Hit the Courts! What to Know About Gym Flooring
By Bill Imhoff and Billy Chrzan
As basketball teams return to the courts this season, the flooring underfoot can be a game changer, pardon the pun. Sports facilities managers must consider a number of factors for their flooring.
- How will it hold up to heavy use and the weight of bleachers and chairs?
- How well does it absorb shock to help protect players’ bones and joints?
- Will it be easy to clean and maintain?
In the 60-plus sports facilities my team has installed or refurbished, we have learned important details about choosing the right sports flooring. Here are some things we advise our clients to consider before investing in new gym floors.
First Priority: Protect the Player
The number one consideration in choosing the right sports flooring is understanding what activities the floor is intended for. Slip resistance, and shock and noise absorption, for instance, are must-haves in a competitive basketball gymnasium.
According to the American Academy of Podiatric Sports Medicine (AAPSM), basketball players exert tremendous pressure on the foot and ankle. “Two distinct types of injury to the lower extremity can occur in basketball: acute injury from a sudden and forceful blow, or chronic injury, which develops slowly and becomes aggravated over an extended period of time,” it notes. That is where having the right playing surface factors in.
“Different playing surfaces can also have an effect on injuries,” the Podiatric Sports Medicine Academy adds. “Indoor wood courts offer the most shock absorption and are considered the safest courts, while outdoor courts of asphalt are more dangerous. Concrete courts are the hardest and most dangerous courts in relation to lower extremity injuries.”
Acknowledging the dangers, some 13 years ago, the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) developed minimum criteria for indoor sports floors in the United States. It sets standards for everything from what is called the “vertical deformation” of the surface (how much the floor adjusts to an athlete’s impacts on it) to its ability to grip and slide as players move in all directions. It also sets standards to ensure uniformity in how a ball bounces or rebounds on the surface.
All wood flooring in gyms used at the eighth-grade level and up must also comply with standards set out by the Maple Wood Flooring Association (MWFA). MWFA publishes industry-accepted standards and guidelines for everything from manufacturing to installation, sanding and finishing.
An experienced sports flooring installer should fully understand all the MWFA and ASTM requirements and be able to advise their customers on the pros and cons of various flooring options as they relate to the standards.
Consider Your Sports Flooring Options
In addition to player comfort and safety, budget, durability and ease of maintenance also should factor into your purchase decision. The most common gym flooring products are hardwood, polyurethane, vinyl and recycled rubber. Here is insight into each option.
By far, the most common indoor basketball court flooring is maple hardwood. It comes in three grades, from near-perfect first-grade maple to less expensive third-grade maple, which typically has color variations and other visual defects. Regardless of the grade you choose, you can count on hardwood flooring to be extremely durable. While routine maintenance is minimal, you should expect that your hardwood gym floor will need sanding and resurfacing about every ten years. Recoating is needed about once annually.
Polyurethane with Pad
This is another tough sports flooring contender that, due to its underlying pad, provides tremendous shock absorption. Because they are seamless and nonporous, polyurethane floors are hygienic and easy to maintain. Bonus: they come in multiple color options, enabling customization with a school name, logo or mascot.
Look closely and you might not realize that a gym floor is not hardwood, but rather vinyl. Today’s designs can mimic the look of wood, and vinyl enables easy customization with a school’s name, logo and/or mascot. These floors also provide the shock absorbency so important for players’ health.
Perhaps their biggest bonus, however, is their value for the dollar. Vinyl floors are by far the least expensive option; they can last up to 20 years and require a simple sweep and occasional mopping for maintenance.
Made from recycled automobile tires, rubber flooring is thick, durable and ideal for environments like gyms that take a pounding. These high-performance synthetic floors absorb impact while looking good. For players and spectators, they are comfortable underfoot. In addition, rubber floors are water and mildew resistant. For facilities prioritizing environmentally friendly products, recycled rubber flooring is a great option to consider.
Planning for a new floor
We are often asked how a facility manager can know when it is time to repair or replace their gym floor. A tell-tale sign is when yearly maintenance is done to typical yearly standards just simply doesn’t seem to improve the look. That can be an indication that the boards or synthetic materials have lost their original quality and function. These simple observations can help you determine if it is time.
When you do determine it is time for a new floor, plan ahead. An average gym (5,000-9,000 square feet) will take the area out of commission for use for one to three weeks, depending on whether it is synthetic or hardwood and if it is a remodel of other areas or just a floor replacement. Scheduling sports flooring projects in the off-season or over the holiday season is a great way to maximize a facility’s downtime.
While price is certainly a factor in most business transactions, in the case of sports flooring, the quality of the product is much more important in the long run. Putting in the correct floors for the intended use not only allows the floor to be in use for a longer time but also helps curb injuries to players.
In addition, perhaps more so than with any other type of flooring, professional, knowledgeable installation is to ensure a sports floor’s long lifespan as well. Enough cannot be said about installing any product in its correct environment. Acclimation and proper installation tools are valuable. When considering an installer, ask for examples of recent sports arena flooring projects using a variety of products. Seek out client recommendations. Be sure your flooring partner is well-versed in MWFA and ASTM standards and any other relevant installation requirements.
Bill Imhoff is President/CEO of Intertech Flooring and leads three regional offices serving commercial clients across Texas and the Southwest.
Billy Chrzan is the director of wood flooring for Intertech.
This article was originally published in the Austin Business Journal and is used with permission. The original article can be found here. As an invited member of the Business Journal’s Leadership Trust, Bill provides thought-leadership content and advice to the Austin business community around his areas of expertise, including commercial flooring, entrepreneurship, leadership and workforce development.
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