Robin Traum serves as public relations and media consultant in North America for Taraflex Sports Flooring by Gerflor.
Christian Kuhn is the Market and Events Manager for Taraflex for high level competitions and is also responsible for establishing new partnerships with professional sports associations such as the FIBA. He is a member of the FIBA Research and Study Centre Decisional Board of the synthetic flooring category.
Once upon a time, when the need arose for a school district or educational institution to decide what type of flooring to purchase for one of their athletic facilities, it was a quick decision.
In the United States, it used to be hardwood flooring in most cases, with few alternatives. Now, with the availability of improved synthetic sports flooring, the decision is more challenging and the results can be more rewarding. The decision process includes resilient pure vinyl, solid rubber, poured urethane, vinyl composition tile and polypropylene interlocking tile, as well as hardwood flooring.
Whereas hardwood floors have dominated the market in the U.S. in the past, that monopoly is changing rapidly. Athletic/facilities directors realize there are choices other than wood that have the same appearance and provide increased safety and performance benefits.
They are also learning about the misperception that wood floors provide the ultimate in shock and spring (energy return), and synthetic floors come in a poor second with a hard and unforgiving nature. In many instances, reality is quite different.
This awakening and educating is taking place for several reasons. Because of technological advances in the flooring industry over the past 20 years, synthetics have improved.
This has resulted in their selection for usage in many of the world's Olympic Games competitions.
That's not to say that the decision to consider synthetics in addition to more traditional types of flooring is easily reached.
Flooring industry experts point to an image issue as the reason for synthetics not always being a first choice.
They explain that athletic directors and others involved in the decision process have been concerned that other schools in their district or league will "look down" on them if they choose something other than wood, even if the new flooring performs as well or better. Now, the experts say, the situation is changing as treated synthetic floors offer designs with the distinct look of wood grain and are no longer limited to solid colors.
Synthetic flooring options provide other pluses.
THE EVALUATION PROCESS
Once the appearance hurdle has been conquered, athletic/facilities directors have a host of other factors to consider. Here are some of the questions they need to ask, rank in importance according to their facility's needs, and then evaluate the responses.
- Will the space have a multi-purpose use?
- List the range of activities that will use the space, such as physical education, cafeteria, dances, sports competitions with bleachers, pep rallies, etc.
- Does the flooring under consideration have the ability to be used for all the required activities? Some floors are more appropriate than others for specific sports programs.
- Determine how important safety is in the decision/evaluation process.
- Does the flooring reduce stress-related injuries?
- Does the flooring surface have the proper "slip and slide" also known as "coefficient of friction" to reduce slipping problems?
- How consistent is the floor's "ball bounce" capability? What is the likelihood of basketball "dead spots?"
- Does the floor's performance capability count?
- Does the flooring being considered come in a variety of designs or colors?
- How important is the longevity of the floor?
- What are the annual and longer-term maintenance requirements and expenses?
- What is budgeted for annual and longer-term sports floor maintenance?
- How easy is it to repair the flooring?
- How susceptible is the flooring to moisture problems at the seams?
- What protection does the flooring have against spilled liquids and humidity?
- Can the flooring resist permanent staining and discoloration?
- How easy or difficult is the flooring to clean?
- Does the flooring comply with regulations of the federal Occupational Safety and Hazard Administration and Environmental Protection Agency?
- Does the flooring meet those internationally-recognized standards known as DIN? DIN standards, developed by the Otto Graf Institute, affiliated with Stuttgart University in Germany, are used internationally as a guide for the quality control and performance of sports floors.
By going through an exhaustive questioning process such as this, some flooring will be eliminated and the facility will move toward getting the right flooring for its needs and budget.
When evaluating floors for proper "slip and slide," here are some generally accepted observations.
Resilient pure vinyl floors have a uniform surface and finish that minimizes slipping problems. Wood can have an uneven wearing of the finish, particularly in the heavily used key area of the basketball court. Solid rubber can be too slip-resistant. Poured urethane can wear unevenly and become too slippery.
The type of finish used for vinyl composition tile can vary and can wear differently and at times unevenly. Polypropylene interlocking tile reduces "slip and slide" and does not require an applied finish.
Buyers must go beyond the initial purchase price and consider installation and upkeep.
Look at maintenance schedules for each competing product and the facility's own maintenance budget. Maintenance, as explained earlier, is often overlooked in the decision process.
Here is a brief look at the maintenance schedules for the various types of synthetic floors. Resilient pure vinyl requires normal dust mopping and washing.
Stripping is not required. Solid rubber floors must be cleaned by a heavy duty scrubbing machine to remove dust and dirt in the surface texture.
Poured urethane requires screening and recoating of the top surface every five to seven years, or an application of a floor finish twice a year along with stripping and recoating. Wood floors need daily mopping and washing, constant retouching of the finish. On an annual basis, they require screening, cleaning, and recoating and every 7 to 10 years they must undergo major sanding, sealing, and resurfacing. Vinyl composition tile must have floor finishes or coatings stripped and applied twice yearly. Polypropylene interlocking tile does not need a finish or coating but does require a special vacuum system, since dirt, water and other particles can fall between the joints.
Flooring can vary greatly in terms of how it can reduce stress-related injuries. Resilient pure vinyl flooring has a very high percentage of injury reduction that can be matched by wood that has optional pad systems.
Poured urethane also performs well, but as it ages the flooring may harden or soften, which affects its cushion layer.
Solid rubber, vinyl composition tile, and polypropylene interlocking tile deliver a much lower level of protection against stress-related injuries.
MAKING THE CHOICE
How does an athletic/facilities director sort through these options and actually become educated about the sports flooring choices?
The best way is by visiting other facilities that have installed the flooring and use it for similar activities.
The value of speaking with colleagues about their sports flooring choice and its capabilities will be immense.
The athletic/facilities director will learn more because he/she will be getting information about the actual day-to-day experience and gain valuable insight by speaking directly with an end-user. It will be a wise investment of their time, and one that will pay off in a flooring selection well made.