Coatings & colour 101

by Tania Wannenburg
Coatings colour feature Jnl 2 15

Identifying some of the most popular floor coatings and how these can benefit the industry, especially when exploring the various types of colour and decorative options.

The successful end result of any flooring application is twofold: firstly, the floor is functional and performs to the needs and expectations of the specifier and in turn those of the client; and secondly, it captivates its users through innovative application techniques that bring to the fore its aesthetic appeal. Neither of the above can be skimped on nor neglected, especially not if the chosen floor application is meant to last for a significant number of years without losing its lustre.

This is why the careful selection of floor coatings along with desired colour palettes plays such a critical role in the planning phase, and why specifiers and interior designers should spend the necessary time on planning beforehand to ensure that the final floor gracefully leaves its mark going forward by incorporating pioneering technologies that set the highest standards for any flooring application.

In addition, decorative coatings have gained significant popularity and have opened a world of new possibilities. They certainly can make their mark with their unique and customised originality, especially in commercial applications where the preconceived idea that these floors are perhaps too pale and outdated is the norm; however, the clever usage of coatings and colour will make these outdated ideas the exception.

Although some floors, such as industrial floors, will be a lot more exposed and suffer greater strain, any commercial floor will undoubtedly have to withstand a lot of exposure too, regardless of the elements, be it heavy foot traffic, office furniture or machinery, etc. Industrial floors also have to meet high occupational safety standards and still look good under demanding circumstances.

Any system’s performance, relative to the environment in which it is installed, depends greatly on the chemistry and flooring type selected for the application. Although there are a myriad of technologies used in the industrial coating industry, epoxy, polyurethane and acrylic will be explored in greater depth in this article.

Epoxy Resins
Epoxy resins are thermosetting products known for excellent surface and sub-surface adhesion, mechanical properties and chemical resistance. In terms of composition, epoxy resin systems are made of an epoxy resin and a curing agent (also called a hardener or catalyst). Many epoxy agents also contain additives such as organic solvents, fillers such as fibreglass or sand, and pigments.

There are two primary epoxy resins: Bisphenol A epoxy resin is a cost-effective, general-purpose resin which is excellent in resisting alkalis and acids and is fair to good at resisting solvents. In turn, Bisphenol F epoxy resin is a low-viscosity material that provides excellent resistance to alkalis and offers improved acid and solvent resistance compared to Bisphenol A.

While there are only a few epoxy resins that are suitable for application, there are hundreds of epoxy curing agents and, as a result, they can be formulated to have a variety of physical properties, making it a challenge to generalise their chemical resistance as a polymer coating. However, epoxies are not resistant to ultraviolet light and will yellow with age. Even though the hardened, finished polymers are almost non-toxic, it is exposure to the uncured resin components that can be harmful. This is why, in a two-component epoxy product, the epoxy resin and the curing agent are packaged separately and must be mixed together just before being used. In a single-component product, the resin and the curing agent are supplied in a pre-mixed form.

Benefits of an epoxy floor coating

As already noted, epoxy floor coatings are hardwearing and durable solutions for both commercial and industrial flooring. Using an epoxy floor coating over concrete floors will create a high-gloss, hardwearing and durable surface. These coatings also offer a number of benefits and advantages from the initial installation stages to the long-term maintenance steps. The following are some of the main advantages associated with choosing an epoxy floor coating for a commercial or industrial building. A new epoxy floor coating will:

•    Create an easy-to-clean, seamless surface: These floors are easily cleaned making them ideal for food, beverage and pharmaceutical preparation and packaging plants.
•    Result in a hardwearing and durable surface.
•    Provide an attractive flooring surface: Several offerings will result in a high-gloss shine and are available in a variety of different colours and styles. Either a solid colour or decorative pattern can be selected to create an attractive and durable solution.
•    Become a chemically resistant surface: Epoxy flooring coatings are a chemically resistant flooring option for manufacturing plants, warehouses and industrial plants.
•    Improve safety: Epoxy floor coating products can improve safety by creating a slip-, impact- and fire-resistant flooring solution. These high-gloss coatings can also improve brightness by up to 300%.
•    Allow for designated traffic and work zones: Different colours can be used simultaneously to define safety zones, forklift traffic zones and other work zones.
•    Increase productivity capabilities: Using epoxy floor coatings in a factory, warehouse or industrial plant can reduce wear on transport vehicles, allow for faster material movement and prevent wear and tear and damage to the floor.
•    Offer an environment-friendly flooring solution: These coatings are environmentally friendly flooring solutions for companies choosing ‘green’ alternatives and building materials.

Other benefits include the fact that they are abrasion-, impact- and pressure-resistant; offer excellent chemical resistance; are light- and water-resistant; provide good crack bridging as they are jointless and durable.

Choosing and applying colour flakes for an epoxy coating

Often referred to as colour flakes, colour chips or epoxy paint chips, these explosions of colour can help to create a beautiful custom floor coating with just a little creativity. These options do tend to cause uncertainty when people realise decisions need to be made about colour, floor coverage, the size of the flakes and how to apply them. However, there are distinct advantages to having them in a floor coating.

Known in the industry as decorative vinyl colour flakes, they are actually polymer paint aggregates comprising a combination of acrylic and vinyl resins. This creates a thin flake that is UV-stable and is available in over 150 custom colours. They can also be custom colour-matched. The shape of the flake is varied and available in several sizes. Colours are blended together to create a particular look and then applied at a coverage rate that is approved by the specifier or interior decorator/designer. Typical coverage rates are light, medium, heavy and full.

When determining colour choices, it is advisable to focus on the base colour. Greys and tans are some of the most common base floor colours, but off-whites and other colours can also be used. When doing a full coverage of a floor, also known as a full refusal (colour flakes are applied until the entire floor is covered and they will not stick any longer), then the base coat of the floor will not be such a prominent concern.

