• Jeffrey Smedley

Epoxy vs. Urethane Floor Coatings

One of the questions I get most often from facility managers is whether they should install an epoxy or aliphatic urethane floor coating. Both of these floor coatings work in different ways, perform different functions, and have advantages in different areas. Both provide protection against chemical corrosion, impact, and scratches/scuffs. They also are long-lasting and simple to maintain while providing slip resistant options to increase safety.

Epoxy is an ideal, economical product for resurfacing concrete surfaces. An epoxy floor coating is a two-part system that results in an extremely hard and durable surface. These flooring systems can be applied in as little as 2 mls and up to 80 mls thick depending on the application, product being used, and the underlying floor surface. If your workspace needs to support heavy traffic, an epoxy coating is shock resistant and helps to protect your facility’s floors both from the long-term impacts of heavy floor traffic as well as driving or even dropping heavy loads. Epoxies come in a variety of colors and textures that can brighten up a facility and define different work areas. In fact, epoxy floors can increase a floor’s light reflectivity by as much as 300% which, can lower utility bills and brighten up the work space. Additionally, epoxy is amazingly resistant to both water and chemical exposure. If your establishment uses a significant amount of liquids in day-to-day activities, this floor coating stops moisture from leaking into the floor itself, making cleanup easier and protecting the concrete beneath from damage. Epoxy floors are often used in retail, industrial, and public facilities such as: labs, manufacturing plants, hospitals, schools, malls, and markets. With proper preparation of the underlying concrete, which usually means diamond grinding rather than shot blasting, and expert installation for proper curing and bonding, an epoxy floor is a fantastic choice for most facilities. Certain formulations of epoxy concrete floor coatings meet LEED requirements for VOC limits, making this a “green” approach to creating a new floor. To learn more about the epoxy floors check out my blogs on “Epoxy cleaning and maintenance tips” and “When to replace epoxy floor.”

The biggest drawback to epoxy coatings is the time for installation. The most important step in installing an epoxy floor coating is the surface preparation. The surface of the concrete has to be thoroughly prepared before the coating can be installed, with all traces of oil residues (and possibly previous coatings) removed. This is because the epoxy cannot adhere properly to marginally prepared surfaces, resulting in potential floor coating failure. To learn more about these subjects check out my blog post on “How To Prevent A Coating Failure.” Additionally, while an epoxy coating is strong, it is not permanent. Though the floor can withstand heavy impacts, cracking or chipping can occur if an object is too heavy or dropped at certain angles. Epoxies also have little to no UV protection so if your floor is outside, or even gets sunlight from windows, a aliphatic urethane should be used.

Abrasion resistant and more color-retentive than epoxy coatings, urethane floor coatings can last longer and retain their color longer. Urethane is also available in a wide array of colors but can also be applied clear so that existing colors and textures of the floor can show through. This type of flooring is designed to protect against ultraviolet light and abrasions. If you have an industrial facility that gets a lot of daily use, this floor coating would be a good choice for you. Urethane is not an adjustable thin film floor coating. Urethane is rolled out at 350 – 500 sf per gallon, which translates to about 2 – 3 mils in thickness — and there is no way to adjust that. Furthermore, urethane does not bond well to concrete, so it is not an ideal coating to apply directly to an existing concrete floor. However, urethane is an outstanding top coat and sealer for most kinds of epoxy applied over concrete floor coatings. Urethane mortars are ideal for the food and beverage industry because it provides and seamless and smooth floor coating that is moisture and heat resistant. To learn more about the utility of urethane coatings in the food and beverage processing industry check out my blog posts on “What resin flooring options are available for the food and beverage industry?” Urethane is also great in a lab or industrial setting because it can be chemical resistant. For facilities seeking an ecological floor solution, there are VOC-compliant and odor-free urethanes for many applications.

While the surface preparation process for urethane coatings, in some instances, may not have to be as extensive as for epoxy, the process of installation can still take some time. However, what you are left with is a durable, practically indestructible, long-lasting industrial facility floor. Urethane coats are considered “wear coats” because they cannot be applied in a thick layer so they wear down quickly and be replaced. Typically, you can expect a longer lifespan on an epoxy floor as it can be applied much thicker.

In general, the best approach is to use an epoxy to build up floors and then urethane to seal and protect them. With urethane as a topcoat over epoxy, the floor will outlast unsealed epoxy 3:1 and you will get excellent wear and abrasion results. However every facility’s needs are unique, depending upon the particular use and desired outcomes. The best way to determine the right floor coating for your facility is to consult with an experienced resinous flooring expert. To see an epoxy floor installation with a urethane top coat completed in a packaging facility check out this exceptional case study.


High-Performance Systems Corp.

A leader in protective flooring since 1988

436 Lincoln Blvd. 
Middlesex, NJ 08846


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