Is recycled rubber flooring a green and healthy choice? We're considering it for a basement living space.

Question

Is recycled rubber flooring a green and healthy choice? We're considering it for a basement living space.

Asked by Harvey Buford

Hard to find a good answer. Recycled rubber seems very green. But are there harmful outgassing or just nuisance smells? Do these issues go away with time? Are some manufacturers' products safe and others not? Whose are safe? Who certifies this? Will an air cleaner get rid of the rubber smell? Maybe I am on the wrong track. What flooring materials do you recommend for a basement?

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Answers

Cynthia Phakos's picture

This is a great question as it presents the challenges of evaluating products with recycledcontent.

To briefly address some of your questions:

  • Recycled rubber flooring is very green as it diverts used products from the landfill, and isa durable, renewable material.
  • There can be off-gassing of VOCs which could be harmful if one has sensitivities.These odors will dissipate over time into the atmosphere.
  • Manufacturers' products vary in their environmental and health impacts.
  • FloorScore is a certification program that tests resilient flooring products, like rubber flooring, for Indoor AirQuality.FloorScore certified products work well for a basement with the proper installation

Rubber recycling

Over a billion tires a year are produced world wide annually, with the US scrapping 290 milliontires annually (Wikipedia). As they don't break down over time, recycling them is very worthwhile.

The primary uses for the recycled rubber are road/site work, burning for fuel, and paving/flooringproducts.

The EPA has looked closely into the use of recycled rubber from tires as an exterior pavingmaterial for exterior school recreation areas.

  • In 2010, their findings were that the material didnot present any potential environmental or health concerns.
  • At that time, there were already45,000 sites using the material according toAmericanRecycler.com (February 2010).
  • The EPA is nowinvestigating its application in other areas, which makes your question very timely.

Rubber flooring content

Tires today are made up of polyester cords and steel wires encased ina flexible material made from synthetic and natural rubber along with a small percentage ofchemical compounds.

  • In recycling, the tire is first shredded or chopped into small pieces.
  • Thesteel and polyester fibers are removed, leaving a crumbed, shredded rubber.

Depending on the manufacturer and desired aesthetics, a very high percentage of the flooringcan be made up of this recycled black tire material.

  • Colored rubber granulesis added for color, and so the blacker the end-product the higher thepercentage of recycled content.
  • Greenpeace recommends (here) avoiding rubber flooring which contains chlorine-based ingredients and reports that EPDM is recommended by the Danish EPA.
  • A binder, typically a urethane, is added to the recycled andsynthetic rubber to form the flooring or paving material. In some cases the binder can make up to10% of the material content.

Indoor air quality

Off-gassing is an important consideration in the selection of flooring, especially in a place where thereis little ventilation, as the basement. In evaluating the off-gassing of the finished material, all ofthe components above need to be considered.

FloorScore is a certification system which was developed by the Resilient Floor CoveringInstitute (RFCI) with Scientific Certification Systems (SCS), an organization which certifiesbuilding products for compliance with LEED and other environmental programs.

  • A FloorScorecertified product has been tested for compliance with the volatile organic compound (VOC)emissions criteria of the California Section 01350 standard, the most stringent US standard.
  • The SCS site lists recycled rubber flooring products with FloorScore certification.
  • A product thatI found is Dinoflex's Evolution, a commercial flooring that is either glue down or a click togethertile (a thicker material). I have seen this product at tradeshows and was very impressed with itsappearance as well.

Basement installation

Recycled rubber flooring is a good solution for a basement floor, as it

  • acts as an insulator for thecold concrete floor,
  • is a very good sound absorber, and
  • has a longer life (20 years) than vinylor carpet products.

As there are sometimes water issues with a basement, recycled rubber isporous and so has the ability to dry out. With that said, I would still recommend using a low or 0VOC concrete sealer before installing the rubber flooring.

As you are installing this in the basement you might consider letting the material air outbeforehand, which will minimize any miscellaneous odors.

  • You could request that the installers dothat in the warehouse for 48 to 72 hours prior to installation.
  • But it is more likely to be done if youdo it.

Glue down vs click together tiles

Click together tiles (which look like puzzle pieces) can be installed without any adhesives whichwould make the tile at the end of life 100% recyclable by the manufacturer, closing the recyclingloop, while also avoiding any off-gassing from the adhesive which could potentially be a biggerissue then the odors of the rubber flooring.

  • From my own experience, I have installed a thin sheet recycled rubber flooring, glue down onconcrete slab and the end result had a harder surface than I had expected.
  • If it is a soft floormaterial you desire, for kids to play on, I would recommend selecting the click together tiles.
  • It will be moreexpensive but you could install it yourself without adhesives.

If you do choose a glue down product, a low to 0 VOC adhesive is highly recommended.