Epoxy School Blog


Epoxy opinion - test results, warranties and other damaging grey areas

The limited training opportunities raised in my last post makes it hard enough for fresh talent to enter our industry, but unfortunately that’s only half the battle.

Contractors just starting out also need to navigate through the tricky “smoke and mirror” landscape of the coatings world and, not surprisingly, only very few of them make it through. I’ve seen the same story unfold time and time again – new contractors emerge with hope and enthusiasm, only to quickly fizzle out because they are hit with half truths and empty promises at every turn. Failed jobs follow failed jobs and confidence levels plummet. In the end they have no choice but to pack up and exit, another victim of a ruthless industry that appears too willing to make a sale rather than help find a solution.

While all that sounds rather dark and gloomy, I honestly believe the prognosis for anyone starting a career in coatings is pretty bleak. With no recognised best practices, training or practical assessment, there are so many traps to fall into and so many people prepared to lead them into the fire. Just for a moment, consider the following three examples – all massive personal gripes of mine – and the impact they have on a contractor trying to find their feet.

Misleading test results

The nature of the work we do sees very few applications performed in ideal conditions with ideal preparation and ideal application. With this is mind, what do test results actually mean when it comes to performance in the field? More importantly, do the differences between these perfect test results and actual results ever get explained to a contractor who mightn’t know any better?

All of this dawned on me one day while conducting tensile adhesion tests and thinking about the relevance of the results I was getting. As usual the test conditions were very close to ideal – I was able to solvent wipe and abrasive blast every square inch of the metal substrate to class 2.5, apply the small patch of product carefully and allow it to cure without extreme temperatures, rain etc. Yes, the results I got were impressive, but would it be like that in the field? Could a contractor reasonably expect the same results? What would happen if the mix ratio was out or some solvent was added to help application in cool conditions? Would it still be good enough to do this job or that job?

The problem I feel is that these types of questions aren’t being addressed well enough by the industry as a whole and, in many cases I’ve heard, inflated test results are actually being used as selling tools to “prove” certain products are better than others; as if nothing else entered the equation. Very few manufacturers seem willing to explore what these test results mean on a project by project basis and it’s a big trap for naive contractors who have no choice but to take everything on face value.

A marine coating with excellent test results failing to perform in a field application.

Ignored product limitations

It’s a similar scenario when it comes to product limitations. The truth is every product out there has certain strengths and weaknesses, however I’m not sure every manufacture is willing to admit it. I call it the “she’ll be right” or “that’s just the way it is” mentality and can give you a couple of examples to demonstrate how this catches contractors out.

The first involves a polyaspartic coating and I’ve heard similar stories a few times now. For those unfamiliar with the technology, polyaspartics have emerged as a very popular choice for applications requiring a quick turnaround due to their combination of speed, tolerance of low temperatures, high solids content and high build capabilities, among other things. They can, however, be unforgiving when it comes to additional coats and contractors have to work within strict re-coat windows to avoid intercoat adhesion problems. Unfortunately this wasn’t communicated to the contractor at the time and the “she’ll be right” answer given to the question of whether another coat could be applied several weeks later resulted in sections peeling off the floor.

In the second example, a contractor had only been in his business for less than a year when he was sold pigment pots to use in a clear product for a run of solid-colour floors. When he reported back to his supplier with colour separation problems he was told “that’s just the way it is” and that’s where the matter ended. He was never educated on why the problem can occur in the first place and never told that he’d be better off using a tintable floor coating rather than pigmenting a clear. As it turned out, the supplier didn’t have a tintable rollcoat to offer and that probably explains why he wasn’t too keen on suggesting one at the time!

Empty warranties

The third area where new contractors can be extremely vulnerable is perhaps the biggest grey area in our industry – warranties.

It’s no secret that consumers like assurances and some manufacturers pounce on this by offering extended warranties that sound great on the surface, however contain so much fine print that you can almost guarantee whatever goes wrong won’t be their problem. A few humdingers stick out in my memory here, such as a fire fighting water tank atop a city high-rise that needed to be completely drained every year when such a task was virtually impossible, and, the extended warranty happily offered on the driven pylons of a bridge that could never be inspected anyway.

The specific danger for inexperienced contractors with complicated and confusing warranties is not fully understanding what they could be liable for in the event of a failure. With the water-tight nature of these documents, it’s often the companies that get to walk away unscathed while the unsuspecting contractor is pulled into the firing line.

As a final comment I just want to say the purpose of this post wasn’t to call out anyone in particular with regards to these practices, but rather to acknowledge they exist and highlight the damage they can cause to the most vulnerable members of our industry. If we are to grow and improve as an industry, we need to be able to attract and nurture new talent rather than slam the door in their face, so to speak. It’s a tough enough business as it is and not being open and honest in the three areas I’ve mentioned only makes it tougher!

