Your Guide To Working With Epoxy Floor Installers for 2020
Updated: Jul 2, 2020
This guide will cover all you need to know about working with epoxy flooring installers. It is good for you to have an idea as to what is involved and what things you may need to take into consideration before starting your project.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
What is Epoxy Flooring?
The Benefits of Epoxy
The Difference Between Coatings, Slurries, & Mortars
Why The Material You Choose Matters
Specialty Epoxy Coatings
Additional Polymers You Should Know About
Why Your Facility's Environment Matters
How to Identify A Moisture Issue
Specifying (Choosing) the Right System
Flooring Systems & Hybrids
Where You Can Use Epoxy
What is Epoxy Flooring?
Before we get into all of the details it might help to review the specific benefits, abilities and advantages epoxy flooring offers industrial and commercial spaces on a whole.
Decorative, hygienic, safe, durable, chemical resistant, abrasion resistant, impact resistant are all terms used to describe epoxy flooring.
But what does this actually mean to you and your facility?
Epoxy flooring is a fluid-applied floor (poured flooring) to create a highly durable and seamless solution to many operations. It is also synonymous with quick curing or fast turn around which translates to less disruption in active facilities.
Epoxies can be applied smooth or with texture creating an anti-slip and bacteria free finish. This is ideal for the food and beverage market, as well as chemical plants and pharmaceutical laboratories.
They offer superior chemical resistance and can be applied at virtually any desired thickness, with the introduction of dry aggregates.
They are often used as a dust-proofer in warehouses and are offered in matte, satin and high gloss finishes to create completely custom and unique aesthetics.
As you can see, epoxy flooring is highly versatile and somewhat complex depending on application and the environment it is being installed in.
It is our job to break this rapidly growing field into simple and easy terms for you to better understand.
The Benefits of Epoxy
Brightens spaces for better moral
Increases slip resistance for a safer work environment
Restores and protects existing concrete slabs to save money
Dust-proof to maximize employee production
Reduces maintenance and creates a clean space
Great ROI when properly installed
Fast-curing products allow for minimal disruption to current operations
Compliant and preferred by many governing bodies: FDA/USDA/EPA
Creates safe workspace and can direct workflow through planned delineation
Epoxy is REALLY Just A Broad & Specific Term
Epoxy is both a broad and specific term that we will break down through the following pages to better educate you on the subject and inform your decision making process.
For the purpose of simplicity we will be referring to epoxy flooring generically as a seamlessly poured impermeable flooring system throughout this guide.
The Difference Between Coatings, Slurries & Mortars
The difference between coatings, slurries, and mortars is thickness. Thickness of an epoxy can be dictated by a few variables. Generally speaking the thicker a finished floor system is, the higher impact resistance it provides, assuming like chemical makeup.
Impact resistance is how well a product will perform when something is dropped on it and this is a major concern of any floor surface.To go further, a thicker application creates a thicker wear surface for the type of traffic endured in the space.
Floor thickness can be manipulated through the introduction of dry aggregates to create mortars and slurries.
Finer aggregates allow for self-leveling and semi-self leveling slurries to be created from an epoxy and are typically applied at 1/16-¼” thickness using squeegees, trowels or cam rakes.
Larger aggregates introduced to epoxy create mortars and are typically applied at ¼-⅜” thickness using a trowel and/or screed.
Aside from thicker applications, epoxies are applied as coatings. Whether that coating is a system primer, intermediate coat or top coat, thickness is expressed in mils. 1 mil equals 1/1000 of an inch. As a point of reference, applying a gallon of epoxy across 100 square feet would net 16 mils.
The above reference assumes the applied coating is 100% solid and will have no loss of thickness through the curing process.
If the applied product is less than 100% solid the remaining percent solid will “burn” off or be lost in the dry film thickness of a fully applied and cured coating.
Why The Material You Choose Matters
Epoxies Come in All Shapes & Sizes
As previously stated epoxy flooring is generally used as a generic way to refer to seamless flooring. Epoxy is used for a number of applications and has a much larger reach than a single product or chemical makeup.
