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Buyer’s Guide for Multi-Purpose Indoor Athletic Surfaces

The purpose of this Buyers Guide is to help specifiers and purchasers of multi-purpose indoor athletic surfaces by providing information to aid them in selecting the right system for their specific use.

When building an indoor court, the court is the main reason for having the building. That makes the floor surface the most important feature in the building. Unfortunately, too often the budget is consumed by other aspects of the construction. In general, we recommend excluding the athletic floor surface from the general contract and treating its purchase separately, similar to the purchase of other athletic equipment. Alternatively, an allowance can be made in the general contract for the floor. No matter how the purchase is handled in the construction contract, end users and operations staff should be influential in the selection of the floor surface.

To get the most value from the sizeable investment in an indoor synthetic sports surface, an owner must take care in defining needs, exploring available options and making appropriate choices. To ensure user safety, surface longevity and long term maintenance, it is necessary to make an educated and well-informed decision regarding the choice of athletic flooring. Such a choice goes well beyond the knowledge and expertise of a general contractor.

The Indoor Division of the American Sports Builders Association (ASBA) can help. Founded in 1965 as the U.S. Tennis Court & Track Builders Association, ASBA is the trade association for builders, designers and suppliers of materials for tennis courts, running tracks, synthetic and natural turf fields, indoor and outdoor synthetic sports surfaces. It is recognized as a centralized source for technical information. The Association offers informative materials to those about to embark on sports facility construction projects. These include technical and consumer oriented publications, including a series of construction guidelines.

This Buyers Guide provides basic guidance to the prospective owner in making some of the decisions necessary to an indoor project.

Considerations for Planning

  • Usage

    Early in the project, an owner must decide on its scope. What sports or activities will take place in this facility or on this floor? The specific sports to be played on the surface may influence the appropriate structural resiliency, surface hardness, surface texture, ball bounce, etc. for the proposed surface.

    Which age groups typically will use the floor? Children in elementary schools have different safety needs from fully trained high level college athletes.

    At what level will these sports be played? The level of competition will determine which governing body will be involved, and, therefore, which rules will be used. (Governing body rules specify the dimensions and other factors important to the builder).

    Will sports with a very specific need for floor performance be played? For instance, tennis, track and field events with spike shoes and roller-skating are all sports requiring specific and differing surfaces.

    Most multi-purpose field houses will require some compromise between what is optimal for one program or sport versus the performance characteristics and requirements of another. Carefully defining needs and establishing priorities will go a long way toward insuring that the facility, once built, will perform as well as possible.

    Non-athletic uses also should be considered. What kind of events will be hosted in the facility when it is not being used for competitive events? Will the building be used for the school dance, lunches or holiday programs? Will commercial trade shows and rock concerts also be on the agenda?

    The following characteristics will help an owner define the expected usage of the floor:


    • the amount of time the court will be used for each sport
    • specific needs for specific sports (spikes, in-line skates, etc)
    • age-groups that will use the floor
    • types of non-athletic use

  • Athletic Performance

    The principle function of an athletic surface is to provide the appropriate levels of safety, comfort and performance. Growing children must be protected because their musculo-skeletal systems are vulnerable. Safety includes protection against traumatic injury as well as long term wear, also called repetitive micro trauma. A floor’s force reduction, or resiliency, influences safety in a way that goes well beyond simple comfort.

    As a general rule, the more trained the athlete, the better the athlete’s body is prepared to deal with impacts and uncontrolled movements, and, therefore, the less protection is required of the floor. Unfortunately, it is often the case that recreational athletes and children are provided with low standard floors and only well-trained athletes play on high performing floors. From a safety point of view the ASBA strongly recommends the use of a properly designed athletic floor for all athletic activity.

    Athletic surfaces are used in a very specific way and, beyond safety and comfort, their performance characteristics are sport-specific. For example, what is considered optimum footing – friction, traction, slide, and protection against foot-lock – will vary from one sport to another. Ball bounce, for a sport such as basketball, must be tested and in accordance with commonly accepted standards.

    Whatever its performance characteristics, an athletic surface should be consistent in all properties, throughout the surface.

    The following characteristics give a good overview of the athletic performance of an athletic surface system:


    • required resiliency (shock absorption, vertical deformation)
    • required coefficient of friction
    • required ball bounce

  • Mechanical Strength

    The durability of a floor is largely determined by its ability to handle mechanical loads and abrasion.

