Supplement Feature - October 2015
Find a printable version here

What's Under Foot?

The Basics of Indoor Sports, Fitness & Recreation Flooring

By Joe Bush

That weight room floor sure is nice—a handsome navy blue, not too firm, not too squishy, modular for ease of replacement, but there's a problem and it has nothing to do with sight or feel. The office workers downstairs find it hard to concentrate because of the constant sound of dropped weights.

It's a real problem and it has real solutions, and is just one example of the factors recreational facility operators have to consider when deciding on indoor flooring. It's also about budget and bouncing balls, traction and pretty colors, durability and safety, cleaning and ease of repair. You can get all those right but have to retrofit when the neighbors complain about the noise.

Brennan Prins, marketing director of a fitness flooring manufacturer based in Petrolia, Ontario, said more than half of his company's customers are concerned with sound reduction. "Many of these fitness centers have a major dilemma with sound attenuation," Prins said. "How do they mitigate this when Superhero Steve is dropping 600 pounds on the floor and that shockwave goes through the whole building? How do we absorb that sound, and how does that affect the whole building? How can we address this problem?"

Prins said his company's fitness flooring handles every issue for use in weight rooms, fitness equipment areas and exercise class spaces. At 5.25 inches thick, it's been recommended to clients of a Canadian company named Aercoustics Engineering that solves vibration and sound problems.

"The thicker the better," says Bob Rimrott, one of the principals at Aercoustics.

Rimrott said manufacturers can't merely make thicker and thicker weight room flooring, however. Stability must be maintained, and, especially in free weight areas, the danger of weights bouncing into people or walls and mirrors must be eliminated. He said another recreational facility flooring problem is the bouncing of basketballs on a court that is at a higher level than ground floor.

When Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto transitioned from a professional hockey arena to a multi-use building—the Mattamy Athletic Centre—two of the uses were a university athletic center and high-end grocery store, the former above the latter. The sound of the bouncing of basketballs on the second-floor court had to be dampened, and the fix was a floating floor—put simply, the hardwood court on top of a concrete slab supported by rubber discs on top of the structural floor.

"The higher-end athletics you do, the more important the actual surface is," Rimrott said. "Clearly on a basketball court, the last thing you want to do is have the ball not bounce well because the floor is trying to absorb energy, so in the case with Maple Leaf Gardens, we designed it with a concrete floating floor."

Organizations that have lower budgets for athletic flooring sometimes choose modular, or tiled, surfaces—one of the main benefits being ease and speed of replacement. Gabe Martini, sales manager for a Utica, N.Y.-based manufacturer of modular flooring for indoor and outdoor courts, said that the cost of his company's modular floor is about half that of a hardwood floor, so nonprofits and public schools make up the bulk of the company's clientele. Repair or replacement hurts a lot less, too.

"Lower maintenance continues to be a trend, not worrying about sanding and refinishing," Martini said. "You can pop out a bad tile and replace it. If you have a problem with your wood floor, you've got to call a carpenter or a wood flooring expert to come in and take the floor out of service for a week to repair. In a renovation project, we're in and out in a week, that's all we're taking the floor out of service. They have to do that in the summer for wood."

Different flooring products are designed for specific sports such as roller and inline hockey, basketball, volleyball, tennis, and aerobic studios and weight rooms. Mesh-like tiles service wet areas like pool decks and locker rooms. Cleaning consists of removing loose dirt and washing, Martini said, and the flooring can last 10 to 15 years.