Take care and talk to you later,

Jack

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Epoxy opinion - should resin flooring become a trade?

There’s always been a gaping hole in the resin flooring industry and I think the time has come to fix it - the time has come to make resin flooring a proper trade!

As radical as it may sound, this isn’t a completely new concept. In fact, I’ve already been a part of several interesting discussions on LinkedIn in recent times where formal training and the idea of a resin flooring body have been raised – and with good reason from where I sit.

Right now in Australia, the federal government has identified flooring finishers as a major area of skill shortage based on industry growth forecasts. I’ve also read similar articles from other countries about the emerging popularity of resin flooring and the opportunities arising as a result. While this is exciting news, I can’t help but wonder what happens if we don’t prepare ourselves and get on top of the inevitable growing pains.

For instance, will the increased demand entice unskilled, unlicensed workers to simply walk off the streets and start doing resin floors? I certainly hope not because in some ways it feels like our industry is already in a damaging race to the bottom. For resin flooring to reach its potential and become a genuine mainstream flooring alternative to tiles, carpet, timber and vinyl, this type of scenario must be avoided. It needs to get serious about the way it attracts and develops talent, among other things. In short, I believe it needs to become a trade; a profession we can all be proud of.

A resin flooring profession

So, what does a “profession” actually look like in our language? Well, I feel we should be aiming to create an industry with the following -

  1. An internationally recognised and accepted best practices standard for resin flooring.
  2. An international body that promotes the adoption of the standards and drives the professional conduct of all stakeholders – manufacturers, specifiers and contractors.
  3. A recognised training program and practical assessment based on the extension of the standards.
  4. Where applicable, a government-recognised qualification or trade license connected to the training program and practical assessment.

At the moment it obviously looks nothing like this. If contractors get any practical training at all it’s through splintered courses in other trades or from their employers that are often self-taught and keen to hold onto their IP. It feels all very murky and unstructured on every level. We desperately need to tighten things up and establish a recognised trade so that we’re no longer hiding in the shadows of the wider flooring industry.

Driven by the people

When I first started thinking about how a resin flooring trade could get off the ground, I must admit the enormity of it all made my head spin. It just seemed like an impossible task! With some preliminary research now under my belt, I think the most encouraging thing I’ve come to realise is that we’re not the first to have this dilemma. Other industries have got to the same point in the same haphazard way, but then evolved into proud professions with standalone qualifications and a real presence.

I strongly believe we can do the same and tentative meetings with our national licensing authority, national training body, a registered national training provider, and even the president of a rival flooring organisation, have only confirmed that view. In fact, the take-home message I got from all those discussions was that reforms like these were very doable if the industry as a whole felt the need. From what I sense, we’re very close to that point. We have a global landscape crying out for a better way and a great opportunity to do something about it under one, united banner.

Proper floor training, like this timber program, is an important part of a flooring trade.

Your thoughts on a resin flooring trade

At the end of the day these are only my thoughts on where the resin flooring industry is placed right now and, as I just mentioned, it takes many more thinking the same way to get real change happening. So, I want to pass it over to you. What are your thoughts on resin flooring becoming a proper trade? Do you think there’s a need? If you have concerns, let’s hear them. If you like the concept and would support it then put your hand up.

There is only one condition of your comment: please leave egos and agendas at the door. It is hoped this post prompts an open, productive discussion about ways we can improve our industry and it won’t work if people are made to feel uncomfortable voicing their opinion or it gets hijacked for personal gain.

Take care and talk to you later,

Jack

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Decorative epoxies - the problem with white glossy floors

For as long as I’ve been doing decorative epoxies there’s been strong demand for pure white floors, particularly from homeowners. But, are they really a good flooring choice?

Now, I can certainly understand why the pristine white floor you see in glossy magazine spreads would capture the imagination of a lot of people. Those photos can certainly look amazing! However, after many years of doing them and seeing them done, I also realise that similar results are by no means guaranteed and these types of floors have a considerable downside.