This guide is specifically to help us better understand epoxy flooring and we will go into some of the more commonly used chemical make ups as it pertains to epoxy flooring.
All of the below referenced products are plural component mixtures, typically 2 component, with the exception of urethane cements which include three parts.
As mentioned in the previous section, many of the below products may be thickened with the use of dry aggregates but the thickening agent does not contribute to the curing process.
Beyond assuming the mix ratio of the below products, it should also be noted that we may reference cure, handling and pot life times within each product.
These times are typically assuming 70 degrees and the curing cycle is highly dependent on the ambient and surface temperatures present during installation.
For more on environmental concerns of epoxy coatings jump down to the section “Environment Matters” or refer to the product data sheet of any given product.
100% solids epoxy is a no VOC no filler epoxy that cures the same thickness as it is applied. It is highly chemical, abrasion and stain resistant and is typically used as a body coat or topcoat due its durability.
It also has a fast cure time which allows for quicker turnaround but is not typically used by DIY, due to the fact that the working time is limited (typically no more than 30 minutes).
Solvent based epoxy include the addition of chemical solvents as a carrier to extend product working time of the product. The addition of a solvent is akin to thinning the product down and will be represented, in the product literature or data page, as a percentage.
This percentage of solids will represent the dry film thickness of remaining product after the full cure occurs and the solvent burns off. Solvent based epoxies are also less prone to environmental concerns such as oils and other petroleum based contaminants.
Although the process of “thinning” a product down often denotes a negative characteristic, it may commonly be used as a system primer.
The introduction of solvents will lower the viscosity of an epoxy and, as previously mentioned, slow the curing process creating a great vehicle to drive a prepared and “open” concrete slab to create a good glue line for a system to be built on.
Water based epoxy are similar to solvent based epoxy in the sense that they utilize a carrier to reduce or thin the epoxy product. Water based epoxy do take far longer to cure, as the water used in this chemical makeup must burn off prior to curing (18-24 hours) and it is prone to environmental concerns.
These environmental concerns include, humidity and petroleum contaminants, however they do have obvious advantages.
Water based epoxies have no odor allowing installation in active facilities without the introduction of VOCs or harmful vapors.
They also can handle higher moisture levels in the concrete slab, allowing for installation on green concrete (5-7 days after a slab has been poured).
Specialty Epoxy Coatings
Elastomeric epoxy is a variant of 100% solid epoxy allowing for added elongation of a typical epoxy. This creates more flexural strength and lends itself to waterproofing capability in a variety of environments and can be used to bridge cracks as well as a joint material.
Most commonly this chemistry is specified for mechanical engineering rooms (MER), parking decks and mezzanine slabs. Due to the ability to “stretch” elastomeric epoxy should be applied at a heavier rate to allow for its elongation to occur.
Novolac epoxy is a variant of 100% solid epoxy with a higher cross linking of epoxies creating a superior heat and chemical resistance, specifically where sulphuric acids are concerned. It is commonly used in battery charging stations and where chemicals are introduced.
Vinyl ester is another variant of epoxy and is typically used as a high-performance chemical resistant coating in the petroleum market and where high concentrations of chemical exposure is present.
Based on electrical resistance, there are two types of resinous anti-static floor systems: Conductive and Dissipative.
In both floor systems, the objective is to manage electrostatic discharge for the safety of employees, facilities, and products.
With this in mind manufacturers have created epoxies with an added conductive particle to render the cured flooring system electrically active.
Electrostatic Dissipative (ESD)
Dissipative flooring systems have a greater resistance to electric current flow than conductive flooring. This flooring system is typically used where manufacturing of small electronics are concerned to safely divert small electric charges from important electrical components.
Electrostatic discharge or a static shock or body voltage generation (BVG) is something that most of us have experienced. The shock is created from friction, often from a person's sneakers and then discharged on a metal object such as a door knob.
