A Guide to Epoxy Concrete Flooring

 

Concrete has become one of the newer trends in flooring, although it’s not really a trend—people have had concrete floors in their homes for years. Generally, however, epoxy resin has only been used on floors found in commercial spaces such as schools, hospitals, labs, manufacturing plants, and other spaces.

 

In homes, it’s typically been used in the garage or a converted sunroom, though many of these spaces simply have concrete flooring that is not coated with epoxy.

 

Today, however, more and more people are using epoxy concrete floor coating to create unique, highly durable floors for the kitchen, bathroom, dining room, living room, and even for the bedroom. There are a number of different reasons why you may want to create this type of flooring in your home. This guide will cover all of the basics of epoxy concrete floor coatings, including the benefits, types of epoxy coating, and how these floors are installed.

 

What Is Epoxy?

Epoxy is a blend of various materials, including plastic, paint, and adhesives, that is classified as a copolymer. Epoxies are created by combining at least two chemical resins. While often used as an adhesive, epoxy is also used in flooring. The compound is applied to the surface of a concrete floor after the cement has set.

a construction worker applying epoxy resin on industrial concrete floor

It can be applied to a new floor, but it can also be applied to an older cement floor as long as there is no major damage to the surface. Once epoxy sets, it becomes a hard, durable surface that is somewhat plastic in nature. Typically, several layers are applied, increasing the durability.

 

It’s very difficult to damage an epoxy concrete floor coating, and even if it does get damaged, it’s often possible to repair the damage by applying a new layer of epoxy.

 

Epoxy has been used as a sealant for concrete floors since the mid-1900s. While it was first used in Switzerland, today, it can be found in commercial, industrial, and residential buildings across the world.

 

Epoxy itself has a wide variety of uses and is used regularly in many industries. Recent forms of epoxy for concrete floors have made the process easier and more affordable for home use, leading to epoxy concrete floors becoming an option for many homeowners.

 

Benefits of Epoxy Flooring

There are a number of different benefits to having epoxy flooring. First, they look great. These floors have a shiny finish to them, making them more attractive than bare concrete flooring. This polished look gives a more welcoming and professional feel to buildings such as schools and hospitals.

epoxy coated floor in hospital

These floors are also very easy to clean. The epoxy forms a barrier over the concrete that prevents spills from seeping into it.

 

All you need is to mop up spilled liquids and sweep away other messes. Epoxy can even prevent oils, grease, and certain chemicals from damaging the floor, which is why it’s ideal for labs and garages.

 

This creates a safer environment because chemicals cannot seep into the floor and remain there, slowly being released back into the air. This is why regulatory groups such as the FDA and the USDA require epoxy flooring in their food processing facilities.

 

As mentioned earlier, epoxy coatings for concrete floors create a very durable layer over the cement. This is especially true if several layers are applied. They will withstand a high amount of traffic and will even protect the concrete from vehicles such as forklifts.

 

Finally, epoxy flooring is also very affordable. It’s one of the most budget-friendly options for high-traffic areas. The more pure epoxy you use in the coating, the higher the cost. However, the main cost will come from the installation.

 

The base must be prepared, then the layering has to be done in a very precise process to ensure that the flooring is level and that there are no bubbles. For this reason, it’s typically best to have a professional handle the preparation and installation. It may seem easy to pour epoxy, but it’s also quite permanent—if you make a mistake, you cannot easily fix it.

 

Epoxy Flooring Vs Concrete Polishing

If you’re not aware of the differences, it can be easy to mistake epoxy-coated concrete for concrete flooring that has been polished. Both have a shiny look to them, but polished concrete has no protective layer of epoxy on it. Instead, it was simply polished to look shiny. This means it has none of the protections or other benefits that come with epoxy coating.

 

You can seal a polished concrete floor, but if it’s done with a non-epoxy sealant, it won’t be as durable. Polished concrete floors need to be regularly cleaned, polished, and repaired to keep them in good condition. Overall, while it may seem faster and cheaper to polish concrete instead of coating it with epoxy, it’s more work and maintenance in the long run.

 

Types of Epoxy Flooring

While there are a number of types of epoxy resins that can be used as an epoxy concrete floor covering, typically one of three different options are used. While all three have the same general benefits, each option also has some factors to consider when deciding on the best type of epoxy for you.

 

The first two options are similar in that they use the same base, Bisphenol. Bisphenol A is the most common type of epoxy used for flooring. It’s versatile and creates a solid coating. It is very durable, resistant to chemical spills and abrasions, and adheres to the concrete quickly.

 

Sometimes, various additives are used to help make it easier to work with epoxy because Bisphenol A tends to be very thick on its own. However, some of these additives can make it less resistant to chemical spills, which can be a concern in labs and hospitals.

 

Bisphenol F is similar to the A variety, but it has a lower viscosity. This means it doesn’t need to be diluted as much with additives. It’s a better option for floors that may have chemicals spilled on them. It also crystallizes at lower temperatures, so it can be used in very cold areas.

structural forumla of bisphenol f

Source: Science Direct

Mixtures of Bisphenol A and Bisphenol F can be used to provide the benefits of both with fewer downsides. However, Bisphenol F is more expensive, so costs will be higher whether a mixture or a pure coating is used.

 

Finally, there’s Novalac. This type of epoxy coating is a modified type of Bisphenol F. It is more viscos than Bisphenol F, and overall it is more chemical resistant and heat resistant than either type of Bisphenol epoxy.