    Typical non-athletic loads include the movement of portable basketball backstops, ladders or lifts for changing light bulbs or hanging banners, safety mat carts, gymnastic equipment, etc. Obviously, the rolling and static loads of retractable bleachers also must be calculated in determining the overall mechanical strength required of an athletic surface. Non-athletic use, including the placement of staging or chairs on the surface, can result in significant point-loads and impacts.

    The multi directional, rotational, start and stop nature of athletic movements on a floor will result in wear of the floor surface and the line marking. Roller skating activity will increase wear of the floor, as will ordinary foot traffic in non-athletic shoes.

    The following characteristics give a good overview of the mechanical strength requirements for an athletic surface system:


    • required impact resistance
    • required resistance to static loads
    • required resistance to rolling loads
    • required wear resistance

  • Stability

    Floors may be used in very different climate conditions. Further floors, or portions thereof, may be exposed to direct sunlight.


    • UV-stability
    • dimensional stability of prefab floors (temperature, humidity)

  • Maintenance

    Maintenance requirements can vary significantly on different types of surfaces. Always review the manufacturer’s maintenance instructions for daily and periodic cleaning prior to choosing a specific flooring product. If daily mopping, weekly wet cleansing and biannual intensive scrubbing is indicated, determine the specific type of cleaner and cleaning equipment suggested.

    Maintenance, however, goes beyond cleaning. Touch up or repainting lines, repairing seams or mechanical damage, periodic application of maintenance coatings or resurfacing the entire floor needs to be considered in a long term maintenance budget.


    • daily and periodic cleaning requirements
    • maintenance treatments
    • repairs
    • renovation (surface, court markings, finish)

  • Appearance

    While appearance does not affect athletic performance of a sports surface, the existence of design options will allow the architect to create the preferred ambiance in the building. Further, durability and wear resistance of certain features, such as painted logos, borders and keys, as well as design patterns in the product itself need to be taken into consideration. Since different colors of product may wear at different rates in addition to the uneven wear caused in high traffic areas, the presence of design features typically leads to more frequent resurfacing and higher life cycle cost, although the amount will vary depending on the type of product.

    For athletic activity a matte (non glare) surface is preferred because it will make court marking more visible and minimize distracting light reflection for players. A matte surface will allow the use of more natural light and lowering the use of energy, reducing operational costs and benefiting the environment.


    • design options in order to create the required ambiance
    • durability of appearance
    • gloss level

  • Environmental Design

    There are many different environmental considerations that can be assessed. Focus on use of resources, manufacturing, indoor air quality, energy consumption, use of sustainable or recycled materials, ability to recycle later, and disposal are common examples. A positive contribution at one aspect may however lead to a negative in another. In the USA, a system, Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED), is available from the US Green Building Council to assess the environmental aspects of a building as a whole. The site, offers more information. The athletic surface may contribute to environmental credits for the building.


    • LEED credits
    • Life Cycle Cost

    Life cycle cost is the cost the owner will pay for the use of the floor over the intended period of use of the facility, expressed in average annual costs.

    In budget planning, life cycle cost considers not just initial cost, but long-term cost. Before committing to a project, be certain that you can afford the schedule of maintenance recommended by the supplier of your chosen surfacing system, as well as a reserve for eventual repair and/or replacement.


    • depreciation
    • cleaning costs
    • renovation costs
    • disposal /replacement costs

  • Investment

    How much can you afford to spend? Owners often ask this question first, but given the considerations listed above, a better question is this — How much do you need to spend to secure the required performance, considering both initial and ongoing costs (life cycle cost)? Developing a budget may be the most difficult step in the construction process. You may have to make some concessions, but in order to make informed choices, you need to determine priorities.

    Remember that as in most projects, it is easy to spend more than you had in mind. Working within a budget involves considering various options and making informed choices, but choices don't have to mean compromising the end result. Knowledge of what factors are most important to the facility you are planning and a desire to seek creative solutions can bring the project in at a reasonable cost.


    • necessary budget to meet specified requirements

Choosing a Design Professional

Given the significant investment in time and money involved in designing and building an athletic facility, it is important to ensure that the facility, once built, is what you want and what was promised to you.