Industry experts advise to opt for the three-colour blend which is the most common and, in their opinion, the easiest to determine a colour palette. However, this does not mean that industry professionals cannot experiment until they find what they are looking for. It is also advisable to pick a dark colour such as black and then a light colour such as white to start off when testing for the ideal colour palette. Thereafter, they suggest selecting a medium colour for the third option, and taking it from there.

Besides the advantages of colour combinations, colour flakes also provide some soundproofing qualities and hide sub-surface imperfections in concrete depending on how the flakes are applied. This means that spider cracks and concrete patch work are less likely to show through the epoxy coating with a heavy application. Lastly, when applied to a floor to full refusal, they will add a subtle degree of thickness to the floor, improving both the durability and impact resistance of the surface.

Polyurethane resins

Polyurethane resins, commonly referred to as urehthanes, are thermosetting or thermosplastic and demonstrate moderate chemical resistance with good resistance to diluted acids and alkalis. These resins offer moderate adhesion but good resistance to shrinkage and flexibility.

Urethanes are a popular high-performance floor coating and have many desirable properties, including fast cure times, high abrasion resistance and toughness, and good chemical resistance. They are also extremely resistant to water exposure, high humidity, temperature extremities and fungus or mildew.

Essentially a plastic in the form of a liquid until it dries, polyurethane is available in both water- and oil-based options, and comes in varieties from satin to glossy. Water-based polyurethane is popular because of its low odour and toxicity. Once applied it is clear without leaving behind the appearance of a slight colour that oil-based versions are known for, while drying much faster at the same time. However, water-based polyurethane won’t hold up well to heat and chemicals.

In turn, oil-based polyurethanes leave an amber glow and are less costly, however the long waiting periods required between applying coats will cause delays, and strong odours will be present.

Both water-based and oil-based polyurethanes offer good protection; the biggest difference is in appearance. If the natural look of maple is sought, a water-based (waterborne) polyurethane should be applied. It appears milky in the can, but goes on clear and remains clear. It will slightly accent the character of wood without giving it the amber tint of an oil-based polyurethane. (However, some woods, like the oak shown, need that amber tint.) Water-based finishes dry fast – most within two hours – and so several coats can be applied in a day and the same space utilised that night. They have minimal odour and can be maintained using water.

However, water-based polyurethanes have their tradeoffs, as they cost twice as much as oil-based polyurethanes and won’t add that rich glow to wood that oil-based polyurethanes impart. They also contain 30 to 35% solids, compared with the 45 to 50% solids in oil-based products.

There’s debate over which finish is harder, but some experts maintain that hardness isn’t necessarily a good attribute for a floor finish. The goal is a finish that will flex along with the floor, and a super-hard finish shows scratches more readily. Furthermore, the protective life of any finish will be significantly increased by eliminating its greatest enemies, namely dirt and grit. This is why a proper maintenance plan and regular cleaning with the correct tools and materials are critical.

Water-based acrylic floor coating

This specific coating is a general-purpose, interior or exterior, 100% acrylic, low-odour, waterborne floor coating. It dries rapidly to the touch, producing an alkali-resistant finish that will withstand heavy wear, abrasion, grease, oils and cleaning equipment. Acrylic resin is a type of plastic often added to adhesives as a binding agent and to lacquer to harden it and add gloss. It is water-soluble and a common ingredient in latex paints.

Several manufacturers produce clear acrylic floor sealers intended for use as sealers for concrete and asphalt surfaces. They work well over painted surfaces due to the strong adhesive properties of acrylic, and dry to a semi-gloss finish. Acrylic sealers are typically tack-free dry in about two hours, and are ready for light traffic or for recoating in 24 hours.

As it is ideal for use as a sealant over concrete and/or painted surfaces, it plays a key role in adding to the final aesthetic appeal of a floor. Painted floors add a visually appealing colour that contribute to the creation of light, a feeling of space, warmth or elegance. So too, coating a floor in a pleasing finish may lift morale. In fact, many are of the opinion that paint and coatings in general are still one the cheapest means of changing how occupants of a certain space will feel about that space.

Acrylic sealers offer several unique advantages: they are single-component, dry quickly, offer abrasion- and slip-resistant properties, simplify water clean-up and are acceptable for use in inspected meat and poultry plants.

An acrylic sealer is also ideal for use over prepared concrete and wood floors, steps, stairwells, aisles, or previously painted floor surfaces in sound condition. During the early stages of drying, the coating is sensitive to rain, dew, high humidity and moisture condensation. If possible, painting schedules should be planned to avoid these influences during the first 16 to 24 hours of curing.

Furthermore, spreading rates are calculated on volume solids and do not include an application loss factor due to surface profile, roughness or porosity of the surface, skill and technique of the applicator, method of application, various surface irregularities, material lost during mixing, spillage, over-thinning, climatic conditions and an excessive film build. It should also be noted that the excess reduction of material can affect film build, appearance and adhesion, and this product is not slip-resistant where moisture, grease or other liquids may be present.

The listed coatings above can play a critical role in transforming the final look and experience of a floor application, how it will function and whether it will exceed the specifier’s expectations. Each floor coating has its own unique range of benefits, with stipulated procedures that need to be followed when it comes to application and maintenance. When these are combined with carefully selected colour options and decorative techniques, it becomes apparent just how important the specification of these products and colour palettes are.  

Acknowledgement and thanks are given to http://www.familyhandyman.com; http://www.bayhydur.com; http://www.vanguardconcretecoating.com; www.epoxyflooringandconcretestain.com; www.allgaragefloors.com; and http://www.familyhandyman.com for the information contained in this article.

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