How to Construct a Floor from Recycled Billboards!

| January 6, 2008 | 6 Comments

 

finished painted floor

This is how we built our floor from recycled billboards for the 2008 season at Broad Run High School in Ashburn, VA.


We just finished up our annual ritual of prepping and painting our show floor for the season, but this year things were a little different.  We built our floor from recycled (and donated) billboards!  Many billboards are made from exactly the same vinyl material used for color guard floors.  They can be taped together to make a full-sized floor and then painted to complement your theme.

First, let me preface this “how to” with a little warning.  While building your floor from billboards is certainly a cost-effective option (because it’s free!) it is definitely a more “labor-intensive” option than simply purchasing a floor.  So, you’ll have to weigh the costs and benefits.  If you’re working with a non-existent budget then this is definitely the way to go, plus you’ll have the added-benefit of knowing you are recycling!  But, if you’re on the verge of coaching burn-out consider purchasing or at least getting a parent volunteer to lead this task!  It was hard work!

How we got them!

For years I have seen groups pull back their floors to expose various billboard advertisements.  Several years ago I made a few unsuccessful email inquiries to a billboard company or two and then put it out of my mind.  After seeing a short video on the WGI website where a North Carolina director explained that their floor was built from donated billboards every year, I decided to renew my efforts at finding out how to do this myself (especially in light of our very tight budget and an existing floor which is covered with four back-breaking layers of paint!).

Every billboard shows the name of the company who owns the billboard just below the advertisement.  On my drive home from Florida to Virginia after Spinfest I took note of the billboard companies I saw.  When I got home I went on the internet and looked up the one that owned most of the billboards closest to where my school is located.  I sent a simple web inquiry through their website (which I believe I found on the contact page of the site) explaining what I was looking for and asking whether they would consider it.  A few days later I was VERY surprised to receive an email back from someone at their national office stating that he was fine with the donation on their end and that he’d leave the final decision up to the regional manager in my area who he copied on the email.

After 2 disappointing weeks of not hearing anything from the regional manager and figuring I was yet again out of luck, I decided to send one last email just in case.  The next day I got a wonderful email back from the manager at our local warehouse offering the donation.  All we had to do was come pick them up!  She explained that they typically donate the used billboards to construction sites in regions where the soil is very sandy.  I’m not sure how it works but they are reused. She said we could whatever we needed!

A couple weeks later my husband went to pick them up.  He was able to fit 12 billboards into the back of a Chevy Tahoe (our school’s vehicle).  It was pretty “weighed down” and they were stacked to the roof, but it worked!  He said he was shocked at how many used billboards they had at the warehouse.  Apparently, they were shipping tractor-trailer loads away in just a few days!  The billboards were approximately 15′ x 48′ each so we needed 5 of them to build one 68′ x 48′ floor.  We donated the extras to another local school.  It is a good idea to request at least 2 extra billboards if the company is willing because we had a couple that were either very dirty or had holes in them in obvious places which we couldn’t use.  Better to be safe and bring home a couple extra!

Building the Floor

The process of building the floor wasn’t difficult but it was labor-intensive.  It took a crew of about 15 or so people (adults and students) approximately 4 1/2 hours to wash, trim, and tape together our new floor.  Here are the supplies we used:

MATERIALS:

Several pairs of sharp scissors

A chalk line

Lots of Sponges, a couple buckets and some all-purpose  cleaner (like 409 or Fantastic)

400 ft. of Double-sided carpet tape (the flat kind, not the foam.  It’s about 2 inches wide or so)

Maybe 600 ft. of duct tape

(CLICK HERE FOR OUR “To-Do” CHECKLIST FOR THE DAY!)

1st Step: Inspecting and Cleaning the Billboards

The first thing we did was we pulled out the vinyls, chose the cleanest 5, made sure there were no obvious holes that couldn’t be covered and started to scrub!  They were dirty and neither tape nor paint will stick well with loose dirt.  We asked the students to clean the back of each billboard (which is the white side that we will use face-up during performances) and about 1 foot under each edge on the printed side so that the tape would stick well when they are overlapped.

2nd Step: Trimming the Edges

trimmingThe billboards we received had edges that were folded over all the way around, which apparently allows them to be hung.  This is a double thickness of vinyl with some type of glue and we were worried it would be difficult to fold so we decided to trim it off.  We didn’t figure out until part way through the evening that we could use a chalk line to get straight edges…it would have saved a lot of time!  So, using a chalk line, mark a straight edge just inside the folded part of each billboard and trim off the excess with scissors.