But this charged shock can affect microchips, small electrical components and destroy printed circuit boards (PCB) when the charge dissipates into them.
With this in mind manufacturers have created epoxies with a conductive particle added to render the cured flooring system electrically active.
Now that the flooring system is electrically active it can be grounded with copper tape that will be installed and tied into a grounding post to allow for electrical current to travel through the flooring system and safely discharge through the newly installed grounding strip.
For more information on installing a ground for these systems: https://www.generalpolymers.com/drop/grounding.pdf.
Electrostatic Conductive (ESC):
Conductive systems have a lower electrical resistance and will allow for static charges to ground quickly and efficiently making them ideal where ignition and accidental discharge are concerned.
Often times an ESC floor system will also be spark-proof for the same concern.
The above mentioned electrical charge can also create a spark which is of major concern where explosives and flammable items may be stored or manufactured.
This makes an ESC flooring systems ideal to be installed in production and storage areas where explosives, munitions, and other flammables may be handled or manufactured.
Additional Polymers You Should Know About
Urethane/Polyurethanes are a separate chemical makeup from epoxy. Urethane coatings are highly chemical, abrasion, and scratch resistant.
They offer a far better life cycle (estimated at 3:1) before needing reapplication when compared to epoxies. However, they must be applied at a thinner rate, typically not greater than 5-6 mils.
Urethane coatings do not bond well to concrete because they have poor adhesion qualities, and thus are not typically used as stand alone products however, they compliment epoxy systems very well. The drawback of most urethanes are the cure cycles of the product, typical cure times for full traffic are 24-48 hour. They do outperform epoxies where abrasion and scratch resistance are concerned, making them an ideal candidate to topcoat any epoxy flooring system.
The above mentioned characteristics lend themselves to resist tire marking from automobile and forklift traffic and overall will better protect an epoxy floor system.
Urethanes are also offered in a multitude of chemical makeups such as water-based, solvent based, and multiple variants.
These variants include similar handling, curing, and performance characteristics noted in the previous section.
It should also be noted that urethanes are UV stable, meaning that they will not amber or degrade when UV rays are introduced to the product.
More on UV stability here Is Epoxy UV Resistant?
Although urethanes are spread at a greater rate than epoxies they also include a greater cost and are not always necessary.
Urethane Cement sometimes called cementitious urethane, urethane concrete or polyurethane concrete, is a combination of a polymer binder (urethane) and fillers (cement and aggregate).
This chemistry has a dramatic range of versatility and is one of the most commonly used flooring systems in the industrial market.
When compared to epoxy, urethane cement has a greater range of expansion and contraction, is self-priming, is moisture tolerant and allows for thermal cycling along with dramatically quicker cure times.
In terms of performance, urethane cements will provide a flooring system with a superior bond, and performance where heat fluctuates and moisture is present.
In terms of installation, it cures in as little as 4 hours and does not require a primer, meaning a full system can be installed in one days time and eliminates the loss of production in an active operation.
Beyond speed and performance, urethane cements are moisture tolerant, meaning that they may be applied to green concrete and where hydrostatic moisture might be present.
You might be asking why epoxy exist if these products perform extremely well in the above described scenarios.
Urethane cement material cost is higher than an epoxy, generally speaking. Moreover, urethane cement systems are more difficult to install due to their fast curing nature, which limits the products working time.
Furthermore, urethane cements are offered in coating, slurry and mortar options but cannot be applied as clear coats due to their chemical makeup. Without a clear version of urethane cement, certain decorative systems are not achievable.
Polyaspartics are a relatively new class of coatings introduced in 1990. These high-solid coatings offer incredibly versatile advantages such as rapid cure times, UV resistant, high chemical resistance and high temperature resistance (typically 300 degrees), with the ability to be installed at low temperatures (35 degrees).
While polyaspartics are costly they allow for overnight and same day installations of multiple layers to be available in as little as 6 hours cure for wheeled traffic.
