Having a dance floor in your home is probably one of the best things you can do for your dancing. To be able to go into your studio for 20-30 minutes and work something out when the inspiration strikes is a huge luxury, and one that can propel your skill to new levels. I’ve built just about every style of dance floor imaginable – basements, garages, extra rooms, outbuildings — and I hopefully I can give some insight into my budgeting, building, and decision making below.
This is intended to be a guide to help you understand the steps in the process, and is intended to be purely informational / entertaining. Please do your own due diligence into building codes, materials, finishes, and make sure that you consult someone who is familiar with your style of construction in your area. While I’ve renovated many homes over the last 20+ years, I am not a licensed contractor and I cannot (possibly) know everything about building codes and standards in your city, state or country. Every place is different.
Aside from laws you should consider your budget, your climate (you need an appropriate gap at the edges of your floor to accomodate the temperature range of your area), the availability of materials, the ethics of your materials (how are they sourced, etc), the character of your home and your personal preferences, all of which will factor heavily into your decision making.
Budgeting for a floor is tricky business. In construction, they say that 1/3 to 1/4 of the cost of a project is materials, the rest is labor, so a great deal of your budgeting cost will be determined by how much labor you’re willing to take on yourself.
The cheapest floors you can build for your home typically involve pre-finished laminate flooring, “Pergo” being one of the most popular brand names. Pergo is flooring that you can snap together, and put over any surface that’s level. It’s cost (as of 2020) is around $1USD/sqft, and if you’re not in a hurry you can often wait for some to come up either on sale, leftover at an architectural salvage company, or you can even find some materials that were over-purchased by someone else on Craigslist or a similar site. Of course there are many grades of laminate that can cost much more, but $1-2/sqft self installed is a reasonable estimate for the basics. They even have videos on how to install it on YouTube. With a few tools you can be up and dancing on it in a day or two.
In the realm of more industrial finishes, my current favorite floor material is sanded plywood. You can finish large swaths of flooring quickly, and it’s just the right aesthetic balance of industrial and finished. With some minimal subfloor prep, you can install this for around $4-6 per square foot.
If you’re looking for a more finished / permanent type floor, snap-together, staple-down plank flooring made of oak, fir, teak or other woods can run from $6-$20 per square foot (or more for rare woods, but if the wood is too nice, you might not want to dance on it). This kind of flooring is permanent (can last 100 years or more if installed well), and can be sanded down and refinished a number of times over it’s life.
Finishes, trim, mirrors, and other studio equipment can add to the cost of a home dance studio. It’s not cheap, but it’s worth it if you use it, and if you end up moving, you can always market the space to a new owner as a yoga/exercise/meditation area.
You should own the place
On that note… it’s worth saying that you shouldn’t make any permanent changes to a property that you do not own, or do not have explicit permission to make said changes. You could end up being on the hook for the cost to change it back, or even worse.
Taking that one step further, it’s important that you abide by the local building code and laws regarding any construction you do. Every state, every country, every county and every city in the world is going to have some differences in this, so the onus is on you to find out what the deal is for your area. Some considerations:
- In most cases, any change that goes beyond a paintbrush and a screwdriver will need a building permit. If you are the homeowner of record, then that process is often much easier.
- Building codes may vary between what’s legal above and below grade. In other words a basement dance studio might allow laminate flooring only, or might require a different moisture barrier than above ground.
- If your floor sits on top of an existing floor (like portable dance floor squares) then you might not need a permit.
- If you are the homeowner, it’s generally your responsibility to gather the inspections you need to close out the permits.
- If you elicit the help of a contractor, it’s worth it to make sure they have the proper licenses (you can typically look this up online fairly easily). You may also want to do some research about what’s a standard down payment, progress payment, and when final payments would be due. The tale of giving a contractor a down payment and then seeing them disappear with your deposit and then change their phone number is a tale as old as time.
- Be honest about what you feel comfortable with in construction, and get professional assistance if it’s beyond that.
If you take one thing from this blog, let it be this: Use ear and eye protection for every single appropriate thing. Table saws, chop saws, nail guns
Selecting floor style
If you visit any home improvement center like Lowes or Home Depot or even Lumber Liquidators they will often give you samples of the flooring that you can take home and see how they look, and so you can feel the texture up close. If you’re a frequent Balboa dancer, you might want to seek the smoother options. Pictured above is snap-together Pergo, an easy option for installing over concrete, or any flat surface. If your surface is rough, you can mix up something called “self-leveling concrete”, and it will cover all the sins of the floor below.
If you are making a more industrial floor (garage, etc), there are a number of plywood options. I just built a floor (pictured above – in progress) with sanded plywood, and it’s easy to disassemble, needs no finish, and is just to right combo of grippy/slippy.
I installed it over a subfloor I assembled, then put this over the top and secured with tiny finish screws, and it was really great, and since it’s essentially furniture, I could take it to another home, replace worn-out sections, and no permit required.