The main problems with glossy white floors

The following are four major issues that make me think twice about proceeding with a white floor -

  1. Defects - glossy white floors, more than any other, will show up defects in the final film. Of course measures can be taken to ensure the surface is meticulously prepared, high-quality application tools are used, and the floor is sealed off to prevent bugs and dust landing on the floor, however in reality perfection is very hard to achieve. All you need is a small dip, a few bubbles or a stuck insect and the dream of a glossy white floor can turn into a nightmare because most floor owners will have visions of a white mirror across the whole floor.
  2. Cost - installing a glossy white floor will generally require more coats or a very thick single coat, which means more product and a higher cost. There are two main reasons for this: firstly, white needs greater thickness to fully block out the surface underneath, and secondly, extra build is required to level out any unevenness and deliver a flawlessly flat finish.
  3. Finish - speaking of flawlessly flat finish, perhaps the biggest hurdle for anyone chasing a glossy white floor is the fact that even with everything else falling into place during application, not all resins can actually deliver it. Just any old epoxy binder isn’t going to form a beautifully smooth, glossy finish regardless of how thick it’s applied and specialist decorative epoxies are the only hope.
  4. Maintenance - no dirt is white and glossy white floors have a great knack of showing up even the slightest hint of everyday dust. Scuffing and yellowing also tend to take on an extra dimension when they have a white canvas to work with. All in all, those with a white floor can find cleaning becomes a full time job.

With all those points in mind, you can start to see why I’m a little cautious when people ask for the perfect white floor.

A more forgiving white floor

So, if white floors aren’t necessarily the way to go, what do I recommend instead? I think the best thing contractors can do in these situations is to try to offer their client the same type of look/feel, but with a few small changes to make the floor more forgiving and drag the odds back in their favour.

A good option here is the use of metallic effect pigments in combination with off-white colours – something like a shimmering pearl finish will add an extra dimension to the floor, help draw attention away from the surface itself, and, at the end of the day, appear very close to white when side by side with most décor. If the client isn’t sold on that sort of tweaking and insists on plain white as the colour, then I’ll turn my attention to the gloss levels and see if something less than a mirror is acceptable. The use of sacrificial polishes (or even clear non-slip topcoats) to create a semi-gloss look will be a massive help in concealing imperfections and dirt while at the same time providing improved scratch and scuff resistance.

A good alternative to glossy white floors that uses a light grey colour and subtle metallic effects.

Education is the key

Although it may sound like it, I am by no means suggesting that beautiful glossy white floors are impossible. They certainly can be done. What I do want to stress, however, is that they aren’t easy and it takes high-quality preparation, application and decorative epoxies to do it, as well as a hint of plain good luck in some cases.

For contractors thinking about taking on such work, I highly recommend you educate your clients about the possible issues that can arise before you start and don’t sell yourself short when it comes time to quote because they can’t be done cheaply. The biggest problem with white floors is that expectations rarely match reality and to avoid disappointment you need to make sure you’re both completely on the same page.

Take care and talk to you later,

Jack

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Coating application - the benefits of surface tolerance and moisture tolerance

You've probably heard the old saying about practicing tolerance and how it can lead to a more peaceful life. Well I think the same goes for your coatings!

What on earth am I talking about? Put simply, products that are tolerant of both surfaces and moisture can bring great benefit to any coating application business by saving time and money, winning more work, and, as I just mentioned, helping to create a less stressful work environment.

What do surface tolerance and moisture tolerance mean?

Before I get into how surface and moisture-tolerant products can achieve all of the above, I’ll clarify what is meant by the terms.

The idea of surface tolerance relates to the ability of a product to fully coat a surface that could otherwise be viewed as troublesome. To paint a quick picture, some coatings will work well over perfectly clean concrete, metal or other films, however crawl at the slightest hint of contamination, dust or even gloss. A surface-tolerant product, on the other hand, will be capable of providing full coverage in these situations because it’s has a more forgiving formulation that delivers better levelling properties. This type of tolerance also extends into areas such as adhesion and a product’s ability to stick when ideal surface preparation is just not possible (marine and underwater coatings are prime examples).

Moisture tolerance is perhaps a little more self-explanatory and is a topic I have raised regularly throughout this blog. To recap, some don't like moisture of any kind and can experience adverse reactions ranging from blushing to softness to bubbling (in some polyurethanes). Moisture-tolerant coatings aren't so sensitive and can be used if it's humid, damp or, at the far end of the scale, completely underwater.

A diver applying a moisture-tolerant coating underwater in a tank repair application.

How tolerance helps

Ok, now to the good stuff. Why do I think surface tolerance and moisture tolerance can help your application business and make a big difference to the stress levels? Well, there are a few ways -