It is often desirable to employ a licensed design professional, consultant or other expert to assist in planning, building or retrofitting a sports surface. Depending on the scope of the project, an expert can actually help control job costs by better translating the needs of the owner into proper direction for construction, and by helping to avoid costly mistakes. A professional architect or engineer, trained and experienced in sports construction, or an experienced installer, will help identify your needs and refine that information to the specific requirements of your site.

An expert can assist in determining the scope of work to be included in the job, in planning the facility, in determining a realistic budget for the project, in evaluating and comparing bids, in overseeing the work in progress and in solving any problems that occur during construction.

How do you locate qualified professionals? One way is by contacting professional associations such as the American Sports Builders Association. The Association’s website at includes a searchable database of designers, suppliers and builders. Most design professionals who are members of the ASBA and the installer members in its Indoor Division have expertise in the planning and design of synthetic indoor sports surfaces. The reference section of this Buyer's Guide has contact information for other organizations that may assist you.

Another way to find a qualified professional is by contacting colleagues who have recently completed similar projects and asking for a recommendation.

When contacting a prospective consultant, be sure to ask questions about the firm's experience in designing indoor sports facilities. Contact references and visit completed projects. Ask for proposals and compare them carefully. Be sure you understand what is and what is not included in the proposed contract. Finally, once you choose a professional, carefully negotiate fees and services and secure a signed letter of agreement or contract, which clarifies all aspects of your arrangement.

Choosing a Surface

Another important choice in planning an indoor surface is the specific type/brand of surfacing. There are many choices.

It is important to research the types and brands you may be considering. Where is the product made and by whom? What is the relationship between the manufacturer and the installer, if any? Who carries the warranty and how long have they been in business? An experienced design professional may help you sort out and evaluate the advertising claims of various brands.

Choosing an Installer

Choosing the right installer can determine the ultimate success of your facility. A knowledgeable and experienced installer can help make the right decisions that result in a quality project. Sports construction is a highly specialized field within the construction industry. It is vital that the contractor you choose be familiar with the current marketplace, as well as with the type of surface you intend to install.

How do you find a qualified contractor? One way is to contact the ASBA. As the trade association for sports builders, the ASBA can provide a directory of its members. The Association also conducts an inquiry program, requesting information on your behalf from contractors and suppliers who have the answers to your questions. (The online inquiry form can be found on the Association’s website at

Another way to locate such specialists is by contacting municipal facilities and schools that have recently completed projects. Ask whether or not they would recommend their contractor and, further, ask some specific questions. Was the job completed on time? Did it meet the owner's expectations? Were there any hidden costs? Was the contractor able to solve any problems that arose during construction? If there were any post construction problems, was the builder responsive in taking care of them? How does the floor look? How does it perform? Remember, the experience, skill and reliability of the prospective builder all are important.

Once you have the names of a few builder prospects, consider the following:

  • How many years has the company been in business? If it is a relatively new company, what is the work experience of its principals? How many projects have they built? Were they responsible for the complete project, just for surfacing, or just for some other aspect? Look for individuals or for a company with specific knowledge and experience in sports surface construction.

  • Does the company have experience in the type of project you contemplate? Look for a company with experience in projects similar in size and scope to yours.

  • Ask for references and for a complete list of recent projects. If a significant project is omitted from the list of references, there may be a reason for that omission. Call references and ask questions. Determine as much as you can about a prospective contractor's knowledge, experience, workmanship, ability to meet schedules, financial responsibility, and accountability. If possible, visit completed projects and talk to owners.

  • Get references from design professionals, subcontractors, bankers and bonding companies.

  • Ask about a contractor's insurance; have there been any major accidents or claims against the builder? Consider using ASBA’s Contractor Qualification Form to secure necessary information.

  • Check the history. Has the company been in financial difficulties in the past or even gone out of business? This can affect the possibility to honor long term warranties.

  • Ask about awards and recognition. Has the contractor won any awards for its work? Have the contractor or any of its employees been certified or accredited by any trade organization?

  • Check on lawsuits. If the contractor has been or is currently involved in litigation, find out the details. Check with your local Better Business Bureau, or with any local licensing agency, for consumer complaints. Many states’ attorney’s offices have literature on selecting contractors, on what questions to ask and on how to avoid scams and problems. Educate yourself with such information.

