Imagine you’ve had a long day away from home, and you finally pull up to your driveway after navigating Deerfoot Trail at rush hour. You’re ready to get inside and relax, letting all your worries melt away. For most people, that relaxation begins as soon as you enter your garage – because it’s so much more than just a place to store a vehicle. It is a big, warm welcome sign that lets you know you’re back where you belong.
That’s why taking care of the flooring in your garage is so important. After all, your garage floor sees a lot of water, grit, dirt, road salt, and crushed rock. Keeping the floor in good shape is the first step toward maintaining this vital part of your home or business. If you’re a property owner and have bare concrete garage floors, you are probably wondering: what is the best-looking and longest-lasting protective and decorative coating for my concrete garage floor?
Whether you keep your garage spotless or you love to get greasy while keeping your cars tuned up for a cold Calgary winter, you can find the perfect mix of decoration and protection for your garage floor by picking the right garage floor system.
When thinking about new flooring for your garage, it helps to start with your needs: Do you plan to spend time inside your garage on hobbies, car maintenance, or work with various fluids or heavy equipment? Or is it a place to store your car and keep it clean and protected from snow, sleet, hail, and rain? This will help you decide how much protection vs. decoration you will need. After you make this assessment, you can find out what type of coating resin will be best for you to create a space that fully suits your lifestyle.
The 4 Main Types of Concrete Coatings for Garage Floors
Most concrete coatings, when professionally prepared and applied, can reliably stand up to the elements. The following floor coating systems have advantages and some technical qualities that are better suited for specific garage floor applications. These popular coating systems generally fall into four basic product types, along with some other specialized coatings for commercial or industrial floor requirements.
These four types are epoxies, polyurethanes, acrylics, and polyureas.
The most commonly used types of coatings for garage floors are epoxies and a type of polyurea called polyaspartic (sometimes, this system is referred to “aspartics”).
1) Epoxy Flooring
The most common and widely used of all garage coating materials is epoxy. It is also one the oldest coating systems available in the market – some epoxy flooring systems have been around for more than 100 years! Of course, epoxy systems have improved over substantially over time.
Epoxy coatings are a two-part system, consisting of an epoxy resin that is mixed with a hardener (catalyst) based on a ratio formula. Today, there is a large range of epoxy coatings, and epoxy is really a generic name that encompasses many specific types of coatings (it’s like when you describe a car as an automobile, as opposed to a Chevy or Porsche). Epoxy is a thick, somewhat self-levelling resinous coating that comes in many variations, often manufactured with special properties that are suited for specific environments: chemical resistance, thermal cold/hot protection, wear prevention, etc. One of the toughest coatings available in the market for wear and chemical resistance is called Novalac Epoxy, which is very tough (and comes at a higher cost and difficulty for installation).
Pros of Epoxy Flooring:
Epoxies for garage floors are easier to install than other types of coatings. This is because the after epoxy has been activated (the A component is mixed with the B component). There is a longer work time to apply the coating.
- Because epoxy is a thick mil application and has some self-levelling properties, the thick coats can cover minor imperfections like slight trowel marks and small insignificant spider cracks.
- Epoxies do look great after they have been installed correctly. We love seeing the awe in a customer’s expression when they discover the smooth and glossy sheen of their new epoxy floor.
- Cost of material should be slightly lower than other systems, but the material cost advantage has to be balanced with the longer wait time between coats.
Cons of Epoxy Flooring:
- Epoxies need to be installed in warm, dry conditions. Most garage epoxies are installed in late spring, summer, or fall (unless the space is heated and fully enclosed). The temperature is especially important when applying a coating on the apron of the garage slab. The apron is the part of the garage slab that projects under the garage door into the driveway. None of the coatings should be applied to a damp or wet floor! Unless the floor slab temperature is in the normal range, cold temperatures will impede the curing process.
- Epoxy coatings take a much longer time to cure between coating levels. These curing times are improving, but with most epoxy systems, you must wait at least a workday between coating levels. The result is that labour costs are higher and back-to-service times are longer.
- Epoxy coating has a tendency to yellow and or fade – the technical terminology for this is that epoxies are not aliphatic. This can become an issue if the floor has to be repaired. It becomes a difficult, if not impossible, task to accurately blend the repair colour to match the original floor.
- Some of the epoxies today are labeled UV resistant, but our experience is that they are not as UV resistant as other coating systems. They are not labelled as aliphatic.
- Most garage epoxy is not as hard as other choices and can show wear lines under the tire lanes, where stones caught up in tire treads can scratch the coating surface over time.
- The epoxy system is a surface mount – i.e., the epoxy base coat has a mechanical bond to the concrete slab surface. So, proper preparation is especially important with epoxy.
- There is potential for “hot tire lift”. On hot days after a long drive, the rubber tires can heat up. This is usually not an issue of driving on to the surface of the garage with hot tires, but rather that as the tires cool down, they get sticky. In the morning after a long hot drive, the now-cool tires can stick to the surface of the coating…and with a 3000lb car and power steering, the tires can lift the coating. If that happens, the yellowing issue previously noted can be a big deal.
2) Polyurethane Flooring
Like epoxies, polyurethanes are a thick mil system with highly unique properties, which have been around almost as long as epoxies. Polyurethanes are ideal for structural concrete floors (that is, floors that have a working space below the cement slab).