  1. Help avoid failures - you can't make money on jobs that fail or require call backs. Using tolerant products helps overcome many potential sources of failure, from poor surface preparation to unexpected weather conditions or even human-related catastrophes. I often tell the story of my experience onboard a Royal Australian Navy vessel involving an open water valve flooding a freshly laid epoxy floor and remarkably ending well because of the product’s amazing moisture tolerance. Having that sort of reliability built into your application business does wonders for your confidence and peace of mind.
  2. Save in costs - not only do tolerant products help avoid failures, in some instances they can also reduce the amount of product, number of coats and overall time required in the first place. Surface-tolerant products can be particularly effective in this regard if their use means you can skip the extra cost and time of applying a primer, for example.
  3. No delays and more control - as a small business, being able to plan and carry out work regardless of the conditions can’t be underestimated in my opinion. With surface and moisture tolerance on your side, the "what ifs" are drastically reduced and jobs tend to run more smoothly. This feature is critical on projects with tight shutdown demands as they can't afford delays of any kind and often need around-the-clock work to be completed on time (which means lower temperatures and dew points can come into play). The ability to perform all-weather work can also have a big impact on cash flow because there’s no risk of sitting on your hands for a week when wet weather sets in.
  4. Win you more work - the net effect of offering all of the above is an application business that has fewer failures, runs smoothly with no delays, can work at any time and in any place, and can often be cheaper when the total costs are added up (even if the material cost is higher). Being able to offer such a service is extremely powerful and likely to open up all sorts of work opportunities that simply wouldn’t be there otherwise.

How to spot surface and moisture tolerance

I know what you're probably thinking now: “How do you find such products? How can you tell what is or isn’t tolerant?” Fortunately there are usually some pretty big clues given away in technical data sheets to steer you in the right direction.

For starters, any mention of the compulsory use of a primer is an obvious indication a product might not offer much in the way of surface tolerance. The same goes for most products with a really quick turnaround because they don’t have as much time to bond with the surface. I think epoxy floor coatings definitely fall into this category and the curing agents they use can also be hard to control from a levelling point of view. Sections listing product limitations can also provide some valuable insights into the type of coating you're dealing with. You should be able to easily determine if the coating has moisture issues because there'll be warnings around humidity, dew points, hazing or, if you’re talking epoxies, amine blush.

If that kind of detective work leaves you uncertain, you can always try the direct route and simply ask the manufacturer to see what they have to say.

Now, I’m definitely not suggesting every contractor needs to dump their bread and butter coatings or risk business failure. The aim of this post was more about highlighting how some products are more forgiving and reliable than others, and the sizeable advantages that can come with that. If you’re frustrated by inconsistent results, struggling to plan your work schedule or wasting time waiting for the right conditions, you might find things become a whole lot easier and a whole lot less stressful if you can find products with greater tolerance.

Take care and talk to you later,

Jack

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Health and safety - an epoxy flooring contractor’s view

Cleaner, safer coating technology has been around for a long time now and I personally find it surprising that many contractors are still happy to use products full of solvents and other nasty stuff.

A few years ago I decided to test my own theories on why this is the case and get the word from the horse’s mouth, so to speak. I approached Peter, then owner of Floor Maestro in Sydney, to give us his view on health and safety matters and the role they play in a small application business.

The answers he provided to a few simple questions formed not only an honest evaluation of this issue and its status in the coating industry, but also a great insight into some of the associated challenges facing contractors.

How did you enter the coating industry?

In 1994 I saw my first epoxy floor. I must have seen them before but had never taken any notice. This one was different. My parents retired to the Gold Coast and had a flake floor in their garage. For me it was love at first sight and I wanted the same product on my garage floor in Sydney. At the time I couldn't find an applicator so it didn't get done. But the desire to have this product ate at me to the point I gave up 30 years of corporate life to learn the process and offer the floor to the Sydney domestic market.

What were the biggest hurdles?

As a “late starter” in terms of becoming a tradesman, I was initially totally reliant on suppliers' product information and opinions gleaned from those with much more experience than me in the industry. I learnt pretty quickly many suppliers have a tendency to overstate their particular product's capabilities and to be very non-committal and vague when technical and OH&S issues were raised. As far as solvents were concerned, I was told: “You need them to carry the ingredients of your epoxy when it's liquid. They'll evaporate off quickly enough and the smell is just something you have to put up with. Anyway, no one has ever died from it, have they?”

Do health and safety or environmental issues matter to you?

Among applicators, there was, and I believe still is, a culture of loyalty to their own proven system and a reluctance to change. All applicators have seen a MSDS. In my opinion most haven't actually read one! With over 600 floors under my belt I include myself in that category.

Contractor caricature reading an MSDS with a confused look on their face.

I've never really warmed to the importance of environmental issues. As a city dweller brought up in a middle class suburban household I've never really thought about where resources come from. To me they've always just been there when you turned the tap or flicked the switch. Generally I've seen the Green movement as attention seeking by unwashed left wing radicals.

