A house’s foundation slab is often hidden beneath other materials—even in the garage. It doesn’t have to stay that way: recent innovations may change your mind and prompt you to show off that concrete surface once and for all. With new floor-covering products as well as new professional application methods, you can now bring out the inherent beauty of your garage floor (and those inside your house as well) with more benefits—and far fewer inconveniences—than in the past.
Pure resins: solid stuff!
To show off concrete in its best light, companies specializing in garage floor coverings now offer consumers products previously used for industrial applications: pure resins that create a floor finish that’s esthetically pleasing as well as waterproof. Some of them have other surprising properties, as well…
You can order these products from some retailers and applicators and save a few hundred dollars on installation. A word of warning, however: if you plan to do the entire job yourself, you will need to clean the concrete surface using an acid solution, which is not a simple job. And if you don’t hire a specialist applicator, your product warranty will be valid for one year only.
Thermosetting resins have many advantages:
- They are very tough. If applied following best practices, a resin floor coating can last a good 30 years—and the warranty coverage may be valid for up to 20 years.
- They are highly adherent: the finish will not flake.
- They are very dense and don’t allow dirt to penetrate, which makes cleaning a breeze.
- They tolerate the high temperature of hot tires and are very resistant to abrasion (wear), salt, and chemicals like oil, gasoline and antifreeze.
- After curing, they are 100% solid, containing no solvents—so they don’t give off any harmful fumes the way VOCs (volatile organic compounds) do.
What about plain old paint?
If you’re looking for a more economical—but less permanent—solution than a pure resin coating to finish a concrete garage floor, conventional paint is an option. Hardware and big-box stores sell concrete floor paint that is easier to apply than “100% solid” products: the paint takes longer to dry than a resin does to cure. Most of these paints are a blend of epoxy or polyurethane with a water base, containing about 50% solids.
These water-based paints are low in VOCs and are considered “green” products. Their shortcoming, however, is that once the solvent evaporates, the solids that remain form a less consistent, less resistant coating than that achieved with industrial products.
Epoxy vs. polyaspartic coatings
The two main types of resin coating available for garage floor covering are epoxy, which has been used for about 60 years, and polyaspartic, which came onto the market in 2006.
Polyaspartic coatings (the term polycarbamide is sometimes used as well) consist of a resin and a hardener. They belong to the polyurea family.
The main differences between the two families of products are as follows:
- Curing time – Polyaspartic resin cures extremely fast compared with epoxy.
- While the shorter application time means a greater risk of error, the advantage is that once the product has been applied, you can move everything back into the garage, including your car, the next day. When applying an epoxy coating, on the other hand, you’ll have to do without your garage for three to five days.
- Price – Epoxy costs less than polyaspartic.
- Application temperatures – Whereas some epoxy systems need to be applied when the temperature is at least 10°C, some polyaspartic coatings can be applied at below-freezing temperatures—down to -7°C. So the job can be done in any season.
- Resistance to certain products (e.g., battery acid) – Although it is highly stain- and chemical-resistant, polyaspartic does not handle battery acid as well as epoxy does. For a garage that doubles as a repair shop, epoxy is therefore the better solution.
- UV resistance – Unlike epoxy, a polyaspartic coating will not yellow. This makes it ideal for use outside as well as inside—for covering a balcony, for example.
- Flexibility – Polyaspartic wins out over epoxy in this department as well: it is particularly suitable for cracked concrete surfaces, because the finish can handle some slight movement.
- Non-slip properties – Epoxy results in a less slippery surface than polyurea coatings. To make a polyaspartic surface less slippery, vinyl flakes or other anti-slip particles can be added to the coating.
- Whichever product is chosen, the professional applicator must do a certain amount of prep work:
- Subject the concrete slab to a moisture test to determine whether the coating can be applied.
- If the concrete passes the test, the applicator will clean the floor with degreaser.
- The entire surface will then be diamond-ground to ensure the coating will adhere properly.
- The applicator will then dust and clean the slab in preparation for the next steps.
At this point, application methods vary. Read on to learn how a polyaspartic coating is applied (for epoxy application, see this other Tips & Tricks instalment about coating an interior slab).
Polyaspartic coating: how-to
Ideally, two experienced applicators are needed to complete the job in the allotted time (the coating will cure in less than 30 minutes).
- If the slab is very porous and damaged, an epoxy primer may need to be applied. If not, the applicators proceed directly to installation of the polyaspartic base coat. They apply the high-viscosity coating (which can be any colour the customer likes) using rubber squeegees and smooth it out with rollers. They wear shoes with crampons so as not to damage the coating.
- Next, they spread vinyl flakes over the surface. The flakes are both decorative and practical: they mask imperfections in the slab and produce a non-slip texture.
- After an hour or two of curing, the workers remove excess flakes using a vacuum/blower.To complete the job, they apply a clear polyaspartic finishing coat, sealing in the vinyl flakes and creating a non-slip, washable surface. Customers who don’t want vinyl flakes can opt for a transparent-finish aluminum powder to achieve the same non-slip properties.
After just a few hours, the garage is ready to be used again—for a long time to come!