  • Ask to meet the individuals who will be involved with your project, particularly the job superintendent. Does the contractor/superintendent seem knowledgeable about measurements, materials, construction and marking of synthetic sports floors? Does he perform base preparation? Is he familiar with surfaces? Can he make recommendations regarding specific surfaces for your needs? Is he a member of the American Sports Builders Association? What is his current workload; can he realistically handle your project within a reasonable time frame?

  • Consider communication. You want a contractor who listens to you and responds to your needs. You want someone with whom you feel comfortable, someone with whom you can establish rapport. You want a contractor who will build the facility you want, not one who will build his standard floor and move on. You want a contractor in whom you have confidence. Don't underestimate the value of a good working relationship.

  • Ask for proposals in writing and compare them carefully. Ensure that the bids, including products to be used and methods of construction, are equivalent to your specifications. What is included and what is not included in the contract price? Who contractor or owner is responsible for such items as permits, site preparation, utilities, taxes, insurance? Such items, while essential to the project, may or may not be included in the bid; whether or not they are included can significantly affect the contract price and the overall project cost. Even if construction materials and methods are identical and items included in the contract are consistent, look beyond price when comparing proposals. Compare proposed construction schedules, progress payments, and guarantees and warranties.

  • Be sure that you understand what is included in any guarantee or warranty materials, workmanship or both and for how long. Is the warranty or guarantee backed by a bonding company, or if not, does the contractor have the financial ability and the reputation for backing up his work? Remember that a warranty is not a substitute for a quality installation by a reputable builder.

  • Rank the proposals and then attempt to negotiate a contract with your first choice builder. If the bid of your preferred contractor seems high, question the bidder to determine why. Remember that price is not the only consideration. A project which is initially more expensive but which provides long-term satisfaction and wears well is a good value.

  • Once you have chosen a contractor, confirm your agreement in writing. The contract documents should be as specific as possible and should include, where appropriate, a construction contract, conditions of the contract, drawings and specifications defining the scope of work including labor, materials, equipment and transportation to construct the project.

  • Consider appropriate bonding. You may require a bid bond, a performance bond and/or a payment bond. Also, you should require a certificate of insurance as proof that your chosen contractor has adequate insurance coverage.

  • Can the contractor provide after sales services? Is he knowledgeable and experienced in maintenance and repair issues? Is his local presence sufficient to secure service when necessary? Remember that you will use the product for many years to come.

In short:


  • Reputation of specialty contractor
  • Warranty terms and conditions

If you, the buyer, are to make the right decisions regarding a sports surfacing project, becoming a knowledgeable consumer is the first step. Asking questions is not only smart, it is essential. The investment of time and energy now can yield a huge return in the future, in terms of a quality facility, and in the hours of enjoyment that will be derived from it. The ASBA is committed to providing information to assist you in making informed choices in order to promote the construction of quality facilities.

ASBA members are specialty contractors and suppliers in the field of athletic surfacing. As a trade association, the ASBA provides continuing education and develops industry standards. ASBA member companies can provide consultancy with regard to the above-described considerations in the selection of a multi-purpose indoor athletic surface.

For more information, contact the ASBA at 866.501.ASBA or 512.858.9890 or through its website at

Sources of Information

American Sports Builders Association
8480 Baltimore National Pike, #307
Ellicott City, MD 21043
866.501.ASBA (2722)
Fax: 512.858.9892


American Institute of Architects
1735 New York Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20006 5292
202 626 7300

American Society of Landscape Architects
4401 Connecticut Avenue, NW, 5th Floor
Washington, DC 20008 2369
202 686 2752

The Construction Specification Institute
601 Madison Street
Alexandria, VA 22314 1791
703 684 0300

National Society of Professional Engineers
1420 King Street
Alexandria, VA 22314 2794
703 684 2800


Construction Guidelines
Available through ASBA

Refer to Guidelines for:
IV.A – General Conditions for Construction — Indoor Synthetic Sports and Athletic Flooring
IV.B – Indoor Synthetic Sports and Athletic Flooring — Types of Surfacing
IV.C – Site Preparation for Installation of Resilient Athletic Flooring
IV.D – Maintenance of Indoor Synthetic Sports and Athletic Flooring

Position Papers
Available through ASBA
Refer to Position Papers (for members only):

Court and Field Diagram Guide
Available from National Federation of High School Associations or through ASBA

The NCAA and the NFHS offer sport-specific rulebooks.

Athletic Business Magazine
1846 Hoffman Street
Madison, WI 53704
608 249 0186

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