I hope that somewhat longwinded introduction will help give some perspective to where I now find myself. Notwithstanding the history above, I think there are three factors which are causing me to at least open my mind to potentially changing my work practices. Firstly, I've just turned 50. Secondly, we are in the middle of a severe drought, and our electricity grid is struggling. Thirdly, I happened to be at a function where a leading conservationist pointed out the limits to some of our common resources and it made me really think about the world we are leaving the next generation. I have two kids, resources won't be exhausted in my lifetime...but theirs will see some dramatic changes if we keep going the way we are.

So I've started to actually THINK about my work practices. Firstly the solvent issue. If I don't want to inhale foreign materials by not smoking, for example, so why would I not take the same precautions with my job materials? Simple logic really. Then there is the environmental issue. Not really my problem, but whose problem is it? It's a question that on reflection only has one answer - it's everyone's problem.

As a contractor, why do you resist change?

In my case there is a considerable fear factor. I am a small business which depends almost entirely on recommendation of existing clients. I know my current product works, and despite assurances from manufacturers, still find it difficult to commit. Then there is the issue of familiarity with the product I've used many thousand of litres of. I know the coverage rates. I know the open time, the cure time, the parameters I can push if I need to.

We humans don't like change. We're our own worst enemies. We need legislation to make us wear seat belts, install smoke detectors in our homes and use earth leakage breakers. All of these are passive lifesavers, yet few people voluntarily used them. I bet the same will go for eco-friendly products. Sure, some will embrace them...but the majority will not change their traditional habits.

So here's where I'm at. I'm going to continue to try to be brave and convert to eco-friendly products where their specification is appropriate for my application. I also see another, easier way of converting my business. That is to have my clients MAKE ME change! How? Think about it. When you call a doctor it's because he's a specialist in his field and you therefore listen to his advice. Same for a plumber, electrician, or gardener. You EXPECT them to give good advice. So when a client calls ME he EXPECTS me to know what I'm talking about. He expects me to present to him all the available alternatives which will fulfil his needs. So I'm going to present him with the appropriate information and I expect he will force me to change. In these days of litigation would you expose your staff to a known carcinogen?

Are you a flooring “doctor”?

I know most people have well-set, often passionate opinions on this wider topic, however before I go I want to highlight one message in Peter’s interview that I think opens up a fresh angle on this discussion: when it comes to the products you use, who should be making the choice?

Yes, you may know your old products back to front and get good results; but, what happens if and when your clients start to demand “cleaner” technology? Do you simply move on to the next job, hoping they accept your products, or do you set the bar higher and aim to become that flooring “doctor” Peter spoke about - a specialist in their field that can give customers excellent results across a broad range of products?

I'm very interested to hear what other contractors think about the importance of health and safety when it comes to the products they use and if they feel any pressure to make a change or offer safer alternatives.

Take care and talk to you later,

Jack

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Epoxy product selection - choosing value over price

The coatings industry has come a long way in many respects, but it remains a price-driven market and the lure of a bargain, it seems, is still too good to refuse. It’s an attitude I believe has to change!

The truth is, when it comes to epoxy product selection most of us place far too much emphasis on the price we can get it for. Fair enough if the coatings in question are genuine equivalents and all more than capable of doing the job at hand - there are certainly no problems there. Problems do arise, however, when price becomes such a focus that inferior, unsuitable products are used in the hope of “saving a few bucks”.

Why do we love a low coating price?

Why is there such a pull towards the lowest price in the first place? Maybe it's a legacy of solvent-borne products with only 30% solids, or perhaps it’s just a quirk of human nature to get as much as possible for as little as possible? Whatever it is, it’s a strong force and one that needs to be addressed if the industry is to reach its full potential.

So, what’s the answer? I think a big part of it lies in this favourite quote of mine: “By only looking at the ‘price’ of a product, you can miss the true ‘value’”. In other words, what looks like a bargain on paper often ends up costing you far more down the track anyway when the reasons for a low price rear their ugly head. In an epoxy coating context, that’s usually stuff like blushing, bubbles, premature failure, repairs etc.

Sales banners and bargains, which don't work in the coatings industry.
Coating value v coating price

If all that makes sense and you’re convinced that coating value, not coating price, is what we should be searching for, how do you actually find it? How do you know what products represent good value and aren’t simply dressed up with a good price? This task becomes a little easier when you consider the following –

