Module Two: Indoor Recreation Facilities

Circulation and Flooring

From the Ground Up

Finding the right floor for every environment in your club involves an extensive amount of homework and attention to detail. Some industry experts offer their advice on how to look beneath the surface.

The health club floor remains one of the most overlooked elements of your facility’s structure. Members and staff walk, run, jump and sweat all over it; drop weights on it and generally abuse the surface on a daily basis.

Yet an effective club floor must be designed with the day-to-day pummeling of both the surface and the exerciser’s body in mind.

Each different area of a club has specialized needs, depending on activity and overall environment," notes architect Donald DeMars of Donald DeMars International, Glendale, Calif.A common misconception befalling many club operators is that there's one universal flooring answer for every need, believes Montclair, N.J.-based architect Rudy Fabiano. 'Most people are unfamiliar with the technicalities,' says Fabiano. "Too many people are under the impression that somewhere out there is a floor that costs close to nothing, does everything and solves all of their problems.'

But from the aerobics room to the bathroom, choosing the proper flooring requires your undivided attention to even the smallest of details.

Aerobics Flooring

When you're laying the groundwork for your aerobics room floor, there are generally two routes to consider: wood or rubber. DeMars favors wood flooring for aerobics applications and advises against rubber in the high activity setting. Rubber flooring has either a very dean, smooth surface or a granular one. The smoother surfaces could become slippery when high levels of perspiration hit the floor. The granular surfaces, DeMars explains, tend to absorb sweat, which promotes a bacterial buildup.

Maple remains the most desirable wood choice for an aerobics floor, DeMars says. Additionally, he recommends spring-loaded floors for such applications. "When you're dealing with the body's need to have the impact of jumping and landing on a solid surface softened, spring-loaded floors are best," DeMars advises. 'If the impact is not softened, there are going to be potential problems, such as back injuries, shin splints or broken ankles. 'When you realize that consumers are aging and the average age of exercisers is getting older and older, the need for softening impact increases every year."

Mats can be used over hardwood floors, as well, DeMars notes, but you must ensure proper care of these coverings. "The problem is that when people get down on a mat and then get up again, they leave body marks of sweat,' he says. 'Just make sure the mats are properly cleaned and stacked so they can dry."

Fabiano believes it's more important to evaluate a floor's suspension system than it is to seek the highest-grade wood for an aerobics floor. He identifies three types of suspension systems: rubber-dot system, 'sleeper' system and foam pad. With the rubber-dot system, a 1-inch rubber disk is placed every 12 inches, stapled to a layer of plywood. A second layer of plywood is placed on top of that. "This one works the best, because you not only get bounce from the rubber disk, but from the space not supported," Fabiano says.

The sleeper system consists of rubber strips attached to a series of 2-by4s about 16 inches apart from each other. Both the rubber and the space between the 2-by-4's provide bounce. The third system involves placing a foam rubber pad beneath the wood of the floor.

'You can save a great deal of money by not buying the highest-grade wood," advises Fabiano. 'There is no best wood to buy because wood has more to do with appearance than with performance. If appearance isn't your No. 1 concern, you can save some money.'

The wood floors cost between $8 and $12 per square foot installed. The suspension system constitutes 30 percent to 60 percent of that, he estimates.

Fabiano differentiates among various flooring grades. "The No. 1 floor is like a residential floor with no knots in the wood," he explains. "As you downgrade the number, you're using different parts of a tree with more knots and different colors. It doesn't affect the performance of the wood -just the way it looks."

He does advise, however, that you make sure wood floors are finished properly with three coats of varnish.

Some clubs have found success with mock-wood flooring made from vinyl. Justin Harris, co-owner of Gold's Gym in Starkville, Miss., saved several thousand dollars using the vinyl surface, and says members can't tell the difference. The support and cushioning beneath the surface is similar to that of real wood, with foam blocks and layers of plywood. Harris notes that the degree of support is as good as or even better than that of wood floors he's seen.

'Installing the real wood floor is a lot more tedious,' says Harris. 'If we had opted for a wood floor, we would have installed it piece by piece. But with the vinyl, it rolls right out in one piece and you can get it in place within six hours.'

Rubber Room

Rubber flooring, according to Fabiano, primarily has been used in plate-loaded equipment areas to absorb the impact of weights on the surface. "But increasingly, rubber flooring is being used throughout the club in more general areas," he notes. "One of the reasons is that rubber flooring has come down in cost significantly. You can get some floors for under $3 a square foot, while carpet can cost between $20 and $27 a square foot." Higher-end rubber flooring costs r to $5 per square foot. These types much thicker and designed for higher-impact weight areas.

