When I was in school, my only knowledge of wall padding was using it as a cushion to lean against while I sat down between classes to hang out with my friends. Or it was good to bound off of with my foot or crash into when finishing sprints. Basically, it was an accessory.
Now that I’m in the Sports Installer, wall padding means a lot more. Wall padding is the safety net for the basketball player that dives for a ball and comes sliding headfirst into the wall behind the baseline. Wall padding is the safety net for the kid running at full speed that accidentally gets tripped and comes crashing into the wall under the basket. Basically, it is a necessity.
I don’t want to sound too dramatic by calling it life and death but wall padding can be the difference between health and a serious neck or head injury. And with that, it can also be the difference in a school sending a student to a doctor for a minor head injury and the student seeing a personal injury attorney for a major settlement.
Wall pad materials and dimensions:
What are the specifications of a wall pad? The dimensions of a standard-sized wall pad are 2’ wide by 6’ tall. There are slight deviations from that in that you do see some pads that are 7’ tall and there are some that are 4’ wide. However, 99.99999% of wall pads are 2’X6’.
Wall pads are typically made of a plywood backing, with 2″ of foam as the pad and a vinyl covering. In the picture below, you can see the guts of a wall pad. There are some instances, such as attaching a pad to a steel exit door, where you will not go with a wood-backed pad. For instance, with a pad attached to a steel door, the pad will likely be attached via velcro, in which case, the wood will be too heavy so it makes more sense to go without the wood.
How many wall pads will I need?
This is the question, when it comes to wall padding, that I get asked the most. As with many answers, a great deal of it depends on the layout of the walls in your gym and your budget. With this being said, there are some general rules of thumb.
Let’s work through some numbers using the below image.
The above picture is pretty straightforward and easy in that there are not a lot of cutouts or obstacles such as doors or columns. Let’s take a look at this picture to give us some perspective on dimensions in order to determine how many pads you will need.
- A basketball key or lane- A basketball key or lane is 12′ wide. Therefore, if pads are 2′ wide, you will need a six pads to cover just the 12′ of the key. If you were to need pads for both sides of the court, you will need a total of 12 wall pads.
- A 3-point line- The radius of a 3-point line is 19’9″. For arguments sake, we’ll round it up to 20′. Therefore, the distance between the 3-point lines is a total of 40′. So you will need 20 pads per side for a total of 40 for both sides.
- The width of the court- A basketball court is 50′ wide. Therefore, you will need 25 pads per side for a total of 50 pads for the project.
The numbers you need assume that there is a wide-open layout like you see in the above picture. What if you don’t have a wide-open layout? What factors do you need to account for when coming up with padding numbers?
Are there any factors to consider on a straight wall padding?
The straightforward jobs can be pretty easy. “All you really need to do is line the pads up and drill them in, right?” Not always. This can and should be an easy install. However, they are very rarely that simple and easy. You almost always have what’s referred to as a cutout with an insert. A cutout with an insert is as it sounds and it’s usually to account for utility outlets. In this case, it’s usually as simple as the below picture.
With the insert, you have to do the following steps:
- Properly measure its location on the backside of the plywood. This is exactly how you would do an outlet cutout with sheetrock.
- Cut through the wood with a circular saw.
- Carefully cut through the foam with an exacto knife or box cutter. Be careful not to remove too much foam along the sides.
- Using a box cutter with a brand new blade, cut an X on the vinyl. You WANT to have excess vinyl to fold under. DO NOT remove any of the vinyl.
- Punch the insert through the X of the vinyl on the front side. You may have to expand the X you cut in order to fit the insert in.
- Fold the back side of the insert onto the wood and staple it with heavy duty staples.
- You may have to play with the vinyl and insert a little to make sure there are no wrinkles in the vinyl and the finish is clean.
What obstacles will impact your padding order and layout?
Doing a cutout and insert like explained above is relatively easy and something you can confidently do in the field. However, I do not recommend doing custom pads in the field to overcome larger obstacles such as the ones listed below. Vinyl is easy to work with but using it to overcome larger obstacle is too difficult to do in the field. In order to make the padding look clean and not wrinkled, it needs to be made in a factory with sewn edges to make it look clean. Trying to fold and glue onsite will not look good.
You’ve heard the expression, “Measure twice. Cut once.” Well, when it comes to wall padding and custom pads, this expression couldn’t be more true.
Here a few examples of custom pads you would never want to try in the field.
- Doors- No picture but you don’t want to make custom pads around these.
- Fire Extinguishers
Lettering and logos-
As you see in a couple of the LAWRENCE wall padding pictures, having lettering and logos can really make your wall padding visually pop. This doesn’t come without one major factor, the cost. Because these pads will be in a gym with kids, you have to have them screen printed which means each pad will be roughly 3-4 times the cost of a plain pad. You can pay up to $300 a pad. Assuming you have a total of 50 pads like we discussed above, you’re looking at over $15,000 for your wall padding. I know it’s not your money but you do have a budget.
Many schools, wanting to save money, will try and go the route of vinyl lettering. You can go this route but, if you do, you will have to account for the knucklehead factor of kids picking at the vinyl or jumping up with their feet to stop themselves from running. Vinyl decals will have a hard time holding up to this wear and tear.
There are ways to make your gym bling without breaking the bank with screen printed wall pads. i won’t go into too many details in this post as I will save it for another post but I like to recommend using the budget you saved on the padding by not doing the screen printing and put it towards vinyl banners and painting. Just a thought!
- How high off the ground should the wall pads be installed?
- Match the existing installed pads- This is what usually happens. If you change the location of the wall pads, behind the old pads will probably be a different shade than the wall that was exposed. Schools will not want to have to repaint the walls.
- If you’re installing wall padding on virgin walls, you usually install the bottom of the pad 4″ off the wall to accomodate for the 4″ toe strips along the base of the wall.
- Factors to consider
- Ceramic Tile walls- If you’re dealing with a standard concrete block wall, you can install them using concrete screws described below. However, in many schools in the North East, what look like regular concrete block walls are actually ceramic tile walls. The ceramic will destroy drill bits and are almost impossible to attach to. In this case, you will have to use some combo of attaching through the grout lines and using either liquid nails or velcro to assist on the stick.
- How should I attach them?Concrete screws into the 1″ lip of the pad- If your pads have a 1″ lip on the top and bottoms of the pad, this is the most straightforward way to attach them. I recommend using 1 1/4″ TapCon concrete screws.
Wood furring strips are popular with installers. You have easy access to the wall to attach the furring strips and it’s also easy enough to attach the wall pads to the furring strips using decking screws. Keep in mind, you will have to do three sets of furring strips. Although it makes attaching the pads easier, it does end up requiring more screws and more drilling.
What does wall padding cost?
This is the big question. As always, it depends on several factors to include the following:
- Cost of standard pads- Pads vary from $75-$125.
- Fire retardant pads can be as much as screen printed pads.
- Screen printed pads are close to $300 per pad
- Cost of shipping- Pads take up a lot of space and are expensive to ship. I know of a supplier that sells wholesale direct but charges for shipping while most suppliers charge retail with free shipping. The end price is usually a wash.
- Number of custom pads-
- Number of cutouts-
- Installation costs- WIll you have to work with prevailing-wage labor, like in the North East, or are you in an area that has installers that charge per pad?
There is a lot of information in this post and I plan to add to it over time as more projects come in and potential pictures come to the forefront. I hope you enjoyed it and, as always, please feel free to reach out to me should you have any questions. I’m happy to take a look at pictures and give you advice.