  • Price per litre v price per kilogram - some manufacturers will advertise price per kilogram (or unit weight) instead of the price per litre (or unit volume). By using a heap of cheap fillers, a product can be made extremely heavy and very cheap per kilogram. Coating applications work in volume and thickness of film, however, so you need to work back to the price per unit volume anyway. When you do, you’ll find a low cost per kilogram might not be as cheap as you thought!
  • Percent solids - another way to drop the price of coatings is through the addition of solvent, which is often used in combination with the high filler levels mentioned above to make these products easier to apply and lower the cost even further. The value consideration here relates to the thickness and quality of film that remains after the solvent evaporates. In other words, a coating with 50% solvent will normally be a lot cheaper than a solventless product, however if they’re both applied at 200 microns/8 mils, the solvent-borne product will ultimately leave behind only 100 microns/4 mils. You’d need twice as much volume and probably another day of labour to get the same thickness, plus the actual film itself can be weakened in a number of ways by such heavy dilution.
  • How many coats - some cheaper coatings, for various reasons, will require more coats than higher quality options. More coats equal more volume and generally more time to apply, all of which clearly offset any apparent cost savings.
  • Priming - over-filled products with a very low cost per kilogram often require a primer to help them stick. This cost is not always taken into account during the selection process.
  • Pigment pot - some prices even omit the cost of pigmenting the system. The nice price will be for the tintable base, however when the colour is added savings are reduced.
  • How long it lasts - a cheaper coating may very well cost less, but how long will it last? How often will it need to be replaced? A premium coating that lasts over 10 years is better value than a cheap coating that has to be replaced every 2 years. That doesn’t even take in account defects and the number of goes you might need with a cheaper coating to make it work!

    Ask yourself one question

    A more expensive product might be a turn off to begin with, but if it doesn’t play up all the time, requires no primers, needs fewer coats, lasts longer and protects better, the actual cost over the full lifespan of the product will be far less.

    To finish, I’ll leave you with something to keep in mind when seeking coating value. Just ask yourself one question before you buy: "Will it cost me more to do it properly now with a better product, or do it cheaply and come back again shortly?"

    Take care and talk to you later,

    Jack

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Epoxy secrets revealed - coating manufacturers, re-sellers and private labelling

Most people will tell you that dealing directly with the original coating manufacturer is a good thing, but why is that so? Not only that, why do they make it sound like an almost impossible task?

The reasons may have something to do with questions like these: Have you ever noticed how two separate products apparently developed and made by different companies, appear to be exactly the same? Have you ever wondered why some suppliers struggle to provide answers to straightforward questions on THEIR coatings? If you’ve asked yourself these questions before and thought you were going crazy, maybe you shouldn't commit yourself just yet!

Re-sellers and private labelling

I came across a short discussion published on the website of a company called Ecocrete Coatings a little while ago that might explain why you’re asking these questions and how it all ties back to the original coating manufacturer issue -

Did you know...that many of the decorative concrete and concrete coatings products you buy are not actually developed or produced by the companies selling them, the ones who call themselves manufacturers?

Believe it or not, many ‘manufacturers’ are just re-sellers, buying the same products as many other re-sellers from the same (real) manufacturers who private label them. Only their label is different.

So how can these manufacturers/re-sellers control the quality of their products if they don't actually formulate, blend and package them? Obviously they can't because they can't control the manufacturing process...

Since these manufacturers/re-sellers don't manufacture their own products, how are they going to find proper answers to your project questions? They'll make an attempt to provide you with answers, but they don't fully understand the products they sell. They'll often hire contractors who have field experience to help them provide the answers. But here's the reality: very rarely do any of them know the science or chemistry making these products or how they react over time with other products.

What manufacturers can offer

With the practice of private labelling and potential drawbacks highlighted, the author moves on to the benefits of dealing directly with the real manufacturers -

From raw materials through manufacturing and all the way to finished goods, we (the real manufacturers) not only know the chemistry and science behind our products, but understand the evolution of our industry and your needs. We manufacture all the products we sell, we know what's in them and how they react with other products and processes. With this knowledge, we can find the proper solution to meet your project needs.

A tin of coating with a question mark on it suggesting the manufacturer is unknown.

What does it mean?

Admittedly that paints a rather dark and gloomy picture for private labelling and it must be said that you’re obviously not going to encounter these problems with every re-seller. What I believe the discussion was - albeit very passionately - trying to get across was the fact that no one knows a product better than the true manufacturer and there are some real benefits that come with that knowledge. So, if that’s important to you then you should make sure you’re indeed working with the manufacturer and not just a re-seller.

How? Well, the best way is to simply ask. Don't be satisfied with labels or promotional material, go straight to the manager and ask if the product you're buying is really manufactured by their company. Only the real coating manufacturers will be able to say yes and give you the full depth of product support spoken about above.

Take care and talk to you later,

Jack

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Epoxy application - cold joints and concrete trenches

Dealing with old concrete can be very different to new concrete, but what do you do if you've got both on the same job?

Now, I’m not talking about a new slab being located somewhere in the same building as an old slab, because when separated nice and cleanly like that you can tackle each one individually without too much extra to think about. No, what I am talking about here is entirely different. Something that often represents a bigger challenge; something called a cold joint.

