Supplement Feature - September 2011
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Take It Inside

Cost, Maintenance, Performance Are Top Issues in Sports, Fitness Flooring

By Deborah L. Vence

Turf Options

In terms of synthetic indoor turf, there are three options:

  • Needle punch turf (looks like a scouring pad— just a bunch of looped carpet that has no direction to it)
  • A turf product that looks like indoor/outdoor carpeting.
  • Infilled turf (looks like shag carpet with rubber filling in the voids.

"Needle punch turf is a product that is used for low-impact sports, such as lawn bowls, or for very young athletes who do not require a cushioned surface," said Doug Wournell, Architect AAA, MAIBC, vice president, Recreation and Sport Architecture Studio, in the Vancouver office of Cannon Design.

"It can be placed over a cushioned surface for adults, but the surface is not generally considered suitable for fast action sports," he said. "It has a unique quality in that since it is so lightweight it can be rolled up and stored so that the surface underneath (concrete or hardwood) can be used for other activities (i.e., a car show). A changeover for a small gymnasium might take only four hours, including cleaning, and maybe three laborers."

A second option, which many people mistakenly refer to as AstroTurf (actually a trade name for a proprietary infilled synthetic turf system), is a short pile (1/2-inch) carpet that once was the mainstay of professional sports.

"It generally comes with an integral cushioning pad. It is a fast surface that is suitable for most sports, although soccer and football prefer the infilled product. Field lacrosse and particularly field hockey are two sports which prefer this surface," he said. "Its main drawback is that it is very abrasive and falling on this surface can produce nasty 'rug burns.'"

And, while it can be removed and put down again, "It is a long process (a day) that usually takes a special machine and many laborers," Wournell said. "Thus, once it is in place it is generally left in place, and this makes the facility less adaptable. It becomes an excellent facility for indoor field sports, though. The facility can be made more adaptable by having portable plastic plates that can be laid over the turf to provide a firm flat surface for other uses (this takes a day to install or remove)."

Wournell said that infilled turf is the state-of-the-art synthetic surface that is common on most sport fields whether they are indoors or outdoors.

"It is the preferred surface of the major sports of football and soccer. The surface looks and plays like a real grass surface. However, it is not a portable surface and, thus, once installed the facility really becomes focused as an indoor field. To make the surface more adaptable requires expensive machinery and a large amount of labor," he said.

"It is easier to cover the surface with the noted plastic plates if adaptability is required. One of the drawbacks of this surface is that the infill migrates out of the surface with the players' shoes and into the rest of the facility," Wournell added. "This creates more cleaning maintenance for the facility operators. However, the users very often demand this product. And so to use any other synthetic turf product indoors would require a program that weighs the specifics of the other two products over that of the infilled product."

Parisi, of Williams Architects, added that choosing indoor turf requires thought and consideration of the application.

"If you did indoor turf for a fieldhouse, indoor softball or soccer, it looks like fake grass. I've seen installation of it where it simulates an outdoor environment," Parisi said.

He noted that some sports facilities, football, soccer and softball fields have used the same indoor turf material as the type used on outdoor fields.

"The turf has rubber pellets in them. It looks like it has grass strands, but they are synthetic. It has rubber so when you run on it, you feel like you are running on grass," he said.