3rd Step: Overlap using double-sided tape

To make sure our floor was extra secure we laid 2 strips of 2-inch double-sided tape side by side along the right edge of each billboard (on the white side).  We then carefully slid the adjacent billboard over the tape and adhered.  This took everyone who attended in order to line up the billboards and avoid wrikles as we taped them together.  Then we had people walk along each seam to make sure the tape was fully adhered.

4th Step: Reinforce with Duct Tape

duct tape train tracks

 

Next, we flipped the entire floor over so that the printed sides of the billboards were facing up.  We ran a line of duct tape along each seam.  Then we added 12 inch cross-hatches of duct tape all along the length of each seam to make sure nothing comes loose.

duct tape stripshint: we had student helpers cut the strips of duct tape earlier in the evening while we were trimming the floor.  If you have extra helpers standing around they can get a head-start on this task which saves time when you get to this step.  They just cut the strips and left them hanging from the edge of tables in the cafeteria where we were working!

 

5th Step: Trim the Outside Edges and Finish Cleaning 

Our final step was to trim the outside edges of the floor so that it was a nice rectangle.  Once again, we used the chalk line which saved considerable time and energy!  As a few helpers were working on the edges everyone else finished scrubbing the rest of the floor clean in preparation for the next day’s painting!

Drawing the Design

diagramOur design this year incorporated several overlapping circles (designed by Peter Gomez of Color Guard, USA) so it was a little challenging to draw.  Here were some of the measurements we took to prepare our floor for the design.

1.  We marked center on each edge of the floor.  We simply measured each length with a 100 ft tape measure and divided by two.  We used chalk to make the marks.

2.  Along the front and back edges we marked our “yard” markers…starting at the center, we placed marks at 8-foot intervals to each side.  The last marking ended up being about 2 1/2 feet from either side edge of the floor for our 68′ wide floor.

3.  We marked the center of the entire floor by intersecting 2 lines of rope from the center front to back and the center side to side.

4.  To create circles we used rope and chalk and drew the circles on like a compass with one person holding the rope in the middle of the circle and another holding the rope tight and rotation it all the way around the circumference of the circle drawing with the chalk.

Painting the Floor

Painting was probably the easiest part of our task and the most rewarding as we saw our dingy white billboards transformed into a beautiful stage.  Here are the supplies we used:

 

Painted Floor

 

MATERIALS:

Several angled brushes for the edges of each design (2″ foam brushes worked great for this!)

Paint rollers

Extension handles for the paint rollers (to save our knees and save time!)

Behr Floor and Porch Paint Flat Finish

LOTS and LOTS of drop cloths

A box of Corn Starch

Swiffer dry cloths (and swiffer sweeper poles if available)

First, we purchased approximately 12 gallons of Behr Floor and Porch Paint (Home Depot Brand) in Flat Finish.  I believe we had around 3 gallons leftover plus several partial gallons in defferent colors.  So, if you’re painting only one solid color you may not need to purchase as much as we did.  Underestimate and then go back for more to save money!  We only painted one coat plus touch-ups and it worked just fine.  Our paint costs were approximately $251.76 for the paint itself (not including other supplies).

The most important note I gave the student and parent helpers was to put the paint on VERY thin.  The thinner the layer of paint, the less likely you will have peeling and cracking throughout the season.  Thick layers of paint peel easily with the wear and tear our floors receive in folding after each rehearsal and performance…not to mention dropped equipment!  So thin, thin, thin!

The second thing is to start in the middle of the floor and work your way outward so as to not “paint yourself into a corner.”  We had several students with painted feet after not remembering this helpful tip!

After the first coat was painted and mostly dry we went back over the entire floor looking for thin areas that needed touching up and just touched up those spots rather than painting an entire (and heavy) second coat.

Finally, we left it to dry over winter break (about a week) although we have left floors as little as 36 hours in past years.  We came back in the morning before the first day back to school and in about 45 minutes we sprinkled a light layer of cornstarch over the entire floor (not too much or it will be really slippery!) and rubbed it in with swiffer dry cloths.  The cornstarch helps keep the paint from sticking to itself when the floor is folded to help prevent peeling.

