The next step in floor protection

Polyurethane-elastomer floor coatings protect against water damage and can be used to re-seal damaged flooring structures

By Ron Whipple, Marketing Director, SWD Urethane Co., Mesa, Arizona

As Mark Twain once said, “Everybody talks about the weather, but nobody does anything about it.” Well now industrial plant personnel can combat the elements, at least as far as flooring is concerned, thanks to newly developed polyurethane-elastomer coating technology that protects against water damage.

Water and related weather damage to flooring is almost guaranteed to be dangerous and expensive, whether the flooring in question is concrete, wood or other materials. Such problems often lead to structural failures, not to mention business interruptions, inconvenience and legal actions.
  
When you have a flooring problem, especially one caused by moisture, the big question is: “How bad will it be?” Operators of commercial enterprises such as manufacturing plants face not only the cost of repair, but the loss of production and shipments. In many cases, flooring problems caused by moisture can be catastrophic, resulting in personal injuries and business closings.

Today’s polyurethane-elastomer hard coating products can eliminate these problems, not only through moisture- and weatherproofing, but also by protecting against corrosion and wear and tear. In addition, polyurethane-elastomer coatings can be used to re-seal flooring structures that are already damaged.

 Polyurethane foams can be applied in multiple adjoining  sections, which appear to be seamless.

The basic formula

Polyurethane-elastomer is actually a urethane-based formulation that offers the protective properties of polyurethane and the resiliency of an elastomeric. In the form of a liquid spray coating, it is especially useful for protecting industrial plant floors, adding years of service to surfaces that would otherwise suffer from wear and corrosion. Polyurethane elastomer coatings seal and protect concrete, fiberglass, wood, metal and other surfaces, and are available in a selection of colors and non-skid walk surfaces.
  
In addition, polyurethane-elastomers enhance artistic choices for using coated surfaces in new ways, either exposed or with decorative coverings. These hard coatings are especially durable because they are 100% solid and can be applied in thicknesses that will survive for years. Like polyurethane foams, they are monolithic, so the material can be applied in multiple adjoining sections, which appear to be seamless.
  
Newly developed two-component systems, composed of isocyanate and custom-formulated polyol, combine to produce extra-hard polymer products, which accommodate a wide range of applications.
  
Special polyurethane chemistry, which incorporates cross-linked polymers, catalysts, blowing agents, pigments and proprietary components with high exothermic and rapid-reaction processes, are incorporated into these systems, which are designed to handle demanding industrial applications. These coating systems set up in seconds on floors with a Shore A hardness of 90, and high 1635 tensile strength for traffic, within 30 seconds of application.

Long-term durability

Polyurethane is a polymer that contains one or more urethane groups. It is made by mixing the ingredient chemicals (isocyanate and polyol) in the desired proportions to react and form a polymer with specific characteristics. Polyurethane coating materials differ in composition and catalytic activity, allowing for improved strength and adhesive characteristics. The specific physical-mechanical properties may be tailored to meet individual customer needs.
  
The durability of polyurethane-elastomer coatings is the result of physical properties, such as high tensile strength and high resistance to chemical and abrasive damage. These materials also offer high thermal stability at temperatures ranging from -15 to 350 F, so they can withstand a wide range of internal or external temperatures.
  
While polyurethanes may be more expensive upfront, the longevity of the material translates into cost-effective operations, lower maintenance and fewer replacements over the long term. In general, polyurethane floor coatings are cost-competitive with comparable epoxy coatings.
In addition, polyurethane-elastomer coatings provide a virtually airtight enclosure, thereby ensuring long life and an efficient method of resealing damaged floors.
  
For example, a newly developed, one-component, urethane acrylic emulsion is designed to spread on the most difficult polyurethane-elastomeric-coated surfaces. Used as a floor coating, it seals and protects surfaces against the elements and aids in prevention of  wear and tear. Like other polyurethane coatings, it may be applied using a brush, roller, airless spray or airbrush. Also, the coating features no solvents or VOCs, so it is environmentally friendly. Low-odor characteristics make it readily usable indoors.
  
