyl, and bare steel finishes.

Choosing a finish involves matching the access floor to the rest of the building's architecture. Finishes allow for a customizable appearance, which can be valuable in an upscale office building or any environment that clients will see. They can also offer a practical application, with bare steel finishes designed for carpeting or non-slip rubber flooring.

4. Cooling System and Airflow

A raised floor system facilitating airflow distribution needs perforated tiles to allow the HVAC system to condition the facility. Adequate airflow prevents data centers and server rooms from overheating and maintains equipment by regulating hot and cold spots.

Standard airflow panels allow for 22% to 35% airflow, and universal high output air grates allow 55% or 66% airflow. Consult an HVAC engineer to determine how many perforated panels a particular layout will need. Be sure the specialist has experience with data centers and server rooms and understands the need for hot and cold aisles. 

As a general guideline, raised floors require one perforated tile per ton of air conditioning or one tile per 100 square feet of flooring. For the best results, use Computer Fluid Dynamics (CFD) modeling to understand the data center's airflow and identify hot spots. Too few perforated tiles will limit airflow and create recirculation, while too many will increase bypass air.

5. Cables

Data centers or other businesses with lots of equipment need efficient cable management techniques for their raised flooring systems. Server rooms may use overhead cable management while using the raised floor for airflow management. In this configuration, cable management won't be a consideration for access floor selection. 

If the floor is accommodating both cables and airflow, the raised floor will need to be high enough to ensure dense cabling does not disrupt airflow. Underfloor cabling in server rooms usually involves underfloor cable trays, which consolidate wires and cables and distribute them to the equipment housed in the data center.

Low profile raised floors are typically recommended when cabling won't be as dense, such as in standard office computer arrangements or computer bays in educational institutions. In a low profile access floor, cables can be threaded through cable raceways, which line the floor beneath the tiles and are built into a low-profile raised floor system. They can organize electrical and data wiring efficiently without the use of bulkier cable trays.

Whether using cable raceways or cable trays, grommets provide access points for cables under the floor to connect to the equipment requiring them. Ensure you select grommets that fit the size of the cords used, and consider whether you need air-guard grommets to prevent air leaks

6. Weight Load

Since access floor systems are raised above the subfloor, they need to support more weight than a traditional upper floor. If they support bulky equipment, like those found in a server room, they need to hold more weight. Many facilities install raised floor tiles with higher weight load ratings in high-traffic areas like walkways, and standard weight load panels in low-traffic areas. It's also important to consider the rolling load limit if heavy equipment such as scissor lifts or IT carts will be used.

The Pro Access Floors Concrete floor system can withstand an ultimate load of up to 6,000 pounds, with a minimum ultimate load of 2,400 pounds. The panels individually can withstand anywhere from 1,000 to 2,000 pounds, depending on the size and material.

Raised Floors vs. Access Floors

Some people tasked with ordering floors for cabling and air distribution wonder if they need a raised floor or an access floor. These two terms mean the same thing, and there are many terms that all refer to the same type of flooring system. The name "raised access floor" is prevalent in the industry, and some call them "false floors." They're also referred to as "access computer floors" when used for computer equipment specifically.

Some customers call raised access flooring systems "Tate floors," after the popular brand. Tate floors have become industry shorthand for raised flooring in general, thanks to the brand's reputation. At Pro Access Floors, our customers can take advantage of genuine refurbished Tate floors and many other pre-owned access flooring systems from the top names in the industry at up to 60% off.

Additional Benefits of Access Floor Systems

Besides their primary use of storing infrastructure, access floor systems have additional features. They include:

1. Portable

Traditionally, raised floors were permanent. The pedestals had to be bonded to the subfloor using anchors or adhesives, which meant they couldn't be used for temporary installations. Low profile access floor pedestals do not require permanent bonding, so the entire flooring system is portable. If a building moves its server room to another area during future renovations, the access flooring can be packed up and redeployed in the new location. Likewise, if the company rents its building or needs to move to a larger facility, the flooring can come, too.

2. Durable

Commercial access floor panels are quite strong and can withstand impacts ranging from 150 to 400 pounds of force. Raised flooring panels can last 25 years or even longer, and their supporting pedestals are known to last up to 50+ years. So, when a facility's access floor panels near the end of their life, it's common to replace just the panels while utilizing your existing floor under-structure. When companies replace panels for aesthetic reasons, their durability and long-lasting design allow facilities to sell them to a third-party for refurbishment, re-lamination, and reuse.

3. Easy to Work On

If a panel breaks or becomes damaged, it can be swapped out for a new tile. With regular flooring, it's challenging to replace a single panel. When damage occurs, the entire floor will need to be replaced, disrupting the whole office while the renovation takes place. Instead of tearing out an entire floor, an organization can save money and reduce inconveniences by replacing raised floor panels one at a time, as needed.