Methyl Methacrylate flooring or MMA is known for its distinct odor and rapid cure times. MMA's work with a catalyst, instead of a resin, and hardener and have the capability of being installed in sub-zero environments.
Some of the benefits of MMA are its incredible toughness and durability.
These poured floors are the same chemistry as Plexiglas and offer serious chemical resistance, cleanabilty and overall hardness.
They also cure in as little as one hour to full traffic and withstand moisture fairly well.
The downfalls of the MMA chemical makeup are that the material cost is high and the odor during an installation is a cause for concern.
MMA odor is similar to nail polish remover and can taint products. With that said air movers and ventilation systems are a must not only for harmful vapors and odors but the actual curing process.
Why Your Facility's Environment Matters
Substrate Material & Condition
Epoxy flooring can be applied to many surfaces. Most commonly concrete is the floor surface however, epoxy flooring has the ability to be applied to tile, wood and even VAT.
Checking the integrity of an overlaying material is always important to determine the success of an epoxy being applied to it, and removal of surface contaminants is always necessary.
So, what does this mean? In tact tiles with a good bond to the subfloor must have the glaze removed with a diamond grind and/or shotblast.
The tiles themselves must have adequate bond to the subfloor and should be echo sound tested to ensure no “hollowness” between the subfloor and the grout bed the tile is set into.
When dealing with a wood substrate and other floors that carry any flex to them another set of rules for success must be applied.
The most typical protocol for overlaying a flexible substrate is to remove that flex and apply an elastomeric epoxy to it.
Confused again? Wood floors often allow for some flex in them, in order for a poured flooring system to be applied directly to them the flex of that floor must be removed.
The typical protocol for this is to install two courses of ½” thick marine grade plywood in opposing directions.
The plywood should be screwed in and glued with a construction adhesive leaving 1/16” gaps between each board. Once installed, the gaps should be scratch coated with an elastomeric.
Now that we’ve covered alternative surfaces that are treated with epoxy flooring, let’s talk about what cannot be coated.
We will cover surface preparation in the next chapter, but it should be said that surface contaminants must be removed from the substrate prior to coating it with an epoxy.
All grease, oils, and any bond breaker must be removed. Often times lubricants and oils penetrate deeper than the surface removed by any later mentioned form of preparation.
However, there are primers for petroleum based contaminants and remediation processes to remove the oil from saturated slabs.
For the sake of this guide, we will not get into the oil removal processes available and suggest contacting a professional. However, degreasing the area by agitating a cleanser and allowing 10-15 minutes for it to further saturate the contaminated area are ideal.
All thin-set products, gypsum based products and glues or adhesives should also be removed as they can be bond breakers for any fluid applied floor system as well.
Temperature Effects: During Install and Once Placed
Ambient temperature and surface temperature affect the installation and cure process of epoxies. Epoxies cure by the cross linking of the hardener and resin molecules.
With raised temperatures the cross linking process is exacerbated and decreases working times and cure times. Within the same chemical process, a cold slab or environment will slow the curing process.
Beyond the above rule for curing cycles of epoxy, they will need to be installed within a 50 degree to 90 degree range.
Below 40 degrees will require one of the previously mentioned chemistry for installing a seamless floor or a special formulation and above 90 degrees will result in bond and installation issues.
Once a floor system is installed the typical heat introduced to the finished floor system must be within the guidelines of the product.
Temperatures above 160 degrees should not be introduced to epoxies as it will cause them to breakdown. As previously outlined, products are available for higher temperature environments, such as kitchens, food and beverage operations and other industries.
How to Identify A Moisture Issue
Before you call a professional to perform any testing some simple questions may help alleviate the time and possible cost of the testing itself.
For starters, checking for effervescent and dampness, specifically after a heavy rainfall, on adjacent walls and floor surfaces may direct us to look further into a moisture concern.
If the concrete is within 28 days of being placed, it is considered “green” and is still within the dehydration cycle and holding moisture.
Furthermore if the floor is constructed on or below grade, asking for building plans to review the use of a vapor barrier will help move the process along.
