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Feature Article - March 2017

Sizing Up Your Surface

Options Abound When You Want Performance & Durability

By Rick Dandes


Digging deeper into synthetics, you'll discover modular flooring, usually made from engineered polypropylene. It is a plastic flooring involving numerous small pieces, or modules, the same size, which lock together to form a playing surface grid. These modular floors can last up to 20 years or more, deliver great performance and at a much lower price point than wood or most of the other synthetics.

In a sense, a modular floor is also a floating floor, McCausland explained. "And that quality has some advantages, both from a practical and from a performance characteristic. With modular flooring you can lay down a floor on top of a concrete surface."

Typically, a modular floor installer would put down a rubber underlay to create some cushion, resilience and shock absorption. The side-to-side action is very slight. The floor itself will shift slightly during play and studies show that this actually reduces the stress on joints. When you plant a foot, pivot and take off in another direction, the floor gives a little in that direction. This is something that can attenuate the shock, which normally a player's body would have to absorb. It is an advantage from a playability standpoint, a performance and a safety standpoint.

The practical advantage to modular flooring is that almost every other surface is glued or nailed down, and it's very tough to move. Modular floors are very good for reconfiguration. So sports facilities that might be changing configurations, expanding, moving to a different place can see an advantage. With modular flooring you can pick it up and walk out the door and put it somewhere else. It's a unique problem-solver in many ways.

Rolled vinyl is another synthetic alternative. A multilayer resilient flooring, rolled vinyl is manufactured with layers to create a cushion on top. This type of flooring has great applications for many sports and activities, McCausland said. "It is a nice multipurpose surface. The best of these products have a durable wear layer on top, low maintenance cost and the right combination of those performance characteristics that you are always looking for: traction, ball response, player resilience, so that as they are jumping moving and running it is absorbing some of the shock their bodies would otherwise have to accommodate."

Rubber flooring systems can take several formats, added Brennan Prins, sales and dealer development, for an Ontario, Canada-based manufacturer specializing in rubber tiles of various thicknesses that can be installed anywhere in a facility and can absorb weight-dropping or treadmills operating on top.

Rubber goods come in so many different formats, Hayes explained. "You can have a polyurethane or a poured surface that is done on site. Those come in two different styles. One is a full-depth poured urethane, where you are pouring the entire surface in a fluid state on site. Here, the poured urethane is a self-leveling multi-level surface. Installers begin by putting a rubber mat down as a base and then the liquid urethane actually pours out onto and levels out over that surface. It's cured and treated. There might then be an additional level or two added to that with a vinyl line striping on the top and some kind of a clear coat, a protective top coat that keeps it all contained and cuts down on the wear and tear."

Sport tiles in general tend to be a great value option, added Gleason. "They are long-lasting, easily repaired or replaced, and are not affected by moisture, making them able to be installed in locations that traditional flooring cannot."

Another urethane system is a pad-and-pour system, where you have a recycled rubber pad that is installed first and then you have urethane that is installed on top of the rubber pad. Sometimes, these are also referred to as sandwich systems.

There is probably more use of the pad and pour than there is the full depth, Hayes said, "and part of the reason for that is cost. It is a little more cost-effective to do the pad and pour because you are using a recycled rubber mat as the base mat and then putting the urethane on top of it."

You'll usually see poured-in-place in large fieldhouses or large play houses where they accommodate many different activities, Hayes noted. "You can make poured urethane more resistant to spikes if the field surface is being used by athletes doing drills for track or football. The other area where we see rubber use is in weight rooms, because the material is dense and good at handling heavy loads and impacts."

Most other surfaces, "frankly, don't do very well if you take a 200-pound barbell in your hands and drop it on the floor," said Joe Banks, marketing coordinator, for a Lancaster, Pa., flooring manufacturer. "Recycled rubber flooring is another option for facilities. Its composition is usually a bit denser, and this makes it ideal for people that train on it by preventing joint strain and skeletal structure strain. It also protects the concrete and the flooring underneath as well. So your facility is not getting all banged up when guys are dropping 220-pound weights repetitively throughout the day."