 

However, on the downside, it’s also more brittle than either option, which means it needs to have additives mixed in to make it more durable. Because of this, using Novalac as your epoxy is going to raise the cost. It’s the most expensive option.

 

Installing Epoxy Flooring

The first step to having epoxy flooring put in is to prepare the floor. If the floor isn’t in the right condition or prepared for the epoxy coating, it’s not going to look very good when it’s finished, and it may not be strong enough to function as you need it to. There could be trapped bubbles or even cracks in the epoxy that allow chemicals and other liquids to reach the concrete.

 

If you inspect the floor and find fairly significant cracks or other damage, you will need to repair these issues first. Epoxy typically levels itself out without a lot of work on your part, but it cannot repair cracks.

 

If your floor has a number of large cracks, you may actually need to consider another flooring option. When making such repairs, make certain that the cracks are not filled in with any type of latex product. Latex shrinks over the years, which can make the floor sink in.

 

If you have just had the concrete flooring poured, you need to wait for at least 30 days for it to fully cure before epoxy can be added.

 

Checking for Moisture

Once the floor is in good shape, the next step is to check for moisture. If you believe there could be moisture on the floor, even if you cannot see damp spots, you will want to have a moisture test done.

 

If you know the floor regularly has water on it, you will need to have a calcium chloride test done. This test will determine the amount of moisture and indicate if the floor can be coated with epoxy or not.

 

Preparing the Floor

If you know the floor is dry, you will need to clean it next. Remove any stains, especially any areas that appear to have absorbed oil or other chemicals. It’s possible these chemicals will act like a sealant, making it impossible for the epoxy to correctly adhere to that area.

 

Now that the floor is clean, repaired, and has been evaluated for moisture, it’s time to profile it. This involves using either an acid to etch the surface or a grinder. The goal of profiling is to expose pores in the concrete.

 

The epoxy will then fill these pores, helping them bond to the material better. Grinding is typically the best method and is often used by professionals, though acid etching is also acceptable in most cases. Note that after grinding the floors, they will need to be cleaned so that no dust remains.

man with machine to grind concrete floor before applying epoxy coating

Floors that are acid etched will need to be given time to fully dry before the epoxy is applied, so allow at least 24 hours for this.

 

Applying the Epoxy

Now it’s time for the epoxy to be applied. The temperature and the humidity can both affect epoxy, so you do want to make certain you’re within the acceptable range. For temperature, you want it to be at least 55 degrees Fahrenheit but not over 90.

 

The ideal temperature is around 75. For humidity, you don’t want it to be over 85%. If it is, moisture could form on the epoxy and affect how it bonds to the concrete.

 

You may need to delay the application of the epoxy if the temperature or humidity falls outside the acceptable ranges.

 

First, the epoxy is mixed according to the manufacturer’s directions. This includes adding any additives that are necessary to adjust the viscosity or the durability of the final product.

 

This is also where pigments are added to change the color of the final floor. Often, the coloring is mixed separately before being added to the epoxy mix.

 

Epoxy flooring is usually made from an epoxy resin, which is a two-part compound. These two parts are mixed separately before being combined.

 

The first coat is usually a primer or your base coat for tinted flooring. After the epoxy is mixed, it is poured in lines from the back to the front of the space. Once all of the epoxy coating is poured out, the lines of epoxy are rolled out with a specialized needle roller.

needle roller brush used to apply epoxy coating to concrete floor

This is done until all of the epoxy is rolled out and covers the floor. Because epoxy typically sits within about 40 minutes, this has to be done very quickly.

 

Once this first coat is done, a second coat can be added once the first has set. If the epoxy is no longer tacky when touched, it’s ready for a second coat.

 

You can also push your thumb onto the surface. If you see an impression, give the floor more time to set. Make certain to remove any bugs or other debris you see in the epoxy before the second coat.

 

The second coat and any additional coats are done in much the same way. The final top coat can be an epoxy coat that is applied as normal, or it could be polyurethane or other product.

 

These products can be installed over epoxy fairly easily, though there are some cases in which they should not be used, such as if the epoxy layers are very thick.

 

Adding Pigments and Metallic Coloring

 

If you’re simply coating the floor of a garage or other workspace, you may not necessarily care about the visual look of the floor. In this case, you will likely want to go with clear epoxy for concrete floors.

 

This epoxy is see-through, which means the concrete floor will be visible under the layer of epoxy. This is the fastest and cheapest option because all you need to purchase is the epoxy and any necessary additives to get the desired benefits.

 

However, if you want to make the flooring look more attractive, you can mix in colors or look for a metallic epoxy coating. Commercial businesses often opt for metallic epoxy for concrete floors.

 

This type of epoxy adds metallic pigment to it, and it gives the floor a feeling of depth and movement. Of course, you can also add any other type of pigment to epoxy. This gives you the option of having several coating colors to choose from.

 

Is Epoxy Flooring Right for You?

Now that you have an idea of what epoxy flooring is, you can determine if it’s right for you and your residential or commercial space. There are some concrete floorings that won’t accept epoxy or that won’t allow it to adhere very well to the surface.

 

If your concrete flooring has been sealed or if it has been painted, an epoxy coat won’t adhere to it correctly. If you still want to use epoxy on these floors, you will have to have them ground down to remove the sealant or paint first. This, of course, will take time and will increase the cost.

 

However, if you have a standard concrete floor, you can look at all of the different options and determine which is the best epoxy for concrete floors in your space. It’s always best to have these floors installed by experts, of course, due to the fact that chemicals are used and there is little room for error.c With many benefits and flexibility via additives, there’s a lot you can do with epoxy.