If you have either of the above concerns, the next step is to use the plastic sheet method for moisture testing.
Simply tape an 18"x18” of 4 mil plastic to the slab for 16 or more hours. Once 16 hours has passed, remove the plastic and see if the concrete is damp and if any moisture has wicked into the plastic.
Although the above test is not enough to give an actual moisture reading it will offer some deductive reasoning to contact a professional.
Professionals may use a calcium chloride test or probe test to give an exact calculation and specify the correct epoxy floor system based on those results.
Even with the presence of damp concrete and 98% relative humidity, there are products available that come with assurance of manufacturer warranties. This includes urethane concretes, water-based epoxies, and other specialty products.
How to Resolve The Moisture Issue
Earlier we referred to epoxy as impermeable, which does need some unraveling. One of the benefits of epoxy flooring systems is the ability to not allow fluid to pass through it making it a great option for water-proofing and maintaining a sanitary floor.
With this said, there are specific products that do allow moisture vapor to transmit through them commonly referred to as MVT.
Initially this may sound contradictory, but often times sub-slab moisture may be present. The moisture beneath a slab may be present due to the lack of a vapor barrier or below grade construction.
The sub-slab moisture is then forced through the capillaries of the concrete creating hyrdostatic pressure and ultimately will present issues with most typical solvent based epoxies in the form of bond and staining to a newly installed floor.
As you may have heard, epoxy flooring is only as good as the preparation. Surface preparation is considered the most important aspect to ensuring a long term floor.
As a general rule of thumb the previously mentioned system thickness will pair with the depth of surface preparation.
To expand on this the ICRI, International Concrete Repair Institute has developed industry standards referred to as CSP or Concrete Surface Profiles
ICRI have divided these profiles into ten classifications that will represent the average difference from the peaks of the surface to the valleys.
The lower the number the smoother and the higher the number the more “tooth” or roughness. Essentially the deeper the profile the greater a surface for the material to grab too.
With this understanding we can go deeper into each specific form of surface prep.
How To Get Your Epoxy Floor To Last Long
Correct product specification
Diamond grinding is a highly effective and proficient way to prepare concrete for epoxy coatings.
The easiest way to illustrate the process is to compare it to sanding a hardwood floor. Due to the differences in hardness of wood to concrete the sandpaper is replaced with diamond abrasives impregnated into metal or resin bond tooling.
This tooling is then attached to equipment that will scratch the surface and ultimately remove the top layer of concrete and leave a scratch pattern or profile for epoxy coatings to bond.
Diamond tooling does come in different grits to and allows for deeper or thinner gouges or scratch pattern and different shapes to get high production rates. To go further the bond in which the diamonds are impregnated can vary to match the hardness of the concrete being prepared.
The above mentioned form of prep is important as it will allow a professional the ability to remove existing coatings, mastics, glues as well as prepare a surface.
It also does not create deep gouging in the substrate that would later have to be filled or flattened using epoxy resins and ultimately increase the cost of a finished floor. (CSP 1-3)
Bush Hammer is another form of prep that utilizes the concrete grinding equipment previously mentioned with an attachment to create a deeper profile.
The attachment, as you might of guessed is called a bush hammer and is multiple carbide teeth on a cylinder that rotates and aggressively pulverizes the slab.
Although this form of prep creates a deep profile it does not cause any micro fracturing of the slab and creates very minimal dust. (CSP 4-5)
Shot Blasting is the next most typical form of concrete surface preparation and is essentially a machine throwing steel beads at the concrete at a rapid rate to create a deeper profile. It is similar to sandblasting but the steel bead allows for more surface to create deeper impressions on the slab.
Depending on the size of shot, force of the machine and speed at which it is operated a floor surface can be prepared anywhere from a CSP 3 (commonly referred to as a “brush blast”) to a CSP 8.
This form of prep is best used for epoxy flooring systems being applied at ⅛” or greater. If the floor system is being applied any less than ⅛” total thickness the profile from surface preparation will show through the finished floor and is commonly referred to as “ghosting”.