Oak hardwood is my go-to for stapled flooring. It’s the best intersection of durable and cheap. Things like fir and pine are great but very soft, other woods are very hard, but also very pricey. Oak comes in 2 (really 3) grades. #1 oak is free of knots, and has lots of long piece, #2 is shorter pieces in average, some knots, and some broken tongues, etc. #3 is scrap. You can get this grade for nearly nothing, but it will take a lot of work to make it into a workable floor.
When you buy flooring, buy enough for ~115% of the final finished area. You’ll lose a lot on the edges, cuts, mistakes and scrap pieces.
Flex and frame
Once you’ve established permits, legality, budget, material, etc, it’s time to decide how you’re going to build your floor. You might want some flex and bounce to protect your knees, and extend the hours that you can work on the floor.
For Pergo or other Laminate snap-down flooring, you might be installing on concrete, and your choices for softening the floor are limited to underlayment, which is basically a big roll of squishy foam you put under the floor. Buying the better grade will save your knees.
For custom floors, you can look at suspending your floor between two points (like a deck) and using the wood’s flex to create spring. Obviously this kind of construction is going to be the most likely to deviate from building code, so proceed with caution. You might be able to strike a balance between being in code, and having springiness.
With anything, the more flexible it is, the less structural integrity it has. Safety is always the number one consideration.
A quick Google of “build a gymnastics floor” will yield some great ideas for exceptionally sprung flooring.
Typically underneath your floor, you’ll install structural panels such as plywood or OSB. OSB is made of wood particles pressed together, and plywood is made of layers of wood glued together.
OSB is cheaper, but has more potential to leak dangerous gasses since it is pressed wood and formaldehyde, is less structurally sound, and does not hold screws / nails as well. Mind the warnings on the plywood! They are printed there for a reason. Especially if your space isn’t ventilated well or you are sensitive to these things.
Also worth considering is a moisture barrier. This is basically a big roll of plastic that you put underneath your flooring. It may be required if you are building in a basement.
Finishing the floor is the final step, and the glow it will put on your hard work is unbelievable. Only stapled wood needs to be finished, laminate and sanded plywood are fine as they are.
You will probably rent a sander (perhaps a large surface sander and a small cornering sander), and you’ll want to buy a few grades of sandpaper from fairly gritty down to very fine. This part of the process is rather painstaking, but it’s going to give your floor the final touch it needs. If the grain of the floor is not even, then it will pick up dirt at a microscopic level, so really getting the floor smoothed out will extend the life of the floor.
Finishes should only be applied in temperatures over 50 degrees Fahrenheit, if it’s colder they will not dry. Don’t forget to tape off your furnace vents (and maybe turn your furnace off). With your windows open while finishing the floor, your heat may turn on, and it will spew out dust particles that will forever become a part of your flooring.
I can’t emphasize this enough: if you are finishing the floor yourself, use a property rated respirator and adequate ventilation. Also remember pets are as susceptible to these fumes as you are. Please protect them.
Linseed oil is a more natural finish that people often mix with Tung oil, and sometimes also with drying agents, since it’s very slow to dry. It’s a decent option, and lasts a long time if well applied.
Water based Polyurethane
Water based polyurethanes, like BonaTraffic dry fast, and ultimately are your best bet, in my opinion. Look for low VOC, and as stated above, use a respirator.
Likely when you finish the floor, you’re going to want to do a lot of internet research on your finish and wood in particular. Some products will need multiple light applications to keep the grain from puffing up, some products will require sanding in between coats.
Clean the floor thoroughly, with damp cloths. Remove every particle of dust that you can, since ultimately everything present on the floor will become part of the floor for all time.
For most uses, I don’t recommend any oil-based polyurethanes. Many people you may talk to will say it’s the most beautiful of the floor finishes, and that’s probably true, if you like the glassy look. There are some things to consider though:
- Working with it is caustic. You’re going to lose brain cells no matter how good of a respirator you have. For me this is the biggest reason not to use it. It’s dangerous for people, for pets and you won’t be able to live in your house for a while.
- It takes a long time to cure (like 10-30 days in some cases)
- Oil is always yellow/amber and will darken with time. If you’re doing a finish in grey or white, you must use water based finishes.
- On the positive side, Oil-based finishes are cheap, and getting a good result is easier than with water based.
- It’s softer, meaning it will get divots and marks more easily.
Care and Maintenance
Floors, like anything, need care. Dirt leads to scratches and holes (especially with dancing) and this leads to stickiness and points of friction. I highly recommend “Swiffering” after each session, if you’re dancing on a floor made expressly for that purpose.
Your home studio will need music. One of my favorite’s is the Marley Get Together If you need something portable and smaller, I love this one. Robust bass, easy bluetooth connection, this is a really nice option. You can pop it in a backpack and practice other places as well. Plus it looks great!
Fender’s Passport series is also nice. They are rock solid, portable for gigs and loud.
Hang up your inspirations
The last step in building a home dance studio is to hang up pictures of your dance inspirations and musical muses.
Other ways to use your walls: Chalkboard paint, sticky notes of routines, dry erase boards, and printouts of things you’re working on. Make it a work space!
I hope this was helpful to you! Post your questions below.