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Flooring for Every Area of Your Facility

For each area of your fitness center, you need to consider what type of flooring would be most appropriate for the activity, for safety, for aesthetics and for your budget.

Whether you're planning a new fitness center, or remodeling an older one, design choices bombard you from every angle. Walls, doors, windows, furniture, cardio machines, weights, pool chemicals, HVAC - it's all important. Flooring may end up on the bottom of your priority list simply because you don't look at it very often. But, choosing the right flooring is important. After all, it takes a lot of abuse. Constant foot traffic requires that you think carefully about your flooring options in each area.

General considerations

"The first things you should think about when choosing flooring are durability and safety," says Stephen Holt, president of Wellness Connection, Leominster, Mass. "You want your members to be safe and injury-free, and you want your investment to last as long as possible." But there are plenty of other things to consider when deciding on flooring. Cost is important, although you should always try to find the highest quality products you can possibly afford.

Your insurance policy may dictate certain flooring choices, so check your policy to see if it makes any recommendations. A certain tile or non-slip mats may be mandatory in wet areas, for example. Or, a certain percentage of shock absorption may be required in your group exercise studio. David Phillips, an interior designer with Fabiano Designs, Montclair, N.J., says that "slip and fall issues are very important to risk management. Not only do you need the safest materials, but also a secure underlayment. It's also vital that the flooring be installed correctly. Any carpet wrinkles or uneven tiles could be a tripping hazard."

Environmental concerns are important, too. Carpet, vinyl, rubber and composite materials all give off varying degrees of toxic gasses, as do paints, finishes, glues and adhesives. These fumes are called "volatile organic compounds" or VOCs. "Most manufacturers have addressed this issue, and now offer low- or no-VOC products," says Catrina Varady, interior designer with Hastings and Chivetta Architects, St. Louis, Mo.

Other environmentally friendly flooring products currently available include rubber sports flooring made out of recycled tires, recycled carpet products, and floors made of sustainable materials like cork and bamboo. "Many manufacturers are also running 'cradle to grave' programs, where the company will recycle your old flooring for you. So, you don't have to worry about disposing of all that material," says Varady.

Don't forget to add those "green" choices to your marketing materials. People are becoming more concerned with the environment, and if you can show that your facility was designed with the environment in mind, you may win the hearts (and business) of prospective members.

Considerations, room by room

Different areas of your fitness center require that you think about different things when choosing flooring. Here are the top considerations for each area.

Entry/hallways. Entryways and hallways get heavy traffic, so you want dark colors to hide dirt. They should be easy to clean and safe to walk on if a member comes in dripping wet from a rain storm. Carpet tile is a good choice here.

There are also geographic considerations. For example, if you are in an area that gets lots of snow, the foyer will get sand, salt and grit tracked in during the winter. If you are in a damp climate, mildew could be an issue.

Gymnasium. Almost all gymnasiums have wood performance flooring in order to be true to the sports being played there (basketball, volleyball, etc.). Your members expect a gym to have a wood floor. Whatever you choose, though, you want shock absorption and durability.

Weight room. Rubber sports flooring is the standard for weight rooms. Don't shortchange this area, however, as it gets the most abuse from equipment. You should use sheet rubber or tile that's at least 10 millimeters thick. And, you should run the flooring at least 18 inches up the walls, as well. There are lots of color options available in rubber, so pay attention to who will be using the area most, and create a pleasing design. Hardcore bodybuilders are going to expect a different aesthetic than older adults or those just beginning a strength program.

Group fitness/studio. A suspended wood floor is the most popular for the group exercise room. You can also purchase sheet vinyl with extra cushioning to provide similar shock absorption benefits. The area must be easy to clean and visually pleasing.

Wet areas. Safety is the No. 1 concern around pools and spas. In these areas, 2-by-2-inch ceramic tile is popular. Smaller tiles are more slip-resistant, since there are more grout lines breaking up the smooth tiles. Another alternative is a poured texturized concrete or epoxy with embedded grit.

Locker rooms. For wet areas in the locker rooms, 2-by-2-inch ceramic tile is a good choice. Otherwise, carpeting can work, especially if you're looking for an economical option. If you do choose carpet, be sure to use a "solution-dyed" option with a rubber backing. The solution dye stands up to harsh cleansing agents and chlorine from the pool, and the rubber backing helps protect against moisture and mildew.

Childcare. Rubber flooring is a good choice for your childcare area. It's soft and has anti-microbial properties. It's also easy to clean up liquid spills on rubber. Carpeting is another option here, but it should be solution-dyed and have rubber backing. Whatever you choose, try to get a single sheet or a poured option. Seams and crevices are great breeding grounds for bacteria.

If preschoolers will be scooting trucks around, or toddlers will be falling down a lot, you may want to run a protective band around the walls, as well. This will protect the wall from scratches and toddlers from scrapes and bruises.

Aesthetics

Designs, textures and colors should be unified throughout the facility; but, they don't have to be an exact match. You have the option to go with trendy design schemes or more classic, neutral tones. "Trendy is great, if you have the budget to do frequent remodels," says Varady. "Right now, orange and different shades of lime and kelly green are popular, as are textured porcelain tiles that mimic wood, linen and other woven fabrics. [However,] in a few years, those colors could make your club look really dated."

Holt advises fitness centers that are in a corporate setting to go with neutral colors, like gray or slate blue. More commercial settings tend to be trendy, so a modern design would be appropriate. Says Phillips, "The closer you get to the city, the more cutting-edge you are required to be, similar to a restaurant or retail space. Any space can use a little trendiness, though. We like to add color, in the choice of materials as well as the paint. To get longevity out of a trend, we must view it with respect and make it classic to the environment."

Flooring shouldn't call attention to itself, though. The last thing you want is for prospective members to walk in and notice how dated the flooring design is.

Replacing flooring

How often you end up replacing your facility's flooring depends on your maintenance record and what type of flooring it is. "When you start to notice wear marks [and] stains, or the product starts lifting off the substrate, it's time to think about replacement," says Phillips. "Carpet wears out the fastest. You'll need to replace it between five and seven years after installation in a workout area, [and] sooner in a locker room. Hard tile can last forever, depending on aesthetics." Varady says that rubber sports flooring will last 15 to 20 years. Of course, if you go for a trendy look, you may end up replacing the floors sooner. Be sure to check the manufacturer's specifications for estimated wear time.

One advantage to tile, whether carpet, rubber or ceramic, is that you can replace one or two pieces. Accidental damage to a small portion of your floor is easily and cheaply repaired with just a few new tiles. Assuming you aren't voiding any warranties, a good maintenance crew can handle small repairs, but you should call an expert if you have major damage.

The attention floors deserve

Floors take a lot of abuse, and they deserve attention when planning and maintaining your facility. If you map out each room's unique flooring requirements, and match those with appropriate cost, safety, durability, environmental and aesthetic considerations, you will end up with beautiful floors that last.
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