The thickness of the rubber flooring should match your needs, recommends DeMars. For example, in free-weight areas, dropping a larger weight on a 1/4-inch thick rubber floor covering a concrete base will not only tear the rubber floor, but pulverize the concrete slab beneath it. And if the area is located on the second floor, the problem of disturbing the first floor is a major consideration.

'The impact will cause reverberations in the structure of the floor and will transfer the pounding sound to lower floors," DeMars explains. "What you have to do in free-weight areas is create a double floor, and isolate the floor by using sound isolaters. They lift the surface floor above the lower floor and create a void space between the two floors.' Sound isolators, he notes, are not only strong in terms of the pressure they'll take, but have a certain degree of give to them to allow them to collapse a bit. So when a weight is dropped, the floor not only absorbs the impact, but also the sound in the void space, between the two floor layers.

Fabiano sees rubber increasingly being used in cardio equipment areas and in some walkways. An advantage rubber floor has over carpeting, he says, is that it doesn't stain from perspiration. The only problem with some of the less expensive rubber flooring is that there's very little variety in its appearance. 'There are may be 12 choices for rubber flooring vs. thousands of choices in carpet,' he says.

Roll Out the Carpet

Variety remains one of the key reasons for the enduring popularity of carpet. But a carpet's price may not necessarily correlate with its quality, warns Fabiano. He recommends nylon carpet for its high resiliency. "Sometimes a carpet a few dollars cheaper is a great deal less sturdy.'

For example, a fairly decent nylon carpet can cost between $15 and $20 a yard, including delivery. A synthetic carpet can cost between $10 and 12. "What happens is, the nylon wears much better that it really is worth the extra money if you can swing he advises. 'The nylon will wear ably twice as long, so sometimes pending a few extra dollars is well it."

Fabiano still prefers carpet for cardio as for both aesthetic reasons and its sound-absorbtion properties. But because of the high levels of perspiration that exercisers deposit on carpets, he strongly recommends your carpet fibers receive antimicrobial treatment. "It's essentially an additive to help control bacteria due to sweat," he explains. But there's still no substitution for ventilation in a health club."

Much of the floor space at the Verandah Club at Wyndham Anatole Hotel in Dallas is covered by carpet, including the dry areas of the locker rooms. 'We shampoo it once in a while and it stays clean," notes executive director Scott LaCroix. "Under equipment such as stairclimbers, we have 3/4-inch rubber mats to catch the sweat. We've also got some mats under the dumbbell station.'

The Verandah Club opted for an exotic marble look in the front-desk area, but acknowledges that such an upscale look could get a bit pricey. 'Marble's absolutely beautiful - if you can afford it," LaCroix says.

But you don't have to fork over large sums of money to give your club floors an innovative look. For some group cycling rooms his firm designs, Fabiano has been using what's known as oriented strandboard, which resembles waferboard and costs only about 50 cents per square foot. 'You give it three good coats of polyurethane, and it looks like a very interesting wood floor," Fabiano recommends. "Basically, the polyurethane makes the floor nonabsorbent to sweat, and it holds the rubber padding of the bikes well so they don't slip all over the place.'

Wet Areas

And no other club spaces are more conducive to slippage than locker rooms, bathrooms and pool areas. Knowing how to choose the right tiles for your wet-area floors can significantly reduce the likelihood of slipping accidents. DeMars suggests two tiling strategies: installing tile with an abrasive surface or using smaller, 1 inch by 1 inch or 2 inch by 2 inch tiles.

"The weight of a person's body grabs the floor with a textured surface,' DeMars explains. And smaller tiles provide more grout surface, which the body's weight pushes to prevent slippage.

No floor should be installed without drains, DeMars advises. The floors also must be properly sloped to enable to drain. 'Your drains should be paced to get the proper sloping,' DeMars recommends.

You also should install recessed hose bibs so the maintenance crew can connect a hose and spray down wet-area floors with an antiseptic solution to kill old and mildew, he adds. "Mold and dew need warm, wet areas to fester," says. "There also should be a fan to blow the floor down every night so mold and mildew don't get a chance to grow.' When you're ironing out a deal with flooring contractor, DeMars suggests the agreement require the contractor to flood all tile areas to ensure that the floors properly slope, and that there's no ponding or pitching of water to walls. When the contractor knows this going in, he's more careful during the installation,' he says. "You don't want anyone stepping in little puddles."

But whether you're tiling your locker floors or carpeting your cardio room Fabiano stresses that there is not one flooring type that's always right every job.

'Your budget, the number of members you are servicing and where in the club certain services are provided all lay a part in helping to decide what floor to use,' he notes. 'You really have to do your homework."

Source: Cioletti, J. (1998, January). From the Ground Up. Club Industry, pp. 23-30 (re-printed with permission)

[Class] [return to Indoor Recreation Facilities]

Copyright 2001 Northern Arizona University, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED