Shop and Garage Floor Coverings
Just about all garages and home basements – and the workshops located in them – tend to have concrete floors. Working on a hard floor, especially for long periods of time, can put a strain on your whole body. It can be especially aggravating if you have health issues such as arthritis, foot problems like bunions or plantar fasciitis (jogger’s heel), a herniated disk, or have had hip or knee replacements. And, over time, these floors can become gouged, chipped, cracked and stained.
Many woodworkers cover concrete floors with a layer of plywood, either right over the concrete or atop sleepers. Over time the plywood can delaminate – more often the case with cheap, imported sheeting – because of moisture penetration, excessive voids in the plywood, inferior quality adhesives or improper gluing during the manufacturing process, not to mention from sustained normal use. They can also sag or crack if not properly installed.
Painting concrete or plywood floors is largely a cosmetic remedy. Even enamel paints won’t hold up that long. What you need for a shop or garage floor is something that is comfortable to work on yet can support your shop machinery, is durable, and easy enough to clean. If the shop is in the basement of a house, you’ll probably want a covering that has low VOC (volatile organic compound) emissions. For a shop that does double duty as a garage, you’ll also want the covering to be resilient enough to support the weight of a vehicle, have good resistance to water, salt and oils, and it should not be susceptible to staining from hot tires.
There are a variety of coverings that can be applied over concrete and plywood floors. For concrete floors, epoxy is one of the most popular choices, while for plywood it’s interlocking tiles and rolled sheeting. Epoxy isn’t recommended for plywood floors because it has a tendency to seasonally move and, depending on the installation method, can sag or flex. Also, adhesives or other chemicals used in the plywood can compromise the ability of the epoxy to fully bond to the plywood.
Some of the floor coverings we list below don’t require any specific preparatory work before installing. However, epoxy is the exception. It can’t be installed over a floor that has moisture problems. To find out if your floor transmits moisture, tape a 1 sq. ft. piece of plastic sheeting onto the floor for 24 hours. If you find any moisture on the underside of the plastic you’ll need to apply an epoxy sealer or primer before coating the floor.
Conscientious floor preparation is critical for epoxy to adhere properly, so you need to read and follow the manufacturer’s instructions carefully. No skipping steps here. Usually this involves etching the surface with either an acid wash or mechanical grinding, patching cracks and holes, and cleaning the floor of dirt, dust, grease, oils and other contaminants. Do it right the first time so you only have to do it once.
So, What is Epoxy?
Epoxies are used both as adhesives and coatings. Even though epoxy can be brushed onto a surface, it isn’t all like conventional acrylic or enamel paint. Rather, it’s a thermosetting resin that consists of two components – a resin and a hardener. Just prior to use, these two components are mixed together. Once mixed, the two parts begin to chemically bond together to form a strong, rigid, plastic material that is significantly thicker and much more durable than paint. Epoxy is resistant to abrasion, impacts, chipping, stains, moisture and chemicals. Because it’s thicker than paint it’s much better at covering over minor imperfections on wood and concrete surfaces. Epoxy surfaces are fairly smooth, but under normal use will acquire fine scratches that make it less slippery, especially when wet. However, slip-resistant aggregate can also be added to produce a more non-skid surface. Epoxies also yellow when exposed to UV light (water-based epoxies less so). Some epoxies contain UV blockers, or you can apply a polyurethane topcoat.
Epoxy applied as a single coat is probably the most popular DIY concrete floor coating, in large part because it’s inexpensive and easy to apply. You’ll see these products marketed as water based (the most widely available), solvent based, and cycloaliphatic (a curing agent added to some epoxies to increase viscosity). Their effectiveness is, in large part, a function of the amount of solids in the product. Consumer products, available from big box stores, typically have a solids content of about 50%, and dry out to about 3 mils thick. These are the least durable epoxy options, and best suited for garages and workshops that don’t see a lot of heavy-duty use. Solvent-based coatings provide a thicker film (around 5 mils) but produce more VOCs during application than water-based products.
There are also commercial-grade single-coat epoxies, like Rust-Oleum’s ‘6500 System’ that have a 100% solids content. This means they maintain the same level of thickness when dried as when initially applied; there is no shrinkage in the film thickness. The dry film thickness on these products can be 10 mils or more – a thicker final film surface will be more durable and last longer, which makes them better suited for workshops. You can also add a glossy or satin topcoat of clear epoxy or polyurethane to increase the durability of these single-coat epoxies.
