Supplement Feature - September 2013
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Hardcore Floors

Environment, Maintenance Vital to Flooring Lifespan

By Deborah L. Vence

Synthetic Flooring

Technology for synthetic flooring has improved over the years as well, having a much stronger presence in multi-use facilities in the past two decades than prior to that, simply because the products didn't exist or were used predominantly for tracks.

"There was a desire or need for flooring surfaces for multipurpose uses," McKenna said. "We'll still go in gyms that are 30 years old, that [have] hardwood, and are faded and beat up. But, they have stood the test of time. Those were the days where synthetics had not matured as a product. Now, there's a ton of options."

For instance, vinyl surfaces offer more versatility, use and density, and wear and tear. They also cost less, and have a tremendous variety of foam densities that allow for different kinds of absorption.

And, depending on the synthetic surface, it's easier to maintain, easier to keep clean and looking nice, making it a choice option for meeting rooms and low-impact aerobics spaces.

What's more, you can even make a synthetic floor look like wood. For instance, you can take the photograph of wood, and then over the top of that put a clear vinyl layer. You see the wood, but you are wearing through the clear vinyl layer above it. "You can even create a computerized texture on that surface, which feels like a wood grain," Swartz added.

And, while synthetic flooring is "much less sensitive to environmental concerns," when you are installing flooring, you still want to have a controlled environment. Vinyl floors are not going to crack or separate, but they can be affected by UVA, UVB radiation," he said.

In this case, the issue is heat. UVA radiation is a concern.

"Vinyl floors have flexibility, a plasticizer that's sensitive to UV radiation," he said.

In the United States, expansion has occurred with synthetic flooring namely because synthetics are driven, in part, by the need for a floor with versatile capabilities.

"There are quite a lot of facilities for multipurpose use: volleyball, basketball, multi-function products. Aerobics, fitness, people use them for … YMCAs, Boys and Girls Clubs," Thornton said.

He noted that the point elastic system works in such a way that the floor responds only at the area of contact. "An advantage of that, everywhere you turn, or leap, your performance is about the same everywhere you go."

That is, point-elastic flooring systems are made up of resilient sports flooring such as vinyl, rubber, polyurethane and linoleum. Such gym flooring options have uniform performance across the whole playing surface, which means that every location on the floor will have nearly identical shock absorption, ball rebound and vertical deformation.

Moreover, one of the things to do and what's really important for any architect or designer, is to take the opportunity to find out what's really best for the facility. "Each facility may have a uniqueness that may fair better than another. One product may fair better than another, because it may have particular needs," Thornton recommended.

Environment & Maintenance

Choosing the right indoor flooring—whether synthetic or hardwood—largely depends on your facility's environment and maintenance procedures.

For example, floor care falls into two areas: First, environmental controls, regarding temperature and humidity; and, second, cleaning, maintaining and finishing that floor. Finishes, especially, have to be appropriate to the activity that is being planned, Swartz explained, adding that if you don't have the proper environmental conditions, hardwood flooring can buckle when exposed to high humidity after installation, or shrink during colder months.

Remember: "Cool air releases moisture. Warm air traps it," Swartz said. "You have to have the proper finish, and you have to maintain the proper environmental controls. If you close the place down in the summertime, you are likely to find disaster when you return. In cold and dry weather, hardwood shrinks and cracks. You need to have a proper subfloor system underneath the wood to [ensure] those things don't happen."

In addition, when a wood floor is being installed, the wood has to acclimate to the room.

"In new construction, if you will have the windows open, and then install the wood floor, but then close everything up [afterward], the wood is set in place and looks perfectly fine. [But], three weeks later, it looks terrible. As a buyer, you have to hook up with someone that knows what they are doing," he said.