By Jeremy Whipple
Rubber flooring has historically been lauded for its durability, ease of maintenance, and life-cycle costing; unfortunately, it has lagged behind carpet and laminate products in terms of design and innovation. The lack of design innovations has caused rubber flooring to be used in "back-of-the-house" applications where durability and maintenance took precedence over aesthetics. Now, however, multiple flooring manufacturers are using new textures, colorways, and the positive environmental impacts from their products to push their products back into the mainstream and, thus, into the showcase areas of commercial installations.
The days of repeating discs, diamonds, and squares as the only options in rubber flooring are no more. Non-repeating patterns utilizing basket weaves, circles, parquets, and linear patterns as seen in carpet tile, broken ceramic motifs, etc., have recently been introduced with tremendous fanfare from the design community. Combine these new textures with colors updated to stay current with color trends and you have a surge of interest in rubber flooring for new applications. For example, school and hospital hallways could use warm color schemes with new textures, or commercial office settings could display deep, rich colors in parquet patterns fit for a boardroom or reception area.
NeoCon® World's Trade Fair 2007 in Chicago saw the culmination of this new trend in rubber flooring with multiple flooring manufacturers incorporating new colors and textures into their current product lines. Multiple patterns within each tile and within a tile group were introduced and have revolutionized how designers see rubber flooring being used in the future. Add in floor finishes that mimic ceramic finishes and surface textures that incorporate new materials like cork, and you have a dynamic change in how rubber flooring will be viewed and used.
Another trend in rubber flooring is its positive impact on LEED projects and the overall contributions of rubber flooring products to the environmental movement. Numerous manufacturers are using recycled rubber in production. This recycled rubber comes from multiple sources such as passenger vehicle tires and commercial truck tires, and from ground gasket and liner trimmings. The ability to use post-consumer recycled material in new products gives rubber manufacturers a leg up when contributions to LEED certification are the deciding factor on what products are used. In addition to recycled rubber, some manufacturers are using natural rubber in their product compounds. Natural rubber taken from rubber trees is a renewable resource and can be integrated in rubber flooring products along with synthetic rubber, thus providing a contribution to projects seeking LEED certification.
Rubber products in flooring - including rubber tiles, sheet goods, stair treads, wall base, and accessories - are on the upswing, and facility managers and designers are focusing on rubber as the new solution to their flooring needs. Join the tremendous number of facility managers, architects, and interior designers checking out this resurgence.
Jeremy Whipple is marketing manager at Fostoria, OH-based Roppe Corp. (www.roppe.com).