A cold joint is a discontinuity in the slab where one section of concrete has hardened before another is laid right up against it (without a flexible joint installed in between). This delay could be a matter of hours, days, or even years, but it can cause problems regardless.

While these joints can simply be a case of two slabs side-by-side, the tricky, worst-case scenario often comes when a new section of concrete gets plonked into an old slab, i.e. a trench. Trenches are typically cut to allow pipe work, drains or electrical gear to be installed and there are a few important things I want to highlight that don’t always get considered when going over the top with a coating.

A cold joint prepared in readiness for coating.

Trenches and hydrostatic pressure

Ideally the cuts made when forming a trench don’t go right through to dirt as this can breach waterproofing measures and result in large cracks or blisters in the coating through hydrostatic pressure. As a flooring contractor, it pays to work with builders closely to ensure waterproofing is kept intact or at least know what was done so that any necessary precautions or corrections can be made before coating.

Trenches and concrete porosity

More often than not you'll find the concrete used to fill a trench isn't the same as the surrounding material and this can lead to a few problems as well. Cheaper concrete mixes and different finishing techniques can lead to a softer, more porous surface. Not only does this raise doubts about how well the trench material will bond to the sides of the existing slab, it also means you have to be very careful when you coat it.

The solution to both of these issues is the use of primers and sealers. Priming the sides of the trench immediately before the fresh batch is poured can address the concrete-to-concrete bond concerns, while sealing the new batch after it has cured may be necessary to stop the coating from soaking in too much. A quality low-viscosity, clear epoxy can be a good fit for both jobs in most cases.

Trenches and green concrete

Cold joints will rarely be given the full 28 days to cure like standard concrete because most renovation jobs don't have the luxury of shutting down for that long. With that in mind, it’s a big advantage to use products that can handle the moisture and alkalinity of green concrete. Some solventless epoxies are capable of this, with other options including water-based epoxies and possibly colloidal silica solutions.

Alternatively, some trenches use “deep fill” products rather than concrete that are suitable for coating within 24 hours. If that’s the case and there are no compatibility issues to speak of, you can get on with coating the next day and side-step the fresh concrete concern. Just like everything though, if there’s any doubt on how your product will go over the top then you should test it first!

If you keep on top of the considerations above, applying over a cold joint or trench needn't be a major headache. I personally believe the best thing you can do is communicate with the builder at every opportunity so that you know exactly what’s going on and can make informed decisions on how to go about your task. This, unfortunately, is sometimes easier said than done though!

Take care and talk to you later,

Jack

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Epoxy troubleshooting - pigment pot problems

I think the idea of a pigment pot is great, however you’d be surprised how many headaches I’ve seen them cause contractors over the years.

For those not familiar with pigment pots, or pigment packs as they’re also known, they are small tubs of pre-dispersed pigment stirred into suitable products to add colour. They’re very handy for both manufacturers and contractors mainly because they allow these products to be coloured as needed and, therefore, can make the task of managing stock much easier.

While they’re very handy and straight forward to use in theory, there are a few things you might want to be wary of to make sure you don’t run into any trouble.

In epoxy for solventless epoxies

If you work with solventless epoxies like I do, you really want a pigment dispersed in an epoxy resin and nothing else. Some pigments are dispersed in solvents or plasticisers, both of which might be compatible, but they can also give you grief.

Personally I don't like working with solvents for a number of reasons I've already spoken about at length, so I try to minimise their use in any shape or form. As for plasticisers, which are typically compounds called phthalates, my problem with them relates more to the fact they can stop an epoxy from fully crosslinking and this can have a negative impact on performance.

Beware the pigment

On a similar note, be aware of the actual pigments used in the pigment pot. For the contractors who value safety and eco-friendly practices, the pigment pot can be an unexpected hazard – cadmium, cobalt and, amazing as it may seem, lead-based pigments are still used by some manufacturers today.

It actually reminds me of an unfortunate instance where a contractor promoting the use of safer coatings unwittingly used pigment pots containing toxic substances that severely compromised the green objectives of a high-profile project. Not all pigments are safe and not all pigment pots are equal, so it pays to know exactly what goes into them.

Old pigment pots

Freshly manufactured pigment pots usually mix easily enough, however over time they can have a tendency to thicken and settle, which can lead to problems like clumping. Prevention is certainly better than the cure in this case, so if you have an old pigment pot there are a few things you might want to consider before application.

Firstly, you can warm the pigment to loosen it up and get it back to more like its original viscosity for easier dispersion. Secondly, mixing the pigment pot into a fraction of Part A rather than the whole bucket can be effective because the higher concentration gives the mixer a better chance of breaking up the clumps. Finally, you might look to strain the mixed product through a fine sock to make sure the clumps are separated out before you apply.

