There are a number of questions specifiers should ask before selecting a flooring product for spaces subject to high foot traffic, particularly on the points of slip-resistance, longevity and maintenance.
As always, the specification process should include a cost analysis of different flooring options but it has also evolved of late to consider the environmental impact of the flooring materials in question.
One option, particularly for use in hospitals, sporting halls and transport hubs, is rubber flooring, which has a good performance track record but has, in the past, received scrutiny about its sustainability credentials, initial capital cost and aesthetic variety.
Thankfully manufacturers of rubber flooring are innovating and developing products that match or better the performance of other popular options such as vinyl, linoleum and carpet.
Here are a few questions to consider before specifying:
AM I GOING TO SLIP?
Providing durability, flexibility, safety and slip resistance Neoflex rubber flooring from Rephouse Australia is a great solution for indoor and outdoor commercial flooring applications.
Slips and falls lead to thousands of injuries in Australia every year and, unsurprisingly, flooring surfaces are one of the major associated factors with these incidents. Choosing flooring products in high traffic areas that are slip-resistant is therefore paramount for the designer as it guarantees the safety of users and reduces the likelihood of litigation. Textured rubber flooring is highly slip resistant and most suppliers on the market offer products that exceed the Australian Standards for slip ratings in public buildings for both new (AS 4586) and existing (AS 4663) surfaces.
Know your requirements: HB 198:2014
Australian Standards HB 198:2014 ‘Guide to the specification and testing of slip resistance of pedestrian surfaces’ sets out the parts of the Building Code of Australia (BCA) that require slip ratings in certain circumstances and also outlines guidance as to what the general consensus is for slip ratings in areas of public buildings where the BCA doesn’t apply.
HOW LONG WILL IT LAST?
Considered by some as more important than a product’s slip resistance rating and surface quality is its ability to maintain it. Rubber is an incredibly enduring material and most suppliers offer long warranties on their products. In general, rubber floors with a high amount of synthetic content are more enduring than those with high natural rubber content but they are less environmentally friendly.
Saar Floor Diamant, supplied by Polyflor Australia is a heavy contract, synthetic rubber sheet with an embossed surface finish and a multicoloured chip decoration.
HOW DO I MAINTAIN IT?
Rubber flooring can be very easy to take care of and in some instances doesn’t need to be waxed or sealed. Synthetic flooring is generally more stain resistant than natural rubber while recycled rubber is not as suitable for kitchens, laundry rooms, or garages, as it may be subject to staining from grease, petroleum, fats, and detergents.
“The amount of VOCs emitted from a single waxing of a floor is comparable to the amount of VOCs emitted from the flooring itself over its entire lifetime!” - Dr. Greg Norris of the Harvard School of Public Health.
Rubber flooring is also a very hygienic product as it is dense and can be laid up walls. This reduces joints in the floor where dirt and bacteria can deposit or form and also makes it easy to clean.
A conundrum often faced by specifiers is whether to choose the no-wax synthetic flooring option, which can be cleaned with a simple mop and a mild pH-neutral cleaning product, or to specify the environmentally friendly natural or recycled rubber that could need stripping and rewaxing later in the maintenance cycle.
Artigo’s Granito range (pictured above) for example, which is available in Australia from Nova Products Global and Spectrum flooring, is ideal for most areas as it is manufactured from synthetic rubber and has a non-porous, matte and waterproof surface. It can also be specified with a special surface treatment that protects the surface, improves performance, reduces the need for cleaning and maintenance, and requires no further waxing or polishing. No-wax products are particularly attractive for hospital projects because it enables them to function 24 hours a day without interruption or air contamination by harsh strippers and waxes.
HOW MUCH IS GOING TO COST?
The initial cost of rubber flooring is high compared to vinyl and linoleum however there are studies that show rubber flooring life cycle costs are substantially lower than vinyl, linoleum and carpet. Two separate studies, conducted by The Global Development and Environment Institute in 2003 and American architect Suzanne Barnes in 1999, show that rubber costs less to maintain per year, has a longer lifecycle and will actually cost less than vinyl, linoleum and carpet over a 20 year lifecycle.
IS IT SUSTAINABLE?
The ecological impact of rubber flooring is directly related to the type of rubber that is used as well as the manufacturer’s level of commitment to sustainability from sourcing materials to delivering the product. This commitment is generally, but not always, recognised by third party green product assessors such as EcoSpecifier and Good Environmental Choice Australia, and designers looking to buy green should ask to view a product’s accreditations before specifying.
Synthetic rubber is made from petroleum, a non-renewable resource. However, the processes used to manufacture synthetic rubber can be energy efficient and have a low impact on the environment.
Although synthetic rubber floors are made with a finite resource they are more durable than natural rubber and have a longer life cycle. Their embodied energy is also slightly improved by the fact that they can be recycled at the end of their final use.
Ninety five per cent of Dalsouple products, supplied in Australia by iRubber, can be made in the company’s DalNaturel natural rubber which comprises over 90 per cent natural ingredients, with all the rubber content of the product being natural. Some companies, like Dalsouple, also have product stewardships in place, taking back the rubber they supplied after its natural life for recycling. Photography by Adam Mork.
Manufactured from the sap (latex) found in para rubber trees, natural rubber floors are generally made completely from renewable resources. Rubber trees last until they are about 30 years old before they are chopped down for fuel and then replaced by new trees. Because natural rubber is made from a small number of materials, it is easier for rubber flooring suppliers to prove that the entirety of their product comes from sustainable sources.
According to flooring expert Joseph Lewitin, recycled rubber floors are the most environmentally friendly. They are generally manufactured using rubber found in old car tires and most suppliers can offer products that will not emit vinyl chloride, plasticizers, asbestos, or CFCs and have no PVCs. The process of manufacturing is low cost, and requires less energy than is used in the creation of most other resilient floors however they are not always appropriate for all specifications as they are subject to staining from grease, petroleum, fats, and detergents.