Polyurethanes are more stretchable than other coatings, a property referred to as elongation. There is a type of polyurethane called elastomeric that can stretch 400-500%! This is an important feature in waterproofing situations, where you do not want any water leaking on to the floor located below the slab. An example would be a multi-story parkade where, if the concrete slab cracks on the upper floors, you want to be able to stop water going down into the crack and leaking on the lower floors. Another type of polyurethane is called urethane cement (sometimes referred to as cementitious urethane). This formulation has Portland cement mixed into the urethane formulation. This coating is regarded as one of the toughest, hard-wearing floor systems in the market.
When applied properly, polyurethanes can be very beautiful. Some of them cure quickly, and after application can result in smooth high-gloss, semi-gloss, or matte finish.
Pros of Polyurethane Flooring:
- Polyurethanes can be aliphatic (while epoxies cannot), preventing discolouration and degradation in naturally lit areas.
- Cement can be added to the mixture for thickness and strength for the most demanding situations.
- The cure time is relatively quick and can be used as a topcoat to other systems, providing a hard-wearing and great-looking floor surface.
- Elastomeric polyurethane that can stretch up to 500% of its original size. Elastomeric is a true waterproof system. While all coatings will resist water penetration, if the concrete cracks and the crack telescopes through the coating, moisture can penetrate through the concrete onto the surface below. Elastomeric coating can physically stretch over the crack to avoid water damage.
Cons of Polyurethane Flooring:
- Some polyurethanes like the elastomeric take a long time between coats, which will add to the labour cost of application.
- Back to service times can be longer.
- There is more expertise required to complete the application properly.
- Polyurethanes, especially the urethane cement and elastomeric, are substantially more expensive than other coating systems.
- Some urethanes are not aliphatic and cannot be used as a topcoat. These coatings are for base and bed coats, and the topcoat needs to be aliphatic.
3) Acrylic Flooring
Acrylics are used mainly in driveway sealers and single component paints. There is one type of acrylic floor coating called methacrylate (MMA) that is a good garage floor coating option. The Garage Store does not have a lot of experience with applying MMAs, but we know they have many similar properties to polyureas. MMAs were fairly common on the market 5-10 years ago, and at that time, they were considered to be a strong competitor to both polyurethanes and epoxies.
Pros of Acrylic Flooring:
- They do have a fast cure time similar to polyureas.
- Can be applied in cool temperatures.
- It is considered to be a durable long-lasting floor.
Cons of Acrylic Flooring:
- It has a short work time and does require safety knowledge regarding off-gassing.
- It has an almost matte dull finish, not high gloss, like epoxies or polyureas.
- Should you need a repair, you may have difficulty finding a floor installation company that has access or experience in MMA application.
- Because of the short work time, you do need to have an experienced applicator.
4) Polyaspartic Polyurea Flooring
We use a specific type of polyurea called polyaspartic. It has been in the marketplace for approximately 25 years (in the world of concrete, that is considered new technology). When polyaspartics were first used, it was as a spray coat to slow corrosion on floating drill platforms, as it offered good protection against salt and it could cure at very cold temperatures. When it was first invented, it also had a lightning-fast cure time – less than 20 seconds! But it also had a serious weakness, in that it little or no resistance to UV rays. After its invention, the patents were sold to Bayer Sciences and they patented the system. When they released it onto the market, it was made aliphatic to handle the UV resistance and the work time was expanded to 45 minutes.
From those early days, it became very popular with customers and applicators. The fact that it could be installed in cold temperatures meant that applicators could do their work all year, and the fact that it cured quickly meant that most garage floor coatings could be completed in one day, getting back to service in one additional day. Garages all over Calgary and North America started to benefit from the strength, performance, and overall appearance of polyurea coatings. We specialize in polyaspartic coatings, which are a subset of polyurea, and offer unmatched resilience and customizability.
These concrete waterproofing coatings can come in nearly limitless colour blends and finishes, and provide UV protection, high durability, and so much more. They are quick to apply and cure, though like epoxy, great care and attention must be used in the preparation phase to make sure the surface is clean and ready for a smooth and pristine finish.
You should also not try to apply polyurea at home without training, as some types of coatings have harmful solvent fumes.
Pros of Polyaspartic Polyurea Flooring:
- Very fast cure time – 20 to 40 minutes between coats.
- Can cure at very cold (-30 C) and warm temperatures (+25 C).
- With proper prep, the base coat can work into the concrete slab, creating a super bond to it. This makes the hot tire lift issue go away.
- It can be almost V.O.C. free, which can earn LEEDs points.
- It has a natural high gloss, for a beautiful topcoat finish.
- It has high abrasion resistance.
- It has a very tight molecular structure so that hydrocarbon-based products like grease, gas, diesel, etc. will not penetrate the coating, and can be cleaned without leaving a dirty mark on the concrete.
Cons of Polyaspartic Polyurea Flooring:
- Because of the very short work time, it takes an experienced applicator to complete the coatings within the short work time available.
- Because it is a thin mil application, the prep must be done with a smoother finish.
- Imperfections on the slab have to be repaired to a higher level.
- The cost of chemicals can be higher than some epoxies, but this extra cost is usually covered by the lower labour cost due to the shorter time.
Choosing the Right Garage Floor Coating
As you can see, different types of garage flooring are suitable for different settings, and it’s not always easy to tell which is best for you. Consider your budget, usage, durability, and overall aesthetics, and take a look around your current space to see what would feel right. When you’ve got an idea in mind of what you want, get a free consultation with The Garage Store – and we’ll be happy to turn that dream into a reality.