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Supplement Feature - September 2013

Hardcore Floors

Environment, Maintenance Vital to Flooring Lifespan

By Deborah L. Vence


Advances in hardwood and synthetic flooring over the past few years have given recreation facilities more options to extend the longevity of their floors, help protect young athletes from serious injuries and even lessen the noise typically associated with wood floors.

Although more expensive, "Wood floors have the advantage of being long-lasting. The initial investment, cost-wise, equals out at the end of the day. Aesthetically, it looks great," said Randy Swartz, president and founder of a flooring manufacturer in Philadelphia. But, "it's definitely more demanding of the end-user relative to the maintenance and environmental controls."

And, "some hardwood floors are transportable and portable," too, "but they cost a bit more. The aspect of hardwood, essentially, it's a permanent installation," he added.

Alternatively, synthetic floors offer many types of foam densities that allow for different types of absorption.

"In facilities, such as YMCAs, they tend to go more for that," Swartz said. "Multi-purpose tends to be vinyl-oriented. You can have [people] running around playing volleyball, basketball, without big huge concerns."

In fact, that's where the door opened up in synthetic surfaces, which is more prevalent now in Europe than the United States. Synthetic flooring has become a more popular choice in Europe, in part, because of the large amount of material you have to dispose of after putting down hardwood; not to mention that vinyl surfaces cost less, too, Swartz noted.

In fact, William Thornton, North American technical manager for an indoor sports flooring company in Calhoun, Ga., said that if you go back about 25 years, a high percentage of flooring put down in Europe was hardwood, and only a small percentage was synthetic.

Today, it's just the opposite.

"That trend has reversed. [Now], the vast majority of products for sports flooring in Europe is synthetic," he said.

What's changed are some of the requirements for sports flooring in Europe. For example, many sports facilities there are government-controlled, which means they have specific criteria in order to put flooring in a sports facility. Used throughout Europe is EN-14904 testing, the quality and performance benchmark for the European Union Standard on sports flooring. The sports standard tests as a pass or fail. It relates to force reduction, which is the same as shock absorption, where there is a minimum benchmark.

In the United States, the flooring manufacturing industry has followed suit and set up standards of its own for flooring requirements.

"In the U.S., we never had that requirement," Thornton said. "Up until 2009, there were no U.S. documents relative to indoor surfaces … or performance benchmarks at all."

Now, there is a U.S. document relative to sports flooring. The AS F2772 sports flooring standard mimics what the EN-14904 does. The AS F2772 measures four factors regarding safety and suitability for sports activities. They are: force reduction, ball rebound, vertical deformation and surface finish effect. The systems that can be tested under AS F2772 include: area elastic (wood systems), point elastic (synthetic systems), and combi-elastic (systems combining area elastic and point elastic construction).

Citing new flooring standards and the continued need for both hardwood and synthetic flooring in the recreation industry, flooring experts discussed their views on the benefits and features of both types of floors, as well as the key factors to consider regarding a facility's environment and maintenance procedures to ensure lasting results.