However, the use of polyurethanes with different properties presents disadvantages. For example, polynol-based polyurethanes are more expensive and are usually difficult to handle. They are used to develop polyurethane coatings with superior tensile, abrasion, flexing and oil-resistance properties. Thus, they are used for the most demanding flooring applications.

Applying polyurethane

Polyurethane-elastomer coatings are relatively easy to apply. They can be sprayed on using commercially available equipment. They adhere to surfaces such as wood, fiberglass, metal and concrete quickly. They are fast-drying and can be pigmented to enhance appearance and improve light stability. In addition, they may be sprayed on irregular surfaces as well as vertical and horizontal surfaces without incurring problems, such as drips or runs.
  
“In the past, a contractor may have been forced to waterproof a balcony or other flooring surface by hot-mopping it,” explains Lee Matson of Nevada Spray Foam, Las Vegas, Nev. “A hot mop is basically just oil and paper. The oil evaporates and the surface becomes permeable, so water will penetrate.” That, however, is the technology of yesterday.
  
According to Mason, today’s polyurethane-elastomer blends offer capabilities that enable contractors like him to ask questions that in the past remained unanswered. “When you’re involved with a new flooring project, you have to base your recommendations on variables that couldn’t necessarily be addresses in the past. These questions included: Does it have to be UV stable? Is it an inside or outside application? Is it a high-traffic area? Is there a water barrier below another surface, such as tile?” Then, of course, there are repair and replacement situations where you may have to consider different options before selecting a product.

Wide range of industrial applications

Tom Tedford, president of Flo-Tech, a Phoenix-based industrial coatings specialist, uses polyurethane-based coatings for a wide range of applications. He developed a self-contained trailer with on-board electrical power generation, air compressor and 250 feet of hose to spray urethane coatings at indoor or outdoor locations.
  
Flo-Tech contracted the coating of the “penthouse” floor of Motorola’s Queen Creek, Ariz. complex, which houses the Iridium satellite construction project. “When the air conditioning units on the top floor dripped condensation water, it would leak down through the control joints to where the satellites were being built,” Tedford explains. “They needed a solution that was fast-acting and odor-free, since the problem was in the air exchange room. We used a polyurethane-elastomer coating because the installation and drying processes are fast, and there’s virtually no odor. Most of the work was performed during business hours.”
  
A milk loading facility near Phoenix required retrofitting of a diamond-plate floor with a hard, smooth surface. “The floor was located in an area where they would slide plastic milk crates for loading onto trucks,” Tedord explains “The rough metal plate caused some crates to break and leak milk under the floor. Since the milk’s lactic acid is very caustic, it created quite a mess.” Tedford says his firm was able to solve the problem by removing the diamond plate and applying a polyurethane coating. He sprayed the coating in 40 F temperature in less than one day, without interrupting business.

Regional solutions

Matson says polyurethane’s waterproofing capabilities can solve problems that are specific to certain regions of the country. His company installs hard urethane coatings on parking garage floors in the Las Vegas area, where it is common for the lower levels to be used as office space. “It doesn’t rain that often in Las Vegas, but when it does, you don’t want rain water leaching through the concrete into the offices,” he explains. “So we essentially create a roof over the offices with the coating.”
  
Matson cites the versatility and adaptability of urethane-based coatings as their greatest assets. “People come to me with flooring problems and I often offer a polyurea coating as the solution,” he says. “We’re getting ready to do a repair job where glass fiber reinforced concrete, a lightweight material, was used to fabricate artificial rocks in an ‘aquascape’ where water is constantly flowing. The rocks are beginning to leak and water is getting into the pump and other equipment underneath, so we plan to soda-blast the surfaces and coat them with a polyurethane-elastomer coating.”
  
To illustrate the ruggedness of polyurethane, Matson says he uses the coatings to provide “secondary containment” for fuel and chemical cells used by the military. “You can spray the material right on the ground and create a pond. If you want to level a slope, you might use a polyurethane spray foam first, then spray in the hard coat.”

Photo courtesy of SWD Urethane Co.