Supplement Feature - September 2008
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Choices in Indoor Sports Surfaces

By Sue Marquette Poremba


Budget considerations also can play a large role in the decision-making. Wood flooring may be ideal for a gym floor meant only for basketball, but wood flooring can be expensive.

"Choosing between a wood and synthetic floor is often a budget issue," says Daniel Heney of the Maple Flooring Manufacturers Association (MFMA). "Some non-wood materials are less expensive, but in the long run maple flooring can be a less expensive product than most people think."

Mitchell agreed that wood is a pricier option. "When you ask what the difference is between the wood and synthetic floors, there is an economical advantage," he said. "Someone might want a wood floor, but the budget isn't quite strong enough for it."

There are times when a wood floor should be the first consideration, however. Wood floors follow performance standards, depending on the sports they will be used for, and these performance standards are important. You want good shock absorption, good vertical deflection, and good ball bounce on a floor that will be used for multiple sports, as most gym floors are. However, if the use is for basketball only, you'd want something that has excellent shock absorption and excellent ball bounce. For a volleyball floor, on the other hand, you will want good area and vertical deflection, but you don't really care as much about ball bounce.

"There are subtle differences in the types of flooring that would be used for things like a basketball court, a racquetball court or a dance studio," Heney explains. "It all comes down to what is important for what activity. There are not too many cases where a floor is designed strictly for one particular sport. Basketball and volleyball share the wood floor, for example."

Aesthetics are another consideration in using a wood surface. "There are three different grades of maple," Heney said. "Performance-wise, the different grades are about the same. The main difference is in the look of the wood."

A facility on a tight budget, then, might want to consider the lower grade and less expensive wood. Another option is to picture frame the floor, with, for example, a grade-one athletic surface with grade-three sidelines.

"The results can be stunning," Heney said.

Installing a wood floor usually takes several weeks. "The gym floor guys are the last ones in, and they are always under the crunch to get the floor down," Heney said. The floor installers first sand the floor, lay it out and then wait for it to acclimatize, which takes about a week. During that time, the installers will lay the subfloor. "The maple then gets installed over two to three days and sanding takes another couple of days." When the flooring is down, the finishing is applied. "Water-based is a quicker drying finish than oil-based, but you are still looking at a week until the floor is ready for use."