More Than Meets the Eye: Indoor Hardwood Sports Surfaces

People around the world marvel at the beauty of a new hardwood sports floor. However, few realize how much knowledge and engineering are required to provide visual beauty, deliver performance and safety for athletes, and give the owner a long-lasting, quality surface.

What type of hardwood and why?

The type of hardwood, its color and grade, proper sanding, painting of game lines, borders, logos, and finishing all contribute to visual beauty. When it comes to a hardwood sports surface, the worldwide preferred species is hard maple. In the U.S., the finest northern hard maple grows north of the 38th parallel, where the longer growing season produces tight-grained, hard white maple boards. Most of the maple flooring for indoor sports surfaces in America comes from mills that are members of the Maple Flooring Manufacturers Association (MFMA), which has established stringent quality assurance requirements. In fact, most NBA, WNBA, ABA, and NCAA teams play on maple floors produced by members of the MFMA. Other softer wood species that can be used include beech, birch, white oak, red oak, and ash.

Of the species mentioned, maple is the hardest wood with the tightest grain structure and lightest appearance. Why are these traits desirable? Maple’s tight grain and light appearance provide a stunning look when sealed, painted, and finished. The lighter characteristics give superb light
reflection and easy game line recognition, and the hard, dense surface is durable and long-lasting. Although building a floor, sanding, and finishing onsite may take more time than prefinished engineered wood flooring or synthetic flooring, the lining, logos, and graphics can be customized to exact specifications.

How are performance and safety established?

There are categories of sports floors that can be described as floating floors, fixed resilient floors, fixed floors, and portable floors. All have a place and purpose for achieving various levels of performance and athlete safety.

There are hundreds, if not thousands, of design options, and your research of reputable sports floors companies is important. Some commonly accepted ways to measure the performance of a sports floor system is to look at standards and test numbers, such as EN 14904, ASTM shock absorption and ball bounce tests, and DIN 18032 Part II – all tested and certified by independent testing laboratories. Other important considerations are FIBA Certification, World Squash Federation Accreditation (WSF), and MFMA Certification.

What’s my expected return on investment?

The life cycle of a sports floor system can vary greatly based on several key factors: (1) the integrity of the construction and materials used; (2) the facility’s commitment to maintaining the building’s environment (humidity, temperature, etc.); (3) the manufacturer’s recommended maintenance procedures. The MFMA ( offers a large library of useful information that can help you better understand hardwood (maple) characteristics and establish proper maintenance. Floor owners should also follow the advice of their installing contractors and the manufacturers of the product selected.

What about sustainability?

Today, it seems like everyone claims to be “green” and good stewards of the environment. If it’s important that you buy environmental friendly and sustainable products, do your homework. Sustainability claims can be confusing. Maple from MFMA mills is a renewable resource that comes from well-managed forests. In fact, the timber stands in the U.S. have more maple trees now than any time since records were kept. That’s an amazing testimony to sustainable forest management when you consider that U.S. mills have been steadily producing maple flooring for over 100 years.

The “carbon footprint” of the company that produces your floor is another important and measurable way to verify a company’s commitment to sustainability. For instance, our criteria, called SCORES (Sustainable Construction Of Renewable Engineered Surfaces), is one method for documenting sustainability initiatives. Other ways to measure and verify sustainability is to compare a company’s claims with the principles described in the World Resource Institute’s Greenhouse Gas Protocol, ISO 14064-1:2006 methodology and GHG Protocol standards.

Why settle for less than exceptional?

Beauty, performance, player well-being, and longevity are all achievable when choosing a sports floor. Do your research and follow the advice of experts who have gained your confidence with straight talk and common sense. The result will be a beautiful and functional hardwood sports floor that will generate praise and compliments from athletes, coaches, fans, facility managers, and your entire community.

About the Author
Tom Abendroth is president of Action Floor Systems, LLC, specializing in high-performance sports floors constructed of hard maple timber grown in northern Wisconsin and Michigan. For more information, visit, call 800.746.3512, email, or write 4781 North U.S. Highway 51, Mercer, WI 54547-9708.