Raised floors also provide easy access to what is underneath. When cables need replacement or wiring, pipes, and HVAC systems require maintenance, the tiles can be removed. Since the flooring system is modular, maintenance professionals can remove tiles in their work area while leaving the rest of the floor intact. In mission-critical facilities, this can limit downtime related to maintenance and repairs for systems housed under the floor.

4. Accessible for Electrical Outlets

Large open offices and manufacturing facilities need electrical outlet access throughout their environment. Most electrical work in traditional buildings exists within the walls, and integrating electrical wiring into a conventional, non-raised floor can be a significant undertaking. If the building instead has an access floor, it is much more affordable. Electricians can run electrical wiring under the floor. The modular access floor design allows outlets to be inserted anywhere they are needed, even after the platform is already built.

5. Low Profile

One reason many buildings don't have access floors is the perception that they take up feet of space. While full-height access floors have a finished floor height of 6 inches to 6 feet, low profile designs are sufficient for cable management alone. They take up significantly less vertical space, so a building can maintain relatively high ceilings. Access floors also save space by consolidating wiring. By keeping bundles of cables below the floor, facilities can reduce tripping hazards and leave more floor space open for pathways, furniture, or servers.

6. Easy to Rearrange Office or Floor Layouts

Server equipment usually needs replacement every two or three years, and data centers are often poised to expand quickly. As a result, both server rooms and data centers need to rearrange their server rooms to accommodate new servers and a larger footprint. A raised flooring system makes it simple to add new perforated airflow tiles rather than calling in an HVAC specialist for new ductwork. Since it is simple to add new cable grommets, electrical outlets, and airflow panels to access floors, these facilities can easily accommodate new and expanding equipment needs. 

When rearranging an office space, electrical outlets and cable grommets can move, too. Offices can rearrange desks for the best space-saving and most productive layout without being restricted by outlet and cable locations. This feature can help high-growth companies looking to make space for more employees without moving to a new building.

How Should I Select a Raised Access Flooring Provider?

In the access flooring market, you'll find a range of suppliers across many different price points. With so many options, it's essential to work with a provider who can offer the highest quality of service at an affordable price. The traits to look for in an access flooring partner include:

1. Experience

A raised floor is a critical piece of a building's infrastructure and needs to meet strict safety requirements. Therefore, the raised floor provider needs to have a wealth of experience and product knowledge to help their customers find the right solutions for their buildings and install them correctly. A provider that also offers consulting and installation services is a sign of an experienced, trustworthy supplier. At Pro Access Floors, we've been in the business for over 25 years and have a team of experts ready to answer questions and install raised flooring systems nationwide.

2. Guaranteed Work

An access flooring provider should be able to guarantee a quality installation. Pro Access Floors guarantees both our low prices and our service. The new flooring systems come with a 1-year warranty, and our refurbished flooring systems come with a 90-day warranty. After offering the lowest price guaranteed, Pro Access Floors can also handle pre-installation, installation, and de-installation nationwide.

3. Fast Delivery

A professional raised flooring provider should offer fast turnaround times, so renovations can continue on schedule. At Pro Access Floors, we offer next day shipping on most orders, both new and pre-owned.

4. Inventory

A flooring provider must be able to deliver the style of tiles and understructure needed in the correct amount to cover a building's square footage. A large data center or multi-story commercial application will need to work with a provider that keeps a large stock of all the tiles, finishes, and understructure offered.

At Pro Access Floors, all our flooring systems are in stock and ready to ship. Our customers don't have to wait for their selections to be manufactured. Our refurbished flooring system selection includes many of the most trusted names in flooring, which are also ready to ship next-day.

5. Quality of Materials

While many access flooring providers offer similar materials, they don't always come with the same specifications. When assessing quality, ensure your provider offers high concentrated load ratings, superior rigidity, stability, and durability. Depending on your application, you may need tiles that are water-resistant and rot-proof. Look for flooring systems with a class "A" flame spread rating with strong acoustic and static performance. Consider your environment and ensure your provider can accommodate your humidity and temperature conditions to prevent de-lamination.

Call Pro Access Floors to Discuss Your Access Flooring Project

Pro Access Floors has an unmatched service record. We've served hundreds of Fortune 5000 clients with 100% satisfaction for more than 25 years. We guarantee our low prices and our installation and have a vast inventory of flooring systems ready to ship next day. We work with high-quality materials rated to withstand high weight loads and offer options for waterproofing, temperature resistance, high-tech environments, and other applications. 

If you have questions about your access floor requirements or are ready to discuss your project, call us at 858-566-9000 to get started. If you already know what you need, fill out our quick quote form to get pricing and freight costs fast.