Scarifying is another form of surface prep reserved for thicker flooring systems. This is a process where carbide teeth mill the concrete slab and leave a rough and depressed texture.
These carbide teeth can be replaced with other cutting tools to plane a slab to similar heights and are often used to lower high spots in slabs. Typically this form prep is reserved for uneven slabs with deep pitting or to lower existing high spots in the floor. (CSP 4-9)
For an even more in-depth look at surface preparation and additional options for preparing surfaces check out High Performance’s Blog post here: Overview of Surface Preparation Methods
Specifying (Choosing) The Right System
Bringing Our Education Into Practice
Now that we have covered, available flooring options, preparation and installation practices for long lasting floor solutions, benefits and limitations of epoxy flooring, let's apply that education to our actual place of work and how a professional epoxy installation company will assist in the entire process.
Make a Checklist to Better Narrow Down Our Result
Does the surface preparation match the suggested system?
Does the proposed material match the traffic seen and chemicals introduced?
Is moisture present?
Does the area receive drastic temperature changes?
What is the time allotted for the installation process?
Will the space have adequate installation conditions, such as, install temperatures matching the proposed material?
What are the current substrate conditions and how will they be addressed, joints, cracks, and elevation changes?
Assessing Your Current Flooring System
During an initial site visit a professional will need to gather as much information as possible to prescribe your space with the best floor system. We all know best is a funny word due to the fact that everyone has their “own” version of it. With this in mind we will better define the perimeters you should be looking for.
Specification, Budget, Time Allotted for Our Installation and the Realities of Merging All of Our Conditions
Specification is often overlooked by customers, assuming that a professional has your best interest in mind unfortunately may not always be true.
Having the knowledge to understand the complexity epoxy flooring includes along with your facility's needs and the time allotted will dictate the available products to build a system specification.
It is then the job of a professional to discuss the project's timeline within the specifications preparation guidelines, cure times of the specified products and the performance expectations.
It is common to have alternative options within the outlined perimeters with different price points and limitations to the products performance based on each option.
Flooring Systems & Hybrids
Using multiple layers of any of the above mentioned products is what is commonly referred to as a system. Systems can be built with different chemical make-ups such as an epoxy primer and a urethane topcoat to create a thicker build floor with a scratch resistant topcoat and are commonly referred to as hybrid systems.
Pairing different products available allows an installer the ability to meet a specific need, budget and timeline. Beyond the functional use of these flooring products we can create limitless designs and aesthetics with the introduction of aggregates and pigments.
Where You Can Use Epoxy Flooring
Food and Beverage: Read More Here
Parking Decks and Auto Repair Shops
Warehouse and Distribution Centers: Read More Here
Commercial Storefronts and Showrooms
Mechanical Engineering Rooms
Bathrooms and Lockers
Kitchens and Dining Areas
For example, colored quartz or vinyl chips can be placed into clear epoxy resins and will be encased in the cured product.
Once cured, the now decorative and functional floor can be top-coated with one or multiple topcoats and aluminum oxide can be added for additional slip resistance to any topcoat.
Epoxy flooring is a versatile and durable system with options for virtually all environments and industries. System design and specification can allow for different aesthetics, life cycles and budget and allow for long lasting solutions where flooring is concerned.
Glossary of Terms
(As It Pertains to our Epoxy Flooring Guide)
Floor system/epoxy flooring system: multiple layers of (epoxy) or other resinous flooring materials make up a system. As opposed to a single coat of epoxy, a system is typically specified to meet a space, budget, and life cycle needs.
Cure time: the time needed for the chemical reaction to fully occur. As opposed to dry time a cure time is once the material reaches its final state.
Specified/specification: The process of applying available product options to meet the space and clients needs.
Data page: A datasheet, data-sheet, or spec sheet is a document that summarizes the performance and other characteristics of a product. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Datasheet
Substrate: the underlying layer
Ambient Temperature: the temperature of air surrounding a component (the substrate)