Rubber comes with a variety of inherent advantages that have made it an extremely popular flooring option for commercial, high-traffic environments. And now that rubber flooring is available in a wide selection of colors, patterns, and textures, this material is also finding its way into residential interior and exterior applications. Tile products, which typically come in 12-inch, 24-inch, and 36-inch squares, are especially friendly for DIYers. However, these advantages are balanced by a series of drawbacks that are important to understand before making a final decision about your flooring.
Advantages of Rubber Tile Flooring
Rubber flooring is a type of resilient flooring, and therein lies its most obvious advantages. Like other resilient materials, namely vinyl and linoleum, rubber flooring provides a durable, easy-to-clean surface that's suitable for hard-wearing environments, such gyms, basements, rec rooms, playrooms, and laundry and utility areas. Here are some other specific advantages of rubber tile flooring:
- Durability: Perhaps the most commonly touted benefit of rubber flooring is the fact that it is strong, tough, and resilient under a variety of conditions. Depending on the type of tile used and the environment it is installed in, a properly cared for rubber floor may last 20 years or more.
- Easy maintenance: Rubber flooring can be very easy to care for. Synthetic rubber flooring is generally more stain-resistant than natural rubber. Some types can be polished with a water-soluble wax to make it more resistant to damage and discoloration, but wax must be stripped and reapplied periodically, creating its own maintenance needs. Cleaning rubber flooring generally requires no more than a damp mop (never wet). If you use a cleaning product, check it out with the manufacturer first, as harsh detergents can damage some flooring.
- Softness: Despite its durability, rubber flooring is soft underfoot. This is one of the primary reasons it's so popular for exercise rooms and playrooms. In general, the thicker the flooring, the softer it will be. Some types of rubber flooring have added cushion from fabric, cork, or foam-rubber backing.
- Water-resistant: Most rubber flooring is highly resistant to damage from moisture on both the top and bottom surfaces of the material. However; if you are installing it below grade, such as in a basement, you may need to include a vapor barrier to prevent moisture from seeping up from underneath. Some rubber floor tiles also come specially treated to make them suitable for wet environments.
- Quiet: The elasticity of rubber flooring makes it very quiet to walk on. Heels don't click and dropped objects don't clang and clatter, as they do on most hard-surface floors.
- Easy installation: Rubber tiles are among the easiest flooring materials to install. Some tile products use interlocking edges, while others use a system of edge pins that hold the tiles together. Tiles are easily cut with a sharp knife. There are also glue-down forms of rubber tiles available, though these are less common for DIYers since they are more complicated to install.
- Insulation value: Rubber flooring adds a measureable R-value improvement to floors. Energy bills are reduced. By comparison, ceramic tile has an R-value of 1.0, while recycled rubber flooring comes in at an R-value of 2.2.
- Recyclable: When it comes time to remove an old rubber floor, the materials are easily recyclable at specialty centers.
- Style options: This can be either an advantage or disadvantage, depending on your decorating goals. For many years, rubber flooring style options largely stopped at polished black or slate gray, but today you can choose from a wide variety of colors and textures, including coin, leaf, and diamond-plate textures. There are also types that mimic wood flooring or tile. Despite advancements, rubber flooring still doesn't offer as many colors and design options as vinyl or linoleum, and the "wood-look" materials are nothing like the real thing.
Disadvantages of Rubber Tile Flooring
It's fair to say that rubber tile flooring represents a niche in the flooring market. This means there are many fewer manufacturers and dealers—and consequently fewer options—than with the major flooring materials. Rubber flooring also has fewer applications in the typical home. As great as it is for activity areas, most rubber flooring doesn't have the right look and feel for living space (at least for most people). Here are some other common drawbacks to consider:
- Cost: Premium rubber flooring can be quite expensive. Tiles suitable for exercise rooms may cost less than $2 per square foot, but the types that are attractive enough for living areas can run up to $12 to $15 per square foot, comparable to some natural stone and other high-end flooring products. On average, you can expect to pay $3 to $8 per square foot for decent rubber flooring.
- Slippage: Smooth, untextured rubber tiles can be slippery when wet. This problem is even worse if the floor has been waxed and polished.
- Staining: While rubber flooring is resistant to most staining agents, there are a few products that can discolor its surface. Strong detergents and abrasive cleaning liquids can be especially harmful to rubber floors. Rubber flooring can be stained by grease and oil—a drawback this should give any serious home chefs pause before using it in their kitchens.
- Odor: Though it eventually goes away, a distinct odor comes with the territory when it comes to rubber flooring, and some homeowners will find it unpleasant. The odor is more pronounced with natural rubber products, less so with synthetic forms of rubber.
- Fire issues: While rubber is fairly resistant to catching fire, synthetic rubber materials, when they do catch fire after being exposed to sufficient heat, may produce toxic gases. To guard against this, choose products that do not contain PVC materials. If the flooring was glued down, the adhesives may be susceptible to fire.
- Seams: Rubber flooring tiles may themselves be water-resistant, but the installed flooring is loaded with seams that can let water through to the subfloor below. This is true for any type of resilient flooring tile—it simply can't be reliably sealed against moisture penetration. Therefore, it's not a great option for very wet areas, such as bathrooms with showers or tubs, or at least the immediate area around the shower or tub. If you want to use rubber flooring in these areas, sheet products would be a better choice.