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Sports Floor Considerations
By: Don Brown

 When it¡¯s time to make an informed decision about a floor surface for your church gym or activity center, there are many factors to consider.  Today¡¯s most preferred options include MFMA maple or synthetic surfaces, such as pad and pour urethane, or vinyl surfaces.  A key criterion to consider is the variety of activities the space is likely to host.

Wood Flooring
If the primary use is athletic, a MFMA maple gym floor is the best match, as it provides the recognized best athletic surface for basketball and volleyball. The Maple Flooring Manufacturers Association ensures that the maple flooring stamped with their mark will meet stringent grading and milling specifications. Maple gym floors provide shock absorption and vibration control that other floors cannot match. 

Maple floors are available in several types of system construction, such as floating or anchored resilient subfloors. While floating floors provide a lower cost alternative, anchored resilient wood floors have a higher performance level and safety factor for all age levels. Maintenance for wood floors is more involved, but all floors require maintenance, and wood floors deliver a dramatically superior life cycle vs. other athletic surfaces. Environmental responsibility is also a great reason to choose MFMA maple flooring, as it is truly a renewable resource.

The performance of a floor cannot be underestimated. A floor that can take the punishment of jumping and running, while absorbing the forces away from an athlete¡¯s muscles and joints, is extremely important. Aging athletes as well as young athletes need protection from fatigue or premature injuries. A typical MFMA maple floor can absorb 50 to 65 percent of force that would otherwise be returned back to an athlete¡¯s body. With league and pick-up games scheduled, this translates into many participants that require a top-performing floor. 

Synthetic Flooring
Urethane sports floors typically employ a recycled©\rubber underlayment as a cushioned platform to pour the self©\leveling urethanes over instead of the much harder concrete. This makes these floors a great fit for ¡°green¡± construction initiatives. The typical©\size multi©\activity floor incorporates tires that would otherwise go to a landfill. After gluing down the rubber underlayment (in thicknesses based upon desired cushioning and budget), the mat is then sealed, usually followed by a self©\leveling pour of urethane. A pigmented urethane wear-layer coating is then roller©\applied. Game lines and artwork complete the floor installation.

Seamless construction is one of the biggest reasons for the popularity of poured urethane, along with its ability to be refurbished in 12 to 15 years with an over-pour ¡°facelift¡± at a much smaller cost of the original installation. The newer water-based coatings translate into an installation that can be ongoing without the need to evacuate the building because of fumes. The state-of-the-art formulas for the urethane are highly elastic and will last through many years of properly protected tables and chairs.

Another advantage of the urethane surface is the ability to customize the floor in any color for indoor or outdoor sports. Spike-resistant urethanes now allow smooth or textured tracks that will withstand metal spike running shoes. Other optional surface textures can transform the floor into a professional level tennis court complete with a long-lasting UV protected coating.

For more than 20 years, poured©\in©\place self©\leveling urethanes were applied directly over the concrete substrate; adhesion was a concern and further work was done to enhance elasticity and shock absorption. The newer method solves many problems associated with harsh chemicals, performance and longevity.

Other flooring options include a wide variety of prefabricated rolled sheet goods. Prefab floors fall into two main types: rubber and PVC. Rolled products are quite ¡°uniform¡± in nature, have a shorter installation time, and are available in many colors and patterns. Vulcanized rubber floors can offer multiple performance layers to enhance shock absorption and longevity. Their cost can equal or exceed maple.

Their PVC counterparts share many similarities, but have a plasticizer component that needs to be considered, as they can leech out over time and cause the floor to both shrink and harden. A further drawback to these and other prefab floors is their seams. Not just an aesthetic concern, seams can evolve into maintenance and safety issues. When these surfaces need to be refurbished, they must be removed and disposed of, the slab cleaned and prepped for a new, full thickness prefab replacement.

Other Considerations
If usage will be more varied, with activities including street shoes, chairs and tables, other surface options could be considered. Many synthetic choices have emerged in recent decades. Interlocking plastic tiles became popular as a low©\cost, convenient way to spruce up a room, particularly as a retrofit to replace an existing surface.

One attractive feature of the interlocking tile is its ability to be placed over slabs with higher moisture levels than with wood or any other synthetic option. The industry norm for acceptable moisture vapor transmission levels in the concrete below flooring is about 3 to 5 percent ¡ª occasionally it can be difficult to achieve that benchmark in some conditions without a long waiting period or finding a chemical vapor barrier to block moisture transmission from the slab. Plastic tiles can be a bit ¡°noisy¡± compared to other options, and, if liquids are spilled, the many gaps present a genuine clean©\up challenge.

What are some of the general considerations in choosing the best floor for a project? 

While athletes want optimum resilience or ¡°give¡± and slide characteristics to protect ankles, knees, and hips that wood and premium synthetic products offer, those who care for the surfaces look for a product that is easy to maintain ¨C so use and maintenance need to be considered. Using lifecycle guidelines to help develop cost©\over©\time predictions, a properly cared for MFMA wood floor could last 60 years and quite often the life of the building with annual rescreening and periodic re-sanding. Their synthetic counterparts usually need some refurbishing in 12 to 15 years and will require either total replacement or an over-pour at that time.

Maintenance is also a prime concern given tight budgets and limited manpower. A walk©\behind scrubber is a good investment for synthetic surfaces, making the routine cleaning process go more smoothly and, with other attachments, be used in other areas of a facility.

Along with the quality factors of maple hardwood flooring, the ¡°green¡± aspect is an environmentally conscious decision that will reward future generations. With studies involving universities and the Department of Natural Resources, a MFMA maple flooring manufacturer has verified that they actually produce a negative carbon footprint and are helping reduce the amount of carbon, or greenhouse gas emissions, that are harmful to the environment. 

In fact, with maple tree stands, the overall process of maple floor manufacturing has a net loss of carbon gases entering the atmosphere. Also, contrary to long-held myths that all logging was depleting our forests, sustainable logging practices using selective processes have ensured that many generations will be using our renewable resource, the maple tree, for many generations to come. Although these types of sustainable logging practices have been used for years, it can now be tracked through a process labled FSC Certified.

With many questions to answer about the choice of the correct sports floor, longevity, performance of the athlete and the floor, along with life-cycle costs, are all part of an important process of choosing the right floor for your facility.

Don Brown is the technical director at Action Floor Systems, LLC, a company that specializes in high-performance sports floor systems to accommodate any application, www.actionfloors.com.

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