Although it started as a solid black floor covering for weight rooms, fitness centers, gyms and skating rinks, the category known as “recycled rubber” is rapidly growing in popularity for all types of other areas including corporate, retail and educational facilities.
Solid black rubber material is over 90% post-consumer waste from old tires and has been used as flooring for many years for athletic facilities. The next step in the product evolution was to add small amounts of color to the mix, but that mostly black material is still widely used today.
Yet, the category has exploded in recent years with the introduction of even more color, including pre-consumer scrap and new material in various colors.
The category took another step a few years ago when some manufacturers started adding cork to the mix in the form of post-industrial waste left over from the production of cork bottle stoppers.
Today, there are so many different options available recycled rubber has become a true fashion floor covering, after starting as something that was strictly functional.
Recycled rubber is technically known as “bonded rubber crumb floor coverings,” which is what it will be called when the new ASTM standard specification for this category is completed. Starting as the remains of old tires, this post-consumer waste is ground up and cleaned to remove stones, dirt and metal from the used tires. The tire material (SBR rubber) can be made in solid black or mixed with colored chips of EPDM, a synthetic material with qualities very similar to rubber. The ground up material is mixed with a small amount of chemical binder, placed in molds and sometimes heated to solidify the mixture.
The result is blocks of solid material or huge cylinders that are often called logs. This solid material is then is sheared or peeled into the desired thickness.
On the blocks, it’s like slicing cheese, while the cylinders look similar to the process of peeling wood logs to make plywood or other veneer products. Marks from this “peeling” process, called skive or knife marks, are an inherent quality of recycled rubber since the blades of the knives go in a circular motion.
From there, if the material is to be used as sheet rubber the edges are trimmed and the rolls cut to the desired length. If it is to be tile, the rolled material goes to a die cutting facility to be cut.
For finished floor coverings, thickness ranges generally from 1/8- (3.2mm) to 3/8-inches (9mm) and sometimes even thicker. Modular recycled rubber products such as footed tile are used for heavy use areas like weight rooms and for outdoor use in roof decks or playgrounds and are made in molds that look like waffle irons.
This same material is also being used for underlayment in thicknesses up to 1½-inches, which is used to make floors softer under foot or for purposes of sound control. One manufacturer is even using the recycled rubber underlayment as a backing for sheet vinyl, carpet and even synthetic turf.
Installing recycled rubber is not that different from other resilient flooring products. Roll goods and square edge tiles are glued down, most often with a one-part urethane adhesive. There are also interlocking tiles that can be loose laid or glued down and some companies have introduced releasable adhesive options for applications such as raised access flooring.
Substrate testing and preparation is the same as any other resilient floor. Follow ASTM F710 guidelines, which state, “All concrete floors shall be tested for moisture regardless of age or grade level” and if the readings are too high, consult the manufacturer for recommendations about moisture mitigation methods.
Like any flooring product you need to inspect the material before starting the installation. Tiles must be acclimated on the job site and stored flat for at least two days before installing. Rolls should also be acclimated for two days and unrolled and allowed to relax for 24 hours before installing. This will offset any stretching caused by winding the roll at the factory and allow the material to relax and take its normal shape.
Some manufacturers say it’s not necessary to trim the edges of recycled rubber roll goods because it’s done at the factory. However, have a look to be sure the edges are clean and straight and trim if necessary to get it that way.
This is what is called a “wet lay” installation so retailers and contractors need to understand their installers need to take it slow so as not to allow the adhesive to “skin over.” Roll the floor with a 100-pound roller after setting it into adhesive. After the floor has been rolled the mechanic still needs to hand-roll all seams and use blue masking tape to pull the seam together if there are any gaps. Do not use any other tape as it may leave a residue. Once everything is set, the floor should be rolled with the 100-pound roller a second time to be sure the material is in full contact with the adhesive. Keep traffic off the floor for 12 hours and then the tape, if any, can be removed.
Different Maintenance Methods
Maintenance of recycled rubber varies depending on the use and the color. It can be coated with an acrylic floor finish just like other resilient floors, left uncoated or finished with a urethane coating for a semi-permanent finish.
Some products have a coating applied at the factory, so the application of an initial coat after installation is optional. In high traffic areas, another coat is a good idea but in most cases it’s not necessary meaning these products save an additional step after installation.
Floors in sports facilities where spikes or skates will be worn should not be coated at all and in fitness areas with free weights or equipment that will be moved, applying finish is optional since weights dropped on the floor or moving equipment may mar the finish.
Light colors show a lot more soil so floor finish should be used, as it should when the owner wants a more glossy look.
The more I get to learn about the new urethane coatings for resilient flooring the more I like them, especially for recycled rubber. They will last a long time with minimal maintenance other than cleaning. Ultimately, the decision of how to maintain a floor depends on the traffic load and use of the floor, the color and the gloss level the customer desires.
Recycled rubber continues to grow in popularity, and rightfully so. I have worked with this material more and more the past few years and it has become one of my favorite floors because of its use of recycled material, its softness under foot, ease of maintenance and durability, not to mention some beautiful colors that make it a great looking floor covering.
Christopher Capobianco’s family lineage in floor covering goes back four generations on his father’s side and three on his mother’s side. His multifaceted career path has included time as a retailer, architectural sales rep, technical support manager, consultant, instructor, columnist and active volunteer in several organizations. He is now with the New York office of Spartan Surfaces, a distributor of commercial hard surface flooring.