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The rubber revolution: Producers offering more options than ever

by Louis Iannaco

While rubber flooring has been used for decades—usually in commercial applications such as healthcare and education—this segment has been growing recently as producers are making it easier to specify, due in large part to advances in technology. Designers are also finding more uses for rubber as the finished product resembles works of art more than ever before.

Combining practicality with sustainability, the options for rubber flooring continue to increase as industry professionals find it is more than the basic product it used to be. Rubber is moving forward with new uses and applications, including tiles, which have exploded to the forefront of the segment.

Available in a number of patterns, styles and sizes, rubber floor tiles are the most versatile of rubber flooring options, noted Joe Visintin, product manager for Johnsonite. In addition to traditional solid colors, speckles can now be added to the mix and old style marbleization has transformed into swirls and circles. Muted marbleized patterns resemble stone and are available in both plank and tile sizes.

For the environmentally conscious, the addition to rubber of natural waste and materials such as cork and walnut shell dust can help specifiers achieve LEED certification points. The inclusion of natural waste in Johnsonite’s Eco-Naturals collection has made it easier for specifiers to attain LEED certification points for projects “as the product has recycled content of up to 7% each of rapidly renewable and pre-consumer waste stream materials,” Visintin explained.

Patterns and natural additives are not the only recent developments in rubber flooring. “Textures are beginning to make their way to the floor also,” he noted. “Rubber is available in textural bamboo, slate, flagstone and rice paper looks, not to mention overall designs that emulate the look of carpet tiles. These ‘component looks’ allow specifiers to combine them in such a way to create insets or area rugs in the center of a floor design or use them as accents and borders. Throw tiles into the mix that look like metal and you have one of the fastest growing design categories in resilient flooring today.”

Screen Shot 2013-06-03 at 1.20.34 PMAt ECORE, the company’s rubber products have always carried the DNA of durability, energy and sound absorption, noted Art Dodge, president and CEO. They feature fall protection for children on a playground and force and sound reduction associated with its Everlast sports flooring or ECOsurfaces commercial product.

In 2012, ECORE unveiled its state-of-the-art itstru technology. ECO98 and ECOrx were the first in a series of new products utilizing the company’s proprietary, patent-pending lamination capabilities. Itstru technology combines the functional benefits of recycled rubber with an unlimited array of finishes, said Dodge. “ECO98, for example, incorporates a 100% non-woven recycled PET wear layer with a 5mm recycled rubber backing to create a floor which contains 98% (by weight) post-consumer waste.

“One ECOrx offering adds a 12mm recycled rubber backing to a recycled rubber face in an interlocking tile design to create a state-of-the-art, ergonomic tile which can be installed without any adhesive,” he explained. “It is the perfect solution for environments where people are on their feet all day.”

Rubber flooring continues to see ongoing demand in commercial applications, particularly education, retail, healthcare, fitness and multi-family housing markets. In particular, noted Dodge, the healthcare/eldercare market “loves the durability and ease of maintenance found in rubber flooring. Its use in retail is also growing, due primarily to the safety and ergonomic benefits rubber offers coupled with exceptional life-cycle costs.”

According to Melissa Quick, marketing coordinator for Flexco, which has been manufacturing rubber flooring for more than 60 years, the obvious change over the years is the color options and variations offered along with multiple textures. “Flexco rubber flooring naturally meets ASTM 1861 in accordance with resistance to bacteria and fungi. It naturally has sound absorption qualities that the healthcare and education markets love, along with low maintenance.”

Quick further explained rubber floors’ luster actually increases over a period of time due to the buffing process required for maintenance, so layers of wax are not required and the use of excess chemicals is reduced. “We also have a new formulation we can add called Repel, which is an ingredient mixed into the recipe that repels oil and grease and allows the floor to be installed in places where it couldn’t be before, such as oil change centers and food service areas. Some other manufacturers produce a similar product, but it is a topcoat that can wear off.”

According to executives, rubber floors can now be installed just about anywhere. They can be used in virtually any space, noted Quick. “We focus on healthcare, education, retail and hospitality segments. We have floors used in the education segment in hallways and classrooms that reduce noise during class changes. We also have a rubber floor that can be used in the athletic facilities of the school along with one used in entrance areas so the outdoor elements are walked off prior to entry.”

In the healthcare market, she noted, Flexco has a designer who won’t use anything but rubber in hospitals due to the sound absorption and comfort underfoot, especially helpful for personnel who are constantly on their feet. “The noise is controlled so patients are not disturbed by hallway noise. We have floors that can be used in the physical therapy areas and specialty flooring to control static control which is necessary in MRI areas.”

At ECORE, Dodge believes the inherent attributes rubber offers can enhance the entire spectrum of flooring materials. From a recycled rubber underlayment under ceramic tile and hardwood, to a practically unlimited array of recycled rubber alloys laminated to any resilient or carpet wear layer, “ECORE’s itstru technology is well down the road toward making rubber an essential component to any flooring option.”

In addition to debuting its itstru technology in 2012, ECORE also complemented its ECOsurfaces Legacy commercial rubber flooring offerings with its Studio collection of contemporary colors and designs. NeoCon 2013 will feature the launch of the company’s newest member to its ECF family, Forest rx, a product line forged from ECORE’s relationship with Polyflor in the U.K. “Forest rx is a line of homogeneous vinyl sheet laminated to 5mm of engineered recycled rubber underlayment,” said Dodge, “and is designed for healthcare and senior environments where durability, ease of maintenance, safety, ergonomics and acoustics are key.”

ECORE is also a major player in sports surfacing, and the company is currently bringing some of its outdoor technology indoors. When running tests to attain a DIN certificate for sports surfacing, Dodge noted, the key is the protection of the user when he or she falls. “This is known as ‘impact force reduction.’ All our floors are DIN certified by independent laboratories in order to attain this accreditation.”

By bringing this technology indoors, he said, “we’re providing impact force reduction of 17% in both patient rooms and patient bathrooms. If one fall can result in a less severe outcome/injury, then the cost of this flooring is inconsequential. Multiply this by a number of slip and falls in assisted living centers and the potential cost savings and decrease in liability is quantifiable.”

In healthcare, the same comfort of recycled rubber flooring is felt through improved ergo-nomics for active patients, residents and staff. “Statistics show that healthcare professionals will be happier and friendlier with ergonomic support compared to those working on a surface without,” said Dodge. “Recycled rubber has significant sound isolating properties that show themselves whenever an impact sound issue arises. Forest rx offers ECORE’s sound control in environments where peace and quiet are appreciated and expected.”

Forest rx will be available as 6 foot-wide sheet goods and in seven wood grain colors. “When durability, ease of maintenance, safety, ergonomics and acoustics are all of the greatest importance, Forest rx is an ideal solution in healthcare and senior living environments,” said Dodge.

Johnsonite’s latest rubber innovations include Metallurgy, a series of 12 colorways that resemble metal flooring. Featuring rich coppers, shiny brasses and various silvers, the company has formulated an offering previously unavailable, noted Visintin. “Used with hammered texture, they glimmer like real metal. Additionally, Mesto Configurations planks combine with tiles and can be made into different designs like those of ceramic tile. Different sizes and shades of the same colors combine to resemble real stone.”

While rubber flooring producers have no doubt used technology to their advantage, it can still be difficult to convince designers and specifiers that rubber is their best option for certain jobs. “Rubber flooring is a product that will never go away,” noted Quick, “but encouraging designers to look at life cycle cost is sometimes a challenge.

“Once they see the entire picture it is much easier to convince them that rubber tile is the smart choice, she concluded.”