You’ll get superior durability and longevity from a multiple coat system. They give a dry film thickness that can be upwards of 40 mils. The process typically consists of applying an epoxy primer or sealer coat, followed by one or two coats of a 100% solids basecoat, and then one or two topcoats of a clear epoxy or polyurethane. Colour chips and anti-slip aggregate can be added – to the basecoat or the topcoat – depending on the grit size. While they do provide better floor protection, multi-coat epoxies are more involved and time consuming to apply than single-coat epoxies. If you’ve never applied a rolledon coating before, you might want to consider hiring a certified installer.
Polyurethane coatings are a newer floor covering option. They don’t bond as well to concrete as does epoxy, and because they’re solvent based they emit VOCs. However, they do have the benefit of being more flexible, so they can absorb impacts better, are very abrasion resistant and are 100% UV stable. Typically they’re applied in a two-step process – a basecoat followed by a topcoat.
An alternative to polyurethane is polyasparatic. It’s also a two-part coating applied as a primer and a clear coat. It’s VOC-free, 100% UV stable, has an abrasion and scratch resistance similar to polyurethane, is very flexible, and cures very fast. Polyasparatic is usually applied by a contractor, as it has to be applied very quickly, typically by spraying. Unlike epoxy, you’ll be able to use the floor almost as soon as the coating is applied, rather than the three- or four-day wait needed for a multi-coat epoxy to dry.
The snap-together design of these tiles makes them super easy for anyone to install over concrete or plywood flooring. One of the advantages is that if a tile becomes damaged it can simply be popped out and replaced. Unlike epoxy coatings, you don’t have to repair cracks or small holes in the concrete. And, because they come in a wide variety of colours, it’s easy to plan a unique floor design. They’re made of synthetic material (typically PVC or polypropylene).
Both poly and PVC tiles are durable, waterproof, UV resistant, and have good resistance to chemicals, oils, mildew and mold. They’re also easier on the feet and legs than concrete or plywood, especially when standing for long periods of time. The amount of weight they can support ranges from a low of around 250PSI to upwards of 5,000PSI per tile. The tiles are recyclable, depending on the nature of local municipal recycling programs. Some tiles, like PlastiPro’s UltraLock and Swisstrax’s Rubbertrax, are made from 100% recycled content.
Polypropylene tiles are hard, rigid and lightweight. They come in sizes starting at 12″ × 12″, can be from 1/2″ to 3/4″ thick, with either a perforated surface (to allow water flow through) or a smooth or patterned solid surface. They’re a popular choice for garage floors. PVC tiles come in similar sizes but range from about 3/16″ to 3/8″ thick. They’re softer, more pliable, and heavier than poly tiles, which makes them a good choice for use in workshops.
You can also get PVC flooring in rolls. Installation couldn’t be easier. You don’t use glue, so essentially it’s a matter of ‘roll and go’. The flooring comes in thicknesses from about 1/16″ to 1/8″ and in various widths and lengths. The thicker flooring can be had in rolls 9′ wide and 60′ long. The covering is available in a more limited range of colours and patterns. Because PVC is impermeable, it’s important to ensure that your garage or shop floor is free of moisture to prevent the growth of mold. If not, you’ll need to apply an appropriate sealer. Borders and seams are typically secured with double-sided tape, and because it’s not glued down it might shift when heavy loads are moved across its surface. If you’re considering this product for a workshop, opt for the thickest flooring you can afford.
Rubber is a more expensive floor covering than PVC or poly, but it’s more durable and will last a long time because of its high resilience. It’s dimensionally stable, sound absorbent, and static, slip, oil, chemical and water resistant. It’s natural anti-fatigue properties make it easy to stand on for hours on end. It’s also very good at withstanding heavy impacts and scraping, and it can handle heavy machinery being dragged across its surface or dropped onto it. Rubber coverings are available in interlocking tile and roll formats, and both are made from recycled rubber products (typically automotive tires). Tiles come in a range of thicknesses from around 1/4″ up to 1-1/4″, and in sizes from 12″ × 12″ to upwards of 36″ × 36″. Rolled flooring, the kind you see in fitness centers, is typically 1/4″ to 1/2″ thick and available in rolls of about 4′ wide and almost any length. It’s usually glued down.
Anti-Fatigue Floor Mats
If you don’t want or need to cover your shop floor, but still find the floor hard to stand on for long periods of time, consider anti-fatigue floor mats. Standard carpeted floor mats wear out much too quickly, and they don’t provide much in the way of cushioning. Thinner rubber mats – the type with a pattern of holes across the surface, and some interlocking mats – are durable, but not very resilient. A better choice are mats made from synthetic polyurethane resin; these are durable as well as puncture, tear, stain, moisture, and heat resistant, and don’t curl or delaminate. They’re available in a wide variety of sizes. You can place these mats near high-use areas in order to provide comfort while in the shop.