Answering a common industry concern in terms of choosing between multi-purpose and sports floors.

With more than 50 years’ experience in the local and international flooring industry, Denver Coleman, Chairman of Polyflor SA, answers questions posed by installers, architects and readers. In this issue, he discusses what factors determine the choice between multi-purpose and sports floors.

“What is the difference between multi-purpose and sports floors? Is there any specific material that is more suitable?” Marcus Elsbeth, Paarden Eiland

In South Africa there is generally some confusion between multi-purpose floors and sports floors. The main reason for this is that in many parts of the world, sports floors are often called “multi-purpose” sports floors because they are a suitable surface on which a variety of sports can be played. However, these facilities are usually still dedicated only to sports, and specialist sport-type shoes are required if one is permitted to play on these floors.

In South Africa the tendency is to refer to recreation halls as multi-purpose halls. These facilities are used for a variety of sports as well as for other uses and they therefore require a multi-purpose floor as opposed to a multi-purpose sports floor.

The difference between the two types of flooring is evident in their construction, design and fit-for-purpose specification. By choosing the correct option (depending on exact requirements), one will ensure a floor that not only performs as required but, also lasts for many years to come.

Therefore, knowing what type of use the floor will be subjected to is vitally important to establish at the outset of the project. Sports floors have special characteristics that make them suitable for an array of sports, including indent resistance, shock absorption, ball rebound and light-reflective values, all of which may be important depending on the type of sport being played.

Part of the construction of a sports floor is usually a 6-8mm foam layer, making it unsuitable for use in a multi-purpose facility as regular shoes, high heels, exam desks and chairs will cause point loading and damage the flooring.

Suitable floors for real multi-purpose use can include various types of wood. While not really soft or spongy underfoot, it is still suitable for social sport activities such as basketball and badminton. Similarly, recycled rubber flooring is well suited for sports whilst being tough enough to handle desks, chairs etc. for dances and exams without damage. These can also be sealed with a suitable sealer to aid with maintenance.

Where budgets are tight and a hard-wearing floor is required, a standard vinyl sheet floor will be a suitable option. While it may not be comprised of special sport properties, many sports can be played on this type of floor.

In all cases, entrances should have good entrance matting and dirt barriers to prevent both grit and dust from getting into the building and onto the floor, as it will shorten the life of the flooring, and will be dangerous for those using it for sporting purposes.

In both sports floors and floors for multi-purpose halls, the sub-base and screed should be level, preferably achieved using a self-levelling screed to ensure it will be visually appealing and safe for sportsmen/women.

A SANS 10155 Class A screed of less than 3mm variation in one direction over 3m is the required specification. Below the surface moisture tests must be conducted before installation and if needed, a suitable moisture barrier should be applied as good adhesion is vital for these floor types.

If you have any flooring question relating to design, installation, problems or commentary you wish to share with Denver, please e-mail him at with ASK DENVER in the subject line, or phone Blythe at Polyflor on (011) 609 3500.