Clumps of undispersed pigment pot visible in solventless epoxy film.

Batch-to-batch colour consistency

Some manufacturers are very good with their colour consistency from batch to batch, others might not be. If possible, only use the same batch across the job to ensure that there’s no chance of inconsistency. If you can’t do that, use the same batch for each coat. If that's not possible either, you can record the weight of one pigment pot, mix as many as you need together in a separate container and re-fill each pot once again. This will blend all of the inconsistencies into a uniform colour.

To finish off, I’ve separated out and left a very common pigment pot issue to last because it’s more a factor of how they’re used rather than any problem with the pigment pots themselves. The problem I speak of is colour separation and I actually covered this topic in a previous post a while ago (read it here) so I won’t go into great detail here. Just as a quick summary, the greatest risk of experiencing colour separation occurs when putting a pigment pot into a low-viscosity, clear epoxy because the blended pigments are free to move around and settle at different rates. The best way to avoid it is to use coatings that are formulated to be tintable (rather than clear) and apply during the afternoon; both of which help restrict the mobility of these pigments.

What other pigment pot problems have you encountered?

Take care and talk to you later,

Jack

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Epoxy clean up - are you a folder or a scruncher?

I used to be a scruncher, but I saw the light and I'm now a proud folder. Ok, before your mind goes into the gutter let me just make it clear I'm talking about cleaning up epoxy resins here and nothing else!

Believe it or not there are clear advantages to using a folding technique when cleaning up epoxies and, seeing as my recent posts have wandered into the field of handy practical tips, I may as well highlight some of these while I’m at it.

Now, I know some are happy to sit over a bucket of solvent with an old brush when cleaning tools, however if you want a long career in the epoxy industry I strongly believe you should minimise your exposure to harsh chemicals at every opportunity. The headaches, solvent highs and skin irritations will catch up with you eventually!

If you want a less hazardous way of cleaning up epoxies that’s also neat and efficient, here’s how I go about things.

No need to get aggressive when cleaning up epoxies

The first point is to always use gloves and make sure they can handle the solvent being used. Some solvents can disintegrate even the highest quality gloves and, therefore, aren’t really suitable as general purpose cleaners in my opinion. Those of you familiar with methylene chloride will know what I’m talking about! I tend to stick with methylated spirits (or denatured alcohol) where possible and only turn to more powerful solvents like acetone or methyl ethyl ketone (MEK) for cleaning up epoxies that have partially cured. There’s really no need to use anything more aggressive than that.

The “squirt and fold” approach for cleaning up epoxies

Those of you who do work with a bucket of solvent are probably wondering how I go about cleaning tools. Well, I find a squirter bottle and rag to be a great combination. You could use an ironing spray bottle on the mist setting as well, but I’d prefer not to as there’s greater chance of inhaling the stuff. If you need to get into nooks and crannies, a quick blast from the nozzle at close range normally does the trick. Other than that, I simply squirt onto a folded rag and start wiping, re-folding as required to create another clean patch.

A squirter bottle and folded rag are effective at cleaning up epoxies.

The big advantages with folding are neatness and efficiency. Firstly, folding means I have a smooth, flat surface to wipe with far less chance of smearing. Secondly, I have a small contained area where the mess sits in the rag. I can fold to lock it inside and go again with a new, clean surface. If you scrunch, you tend to lose track of the dirty areas and this often leads to goop getting everywhere. Have you ever tried to clean a liquid pigment like phthalo blue or signal red using a scrunched rag? It’s a nightmare!

Finally, I can use the back of the rag when folding because the solvent soaks through the layers and allows me to pick up even more resin. This means you're using a lot more surface area when folding, which greatly reduces the number of rags needed.

For those unwilling to give up the bucket and brush method, I suggest at least switching to white vinegar instead. It will remove the majority of waste off your tools and a quick wipe of methylated spirits/denatured alcohol at the end will bring them up as good as new.

Dry your rags before disposal

There’s one last tip I have with relation to cleaning up epoxies and it’s also a pretty important piece of safety advice: let solvent-soaked rags dry out in the open before you throw them in the bin. Solvents give off a lot of vapour and a heap of soaked rags stuffed into a bin can quickly build up to become a serious fire hazard.

If you still doubt the benefit of being a folder after reading all of this then I can only suggest that you try it. It is one of those habits things that people seem to adopt for good as soon as they try it because it is so much more effective. I guarantee that you'll use much less solvent, rags, time and energy when you next clean up.

What are your nifty clean up tricks? Do you have a method that works well and doesn’t create a mess or involve nasty solvents?

Take care and talk to you later,

Jack

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