Across the country, safety surfacing products are gaining in popularity as more people discover that rubber and rubber-like granules not only feel good under the feet and cushion a fall but can also look good, too.
“It’s a neat way of treating broken concrete without ripping the surface out,” says John Schroeter, owner of Ideal Surfacing in Toronto, Ontario, who has been in the rubber safety surfacing business for three years. “A typical project takes a day or two to do and the surface is ready for use in 24 hours. And you don’t need any heavy equipment.”
He says that for his projects, he uses colorful TPV (thermoplastic vulcanized) rubber — “It’s a fabulous product that’s very UV-stable”— as well as a mix of virgin rubber and recycled tires, or just recycled tires, for people looking for a more inexpensive option. “The black rubber is more functional for a driveway or garage,” he says. “It’s a great way to revitalize asphalt or a heavily cracked concrete driveway.”
Schroeter says he learned about rubber safety surfacing when working as a general management consultant. He found the idea of mitigating risk in commercial settings attractive. “I live up North where people have plenty of chances to slip and fall,” he says. “Creating a decorative look that also had functionality intrigued me.”
Besides the obvious uses of rubber surfaces for athletic running tracks, playgrounds and water parks, he says, they work well for all sorts of applications where safety is a concern, such as entrances to
grocery stores and public buildings. Stairs that lead up to a house or down to a subway are also good candidates for rubber toppings.
Schroeter says he’s even done a number of “vanity garages,” one with an inlaid 10-foot-wide Harley-Davidson logo made out of TPV rubber. “These garages are like clubhouses,” he says. “(My clients) can comfortably walk and kneel on the floor, which doesn’t get cold.”
He’s also graced the floor of an elaborate play castle with a cobblestone pattern and “Finding Nemo” characters. Corporate logos, however, are much more common in his line of work.
Other residential uses include pool decks, especially for homes where rambunctious children live, says Rochelle Bagwell, business development manager for American Recycling Center Inc. “Some residential applicators like to use epoxy and stone mix for the garage area and then switch to the same color scheme in rubber for the patio and around the pool,” she says. “And they can make it look the same.”
Recently, there has been an increase of use of rubber in assisted living facilities projects, she adds. Rubber surfaces are suitable for common areas and patios, where stumbles could be cushioned and wheelchairs and walkers could easily glide.
“Safety surfaces are great for the elderly and little people,” Schroeter says.
EPDM vs. TPV
According to Bagwell, decorative concrete contractors already have troweling skills, so safety surfacing is a natural fit with their other flooring options. Of particular interest to those in the decorative concrete industry are two types of synthetic rubber — EPDM (ethylene propylene diene monomer) rubber and TPV. American Recycling Center sells both of these rubber granules in various sizes to an array of companies that make their own surfacing systems.
EPDM has been around for more than 20 years. Within the last 10 years, TPV was developed as an option thanks to advancements in technology. “If you were holding up a handful of each product, you would not see any difference between the two,” Bagwell says. Preference largely depends on the project, the amount of UV stability needed and the color desired. Both EPDM and TPV surfaces can be stamped with the same tools used for concrete.
EPDM and TPV granules are colored rubber polymers ground into specific sizes for the best yields during install, with the standard sizes a mix of 1-3 mm or 1-4 mm. Generally, the granules are available in 18 to 24 standard colors, which can be custom-blended during the install. Some installers, like Schroeter, offer their customers an option to add a percentage of black recycled rubber, also known as crumb rubber, to their mix.
Overall, Bagwell says, American Recycling Center’s testing has found TPV to be more UV-stable than EPDM. The company also found it offers better color consistency throughout each batch and is stronger than most EPDM products because it is pretreated with a polymer during manufacturing.
Over the last few years, lower-quality EPDM products were introduced to the marketplace, she says. They were prematurely aging and, because of that, tarnishing the topping’s reputation. “But not all EPDMs are manufactured alike,” she says. “There are still good quality EPDMs manufactured out there.” The material remains popular among some longtime users.
When TPV was first introduced, it cost more than EPDM but the price has come down over the years. “Both cost about the same now,” Bagwell says, and because of that TPV is gaining ground.