Follow the Rubber Brick Road

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Look at “beauty shots” of high-end barns and you are sure to see aisles and walkways paved with rubber. Rubber tiles and interlocking pavers are not only for the most exclusive farms, however. With some planning and research, you can improve your barn’s safety and appearance with this great material.

Paver Pros and Cons

Interlocking rubber pavers offer several advantages over such older flooring options as cement and mats. Perhaps the most obvious is the safety and comfort that they provide for both horses and humans. The non-slip surface helps protect against accidents, and the cushioning of the rubber is easier on the joints than traditional cement flooring. Dennis Marion of Nevada-based Innovative Equine Systems (www.equinesystems.com) recalls seeing his daughter’s horse slip coming out of the cement wash stall. “He went right down and got hurt, then got hurt again trying to get up. That’s when we started offering interlocking rubber pavers as a safety option,” he recalls. “The pavers are a lot less slippery than either cement or the vulcanized rubber mats that used to be popular. Not only that, but mats need to be cleaned beneath, which is labor intensive. Pavers don’t.” Pavers are also more permeable than rubber mats, so are less likely to harbor mold and mildew.

Dennis continues, “Acoustics are another advantage. Barns are much quieter when the aisles are paved in rubber compared with other flooring materials, especially cement,” he notes. The rubber pavers look attractive, and also help to control dust in the barn.

The biggest drawback is that pavers can be difficult to keep clean. “Pavers are hard to sweep. For cleaning a small space, a power washer is helpful,” Marion notes. “Our larger customers—race tracks and horse parks—use a machine that scrubs the pavers.” Pavers can be cleaned with soapy water and with disinfectants without fear of damaging the rubber. They do not get slippery when wet. Pavers can also be cleaned with a broom, leaf blower, or vacuum, for those who need to conserve water or don’t want to bother with a pressure washer.

Choosing Pavers

Interlocking rubber pavers are available in 5/8”, 7/8”, and 1 ¾” thicknesses. The thicker the paver, the more cushioning it provides, but the more money you spend. (Prices vary, but thick pavers average about $1/square foot more than thinner ones.) Both Dennis Marion and Spencer Proud, president of Abacus Sports Installations Ltd (www.abacussports.com), agree that longevity and durability are comparable for all thicknesses. Marion comments, “Most people end up buying the thickest pavers simply because they don’t know that the others exist,” he says.

So, which paver should you choose for your barn? “I always ask the customer how long their aisle is, “ says Marion. “If the aisle is 50 feet or longer, I recommend going with a thinner paver. Because they are installed over a recessed concrete slab base, it’s easier to push water across them when cleaning. The thicker pavers need to be dry set in sand, so they don’t work nearly as well for a barn aisle,” Marion points out. Thicker pavers are also not a good option for a wash stall because the water will seep down between them to the sand and base layer beneath. Eventually, the underlying sand and dirt will squeeze up between the pavers.

Shop Carefully

Rubber pavers are available from a variety of manufacturers, but not all are created equal. Both Innovative Equine Systems and Abacus Sports Installations Ltd use recycled rubber that is shredded or stranded, not ground. The shreds in the paver interlock, providing exceptional strength and durability. How can you tell if the tile is stranded versus reground? Try pushing against the paver. Proud points out, “Many lesser quality pavers will crumble along the edges when you push against the rubber. They will also bend, and sometimes even break. You’d have to be Hercules to bend a stranded rubber paver.” Marion adds, “Shredded product—what is called ‘regrind’—has a different consistency, and offers less nonskid protection than good quality pavers. It’s also less durable—regrind is rubber that has been recycled and broken down twice before it gets formed into a paver.”

If the information is available, check the country of origin. “Two or three companies in the world do really good work,” Marion comments. “Pavers offered by Innovative Equine Systems are made in Malaysia of natural rubber. The base is latex, which is a natural product that comes from the latex tree. Pavers made in Western Europe and the United States tend to be made from recycled tires made of petroleum-based, rather than natural, rubber.”

Longevity

Interlocking rubber pavers are exceptionally durable. “Basically, you are looking at a lifetime of use,” Marion says. “Just like tires, pavers are not affected by temperature or climate extremes.” Proud agrees and also notes that the surface of the pavers is not affected by studs on shoes. Two things that will compromise the longevity of pavers are standing water and standing urine.

Pavers are available in many colors—red, green, gray, and black are common choices—but the color does tend to fade. Marion says, “The color will fade by about 25 percent almost immediately. This is related to the binding agents used in the pavers.” Innovative Equine Systems is introducing custom colors that don’t fade.

Installing Pavers

Rubber pavers can be installed over any type of surface. If using thick pavers, the installation must be dry set. Abacus Sports Installations recommends excavating approximately 12 inches of soil below the required finish level. For permeability, the soil is replaced with approximately 9 inches of compacted crushed rock and 1 inch of damp leveling sand. The pavers are placed on top of this base. This system allows moisture to penetrate between surface joints and to evaporate into the base. However, keep in mind that rubber pavers float. “The more water gets underneath, the greater the chances that the pavers can come up,” Marion advises.

The most permanent results are achieved when thin pavers are placed atop sealed concrete. If installing pavers on an existing aisle, the pavers can be secured with adhesive on top of the surface. If the barn is being built, the area to be paved can be recessed so that the installed pavers are flush with the curb.

Innovative Equine Systems uses a two-part adhesive for securing the tiles to the concrete. One part is a catalyst that triggers hardening. “Once the two parts are mixed, there’s a 45-minute window of opportunity to lay the pavers,” Marion cautions. “So you need to go into the installation with a firm plan in mind so you can move along once the adhesive is mixed together. The biggest problem I encounter is people not mixing the two parts of the adhesive together correctly, so they don’t get a good result.” Marion recommends hiring an experienced tiler, mason, or contractor to manage the installation.

With careful selection and proper installation, interlocking rubber pavers are a flooring option that adds long-lasting comfort, safety, and beauty to your barn.