Feature Article - July/August 2004
Find a printable version here

Special Supplement:
Recreation Management’s Complete Guide to Sports Surfaces and Flooring

By Margaret Ahrweiler

Installation issues

No matter what the thickness of your synthetic or the sophistication of your wood system, however, the success of your floor ultimately relies on two things: quality installation and good "bones" with the concrete subsurface.

"A little bump can make a real impact on a floor," Mayo says. A level floor is a must as well; many designers and installers specify no more than a 1/8-inch different in the level of the floor throughout the facility.

To ensure success in these two areas, facility managers need to choose their building team carefully and pay attention to how they write specifications. Architects advise you seek a contractor with a strong concrete background and skill in concrete finishing to create the most smooth, even surfaces possible. A prequalification process with a bidding short list can accomplish this.

Mayo also suggests investigating the technology the concrete team uses. As the KU Student Recreation Fitness Center, the contractor used a laser screed system, where the concrete is pumped in rapidly then leveled with a robotic screed, which flattens the top surface. Laser sights on top of the arm ensure that the floor is perfectly level. The result? KU's Mary Chappel now boasts the university has the "flattest floors in Kansas." This laser system works best pouring floors of 10,000 square feet or more, Mayo adds.

Next, the concrete needs time to cure properly—to harden and dry. At minimum, say concrete pros, give the concrete at least 60 days and test to ensure that its moisture content is no more than 5 percent. Rushing your contractor to install your floor before you hit these milestones is a very, very bad idea, says Ankeny Kell's Mathys. And if that concrete is sitting on grade, without an additional barrier, vapor barriers become necessary. These in turn require joints in the concrete since, with the vapor barrier, concrete dries at a different rate top to bottom.

Finally, the concrete contractor must pay precise attention to changes in the slab heights in facilities that put down several different systems in one space. A poured in synthetic running track that circles a resilient system may require a 1-5/8-inch depression—the slightest variation can cause gaps or create a tripping hazard.

Along with properly poured and cured concrete, a quality installation team will make or break your floor. Facilities looking to save money on installation costs may consider a residential flooring contractor. Again, Matthys says, a very bad idea: As earnest as a residential contractor may be, he or she usually won't have the experience or even the number of people needed for a quality gym floor installation. Matthys advises writing a certified installer into the specifications.


In its 85,000-square-foot Student Recreational Center, the university ended up using the same synthetic flooring system, in different thicknesses, for its 8,200-square-foot Multi-Activity Court (MAC) and for its mile-long suspended running track. For the MAC, the system was chosen to offer resilience for soccer, volleyball and basketball yet withstand the abuse of not only inline hockey but a host of community events. The running track's 14mm plus 2mm system provides runners a high force reduction to ease the energy being returned to their body by the pounding of feet.

KU's Chappel also suggests that installers become part of the preconstruction process. At KU, the installers flew down to review plans and meet with the design team before building began.

Wood floors add an extra layer of installation caution. Wood must acclimatize to become accustomed to the humidity levels of its environment, sitting in stacks in the facility for a time before it's laid. The installing team must also stack the wood properly to avoid warping and to properly expose the wood during the acclimatizing process. And since wood expands when humid and contracts when dry, systems need expansion joints, planned gaps to allow for these variations. While some owners tend to want to limit these joints for aesthetic purposes, Mayo advises a generous use of them to best protect the floor. A good installer must be skilled at these as well.

Finding a qualified installer is not as hard as it sounds, however. This is another area where it pays to listen to the manufacturer. Many recommend a network of installers that have earned exclusive rights to install their products. Others actually hold training classes for installers, only then certifying them to install the product.

"This is not a guarantee of a good installation, but from our experience, it makes a difference," Matthys says.