Folding the Floor

In the past we have always folded our floor “accordion-style” because this leaves nice, even, folds that are the same every time (and can be used for staging).  However, since we built the floor in vertical strips this year instead of horizontal strips it wasn’t easy to determine where to make the grabs for the accordion fold (there were no “seams” to grab).  So we found it easier to fold the floor as most groups fold them when they are exiting the arena.  We just folded one end all the way over to reach the other edge and then continued that way (like folding a blanket or sheets).  Then we still fan-folded it onto the cart.  If you’re really partial to the accordion fold you could absolutely construct your floor in horizontal strips – it will just take longer for preparation and piecing together.

Wrapping Things Up!

All in all, this was a wonderful experience and we’re extremely grateful to the billboard company for donating used billboards to us and saving us so much money.  Instead of costing us upwards of $1500.00 – $2000.00 of our budget we were able to create a beautiful floor for less than $500.00.  While it was a lot of work, it was definitely worth it in the end since we were able to save money on the floor which went towards hiring additional staff to bring value to our program.  The one thing I would love to try in the future is to get this job done in the summer before the season starts and while there is more flexibility in the schedule due to the empty school building.  The students were also extremely happy with how the floor turned out commenting that it was MUCH lighter to fold than our old floor with four layers of paint on it!  The job took us approximately 4 1/2 hours to build the floor and draw the design (though it might have been faster if we’d thought of the chalk line earlier…) and around 5 – 6 hours to paint.  Then we left it to dry for a week and spent 45 minutes more cleaning up.

Our only real problem now is that any “color” on our feet, be it socks or shoes, seems to rub off on the floor (we actually found that clean black socks were even leaving black marks on the floor!).  Aside from the option of practicing and performing barefoot (which has always made me somewhat uncomfortable as a teacher) we find ourselves leaving stray marks and constantly cleaning.  We wonder if there might be a way to minimize this.  White socks seem to be okay…but not for performance!  Haha… so if anyone knows of a paint that resists this type of marking we’d be interested to try it!  Until then, Mr. Clean Magic Erasers are our friends!

Hope our experience helps someone out there who’s planning their first floor painting or looking to build a floor on a budget!

JUNE 2008 Update!

 

RoseMolinaryfloortarp

 

 Special Thanks to Rose Molinary, coach at Raceland-Worthington High School, for sharing this photo of her completed floor tarp built from billboards after reading our article!

Sept. 2010 Update!

This photo was shared by Amber Sampson, color guard director for New Washington High School back in Sept. 2009.  She wrote: “this past fall we decided to use a tarp on the field and make our show a lot like an indoor show.  Our program is one that just started competing within the past 5 years and because of our small budget we got a company to donate old billboards to us.  We followed your directions and our tarp turned out amazing…”  Thank you Amber for submitting your picture and we’re so glad the article helped!

floor painted after being bulit from billboards


Related Articles: So You Volunteered for Floor Crew, Now What?!

 

 

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Category: Design, Equipment Management/Logistics, Equipment, Floors & Props, Instruction

About the Author (Author Profile)

Catina Anderson is the founder/editor of the Colorguard Educators blog. Color guard has been part of her life for almost 25 years. She began coaching in 1994 and worked with the Broad Run High School color guard in Northern VA from 1998 until 2010. She has also written for Halftime Magazine and served on the Executive Board of the Atlantic Indoor Association. A former teacher, she enjoys sharing what she has learned and hopes to encourage others to share as well. Together we can create even more positive experiences for performers and help to collectively strengthen marching arts activities worldwide.

Comments (6)

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  1. Heather Hyde says:

    Thank you so much for this post. I come back to it every year to make sure I’m ready to tackle the project of prepping and painting our billboard floor.

  2. Deana Brown says:

    Thank you for this post. I am the instructor of a new Winter Guard group at LaSalle Peru High School. This is my first year as an instructor and the first time that I will lead painting a tarp. A lot of sites recommend diluting the paint with water or a glaze. If you paint thin enough is it essential to dilute the paint? I really appreciate all the great advice in this article!

    • There are many threads on this on the FB group. If you search over there you’re likely to find a lot of experience and advice. Depending on the type of paint I did not always dilute it. Several thin layers is always better than thick and let it dry thoroughly before folding to avoid cracking, peeling and sticking.

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