Many issues come into play when considering sports flooring: safety, performance, durability, appearance and maintenance. Unfortunately, maintenance often falls to the bottom of the list.

For a sports floor to live up to its potential in terms of years of performance, durability and appearance, schools need to give maintenance the attention it deserves. Education institutions with limited budgets sometimes consider only short-term maintenance requirements. That's risky — the investment involves more than purchase and installation; it includes ongoing maintenance. The characteristics that persuade administrators to buy a particular floor are going to be just as important 10 and 15 years later. Institutions can perform a life-cycle cost analysis to help determine potential annual and multiyear costs for a maintenance plan that will help keep floors looking great and performing up to par.

Critical maintenance

Following a manufacturer's maintenance recommendations has many benefits. A floor's appearance creates an immediate impression. If the floor is not maintained properly because of inadequate funds, people may come away with an unfavorable impression of the facility.

Study different flooring types and determine the various maintenance requirements — daily, weekly, monthly, yearly and long-term. Look beyond the daily sweeping and mopping to develop a proactive maintenance program.

Dirt and grit can ruin the finishes of certain floor types. Water and other liquid spills can damage some floor surfaces if they are not attended to immediately. Scuff marks may not be harmful, but they are unattractive and noticeable.

Dramatic differences exist in the care required for resilient pure vinyl, hardwood, vinyl composite tile, poured urethane, solid rubber and polypropylene interlocking tile floors. Ask if more intensive maintenance, such as scrubbing, stripping, re-waxing, screening, recoating or resurfacing, requires lengthy downtimes.

Compare how much time is needed to maintain the various floorings, and see whether that will fit in with the activity schedule of the facility. Schools should avoid maintenance requirements that result in frequent rescheduling of practices, games and other activities. Also, be aware that a new sports floor is likely to increase demand for the space. With maintenance information in hand, determine if more usage can be accommodated reasonably.

Find out what equipment and cleaning supplies are needed. These can be significant variables in the life-cycle cost analysis. Will these items evolve into a large budget item in the future? Discuss who will perform the work and what type of training is necessary. Talk to the facility maintenance staff about equipment and training needs regarding the new sports flooring under consideration. Can they perform the work with the right equipment, or will outside contractors have to do it?

Once a floor is installed, have the floor company's employees do a maintenance walkthrough with the staff. A training session with a hands-on demonstration of proper techniques can help the staff learn how to prevent maintenance problems.

Despite the best efforts, sometimes repairs are necessary. Find out which repairs the manufacturer or installer is responsible for, how long a typical repair takes, what is involved and who does the work. Will the repair be visible, and will it change the performance and use of the floor in the long run?

What's at stake?

Inadequately maintained floors cost more in the long run, not only monetarily but also in increased downtime for the facility. Troublesome surfaces can put students, athletes and visitors at risk. Players may not be able to control their movements because of sticky or slippery surfaces.

Look for uneven footing, missing game-line markings and worn or dead spots where ball bounce is unpredictable. An inadequately maintained floor will not keep its performance characteristics, including playability, and probably couldn't meet the same certifications it did when originally installed.

Thinking about certifications is another critical part of the selection process. Most sports-flooring standards have been developed in Europe. No official sports-flooring standards exist in the United States, although the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM International), a voluntary standards-development organization, has a subcommittee developing sports-flooring standards.

The most popular and widely accepted standard is DIN, established by the Otto Graf Institute of the University of Stuttgart, Germany, which sets guidelines for performance and quality of sports flooring. The most recent DIN standard, DIN V 18032-2, was released in April 2001 and tests the materials used in sports flooring according to six technical criteria and five performance criteria. Some of the criteria: shock absorption, deformation control, resilience, ball rebound, rolling load and coefficient of friction.

Find out if the sports floors being considered are evaluated by an independent and approved testing laboratory. Ask if the manufacturers have received an official certificate stating the floors have been examined according to the most up-to-date standards. This information should be readily available.

Do some more homework. Visit facilities that have had floors in place for five to 10 years. Talk to athletic directors and maintenance workers. How well do the floors accommodate athletics, recreation and multipurpose uses, and how difficult are they to maintain? Has the floor had unanticipated maintenance problems? What about odors from cleaning products? Did they have to make modifications in order to have the proper ventilation to maintain indoor air quality and required humidity levels? Once that information has been gathered, ask the most important question — would they purchase the floor again?

Traum is a public-relations consultant with Taraflex Sports Flooring by Gerflor, which has its U.S. sales headquarters in Atlanta.

NOTABLE

DIN V 18032-2, released in April 2001, sets standard criteria for sports flooring. They include:

  • SPORTS CRITERIA
    • Shock absorption
    • Energy restitution
    • Vertical deformation
    • Slip resistance
    • Ball bounce
  • MECHANICAL CRITERIA
    • Resistance to indentation
    • Impact absorption
    • Resistance to heavy moving loads
    • Abrasion resistance
    • Light reflection
    • Surface uniformity

Create a life-cycle cost analysis

A life-cycle cost analysis can be a valuable tool in choosing a sports floor. It forces a look beyond the initial price tag and examines what needs to be budgeted for future costs and expenses.

The types of materials used for sports floors have differing maintenance needs. All floors should be cleaned daily by dry or damp mopping and tend to require deeper cleaning at regular intervals. Distinctions appear because some flooring types call for more intensive cleaning or refinishing.

To prepare a life-cycle cost analysis:

  1. Know the floor's square footage and life expectancy. Divide the total cost of the floor (projected purchase and installation plus floor cover and major equipment if required) by the square footage. Do this for each surface under consideration to determine cost per square foot.

  2. Get the manufacturers' daily maintenance cost including supplies and equipment. Find out how long it will take to clean the floor, and multiply that by the hourly labor cost. Add up all daily maintenance costs.

  3. Go through the same process to obtain costs for quarterly, annual and periodic major maintenance. This will provide comparison information.

The formula:

•Initial cost plus annual maintenance cost over the life of the floor divided by its life expectancy.

For example: A 5,000-square-foot floor costs $4.50 per foot totaling $22,500. Annual maintenance is $2,300 based on daily mopping, weekly automatic scrubbing and $12 per hour professional maintenance wages. The floor's life expectancy is 30 years, so total maintenance costs would be $69,000. Dividing the overall cost of $91,500 by 30 years results in an annual expense of $3,050.