By Adrian Henry, Artisan Award-winning General Manager of Polished Concrete at NEx Systems
Everyone wants that polished, glossy look in commercial flooring these days. You'll see it in government buildings, retail stores, office skyscrapers, casino and hotel lobbies, and more. That's because a shiny surface shows the business pays attention to details, but non-slip coatings are the true hero.
When architects choose flooring, it’s typically more about aesthetic than functionality. They don’t always take real-world usage into consideration. Often a space with a lot of foot traffic will be specified for high-gloss tile, polished concrete, or high-polish epoxy or terrazzo floors. These choices provide a clean, polished look, but come with a price if you don’t know how to specify non-slip flooring. After installation, often the building owner or developer realizes that the floor is too slippery to be safe - especially when wet.
Rather than replace a new or existing floor – or redesign the space – it’s best to make these high-gloss surfaces more slip resistant. There are several ways to do this, but first let’s dive into the science of the problem.
How to Get High Reflectivity Without Sacrificing Friction
The U.S. Department of Commerce published detailed research into walkway slipperiness all the way back in 1948. It explains the mechanics of walking related to slipping, as well as laying out how instruments should be designed to test this. The researchers used a mechanical heel on a pendulum to measure this.
A surface’s slipperiness is effectively measured by a co-efficient of its friction. It’s called Amontons’ First and Second Law of Friction (although Wired also reports that the contact area also matters). Assuming everyone’s wearing the same shoes, the friction test holds.
At its most basic level, anything below 0.5 is considered slippery, while a co-efficient from 0.5 to 1.0 has traction.
The other variable is reflectivity or gloss. Glossiness is measured with a reflectivity meter, which measures how much light is bounced back off a surface. Surface texture variations greatly impact reflectivity, which is measured on a 0-100% scale. Anything above 60% reflectivity is glossy, while 90-100% is reflective.
Most slip resistant flooring is glossy but not reflective in order to maintain traction. But NEx Systems has developed new coatings that improve both slip resistance and reflectivity. So, let’s look at the available flooring options.
Slip-Resistant Flooring Options Architects Can Choose From
New flooring options:
Although gloss and traction are the topics of this article they, aren’t the first considerations in commercial flooring. That’s durability. Natural surfaces like wood, granite, and marble are durable materials that can withstand the higher foot traffic of commercial usage. They also have a natural gloss, although it needs to be brought out.
Stone naturally has a high co-efficient of friction until it’s polished. Depending on how it is honed, its slipperiness (co-efficient of friction) can vary a lot. Natural materials aren’t the only options though.
Man-made surfaces – like porcelain tile, vinyl composite, luxury vinyl tile, epoxy, and polished concrete – can have a wide variance in co-efficient of friction. Terrazzo is also a popular, highly durable option for decorative flooring. Because they’re manmade, however, you can choose the exact levels of gloss and traction.
If the floor already exists, there are two options to gain gloss without getting too slippery to walk:
1. The traditional method: Apply Modified Acrylic Wax Waxing is the traditional method of finishing a floor. When applied correctly, modified acrylic wax protects the surface while increasing the gloss. After it dries, wax increases the floor surface gloss while keeping the co-efficient of friction between 0.5 and 0.76. It also seals the pores to increase resistance against stains, nicks, and other imperfections.
Organizations traditionally preferred wax because it’s inexpensive to apply. It’s the industry standard, so it’s not difficult to find vendors who use it. Waxes achieve approximately 60 reflectivity, putting them at the bottom end of gloss.
The problem with wax
While a single application of wax is inexpensive, it has to be re-applied with increasing frequency over time. Wax is sticky and captures debris - so as it’s mopped daily, it quickly loses its reflectivity as it captures more dust and dirt particles. This leaves you re-waxing on a regular basis to maintain the sheen.
As wax layers build up with dirt, the reflectivity drops until it starts to look muddy yellow. After awhile, each additional layer decreases the co-efficiency of friction.
Other issues with wax are that it's slippery when wet and it requires heat-burnishing to harden and create high reflectivity, which can disrupt businesses to prepare for its application.
Additionally, wax has high VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds), which makes its fumes unsafe in populated environments. These fumes can leach into food packaging, so wax should not be applied in grocery stores with shelves stocked, restaurants, etc. or around sensitive populations (schools, hospitals, elder care facilities).
Because of this, there is a business interruption when wax is applied. Layers of wax must be completely chemically stripped every 2- 4 years. This process is expensive, toxic and disrupts business for several days.
2. The new method: Use NEx P.A.H. (Polyaspartic Hybrid) Polyaspartic acid (PASA) is a biodegradable, water-soluble polymerized amino acid. It’s turned into an ester to create proprietary polyaspartic coatings that carry different characteristics. Our specific blend is stain resistant, reflective, and non-slip, making it perfect for commercial flooring like slip resistant tile, epoxy or polished concrete floors.
Whether dry or wet, the polyaspartic hybrid (PAH) coating developed by NEx Systems has excellent traction. When dry, its co-efficient of friction is between 0.6 and 1.0. When wet, it’s still respectable, only dropping between 0.1 and 0.2. This makes it an ideal coating for restaurants, grocery stores, lobbies or anywhere else where spills, dripping umbrellas or other slip hazards occur.
Unlike wax, NEx PAH never needs to be stripped and doesn’t need to be heat-burnished. It can simply be rolled on like paint, making re-application less time intensive. It can be walked on 30 minutes after an application and is fully cured within 72 hours – and has no VOCs. It’s a proprietary, non-toxic formulation that is completely safe for people and food to be around as it cures.
NEx PAH also has a higher reflectivity rating than heat-burnished guards and waxes. It achieves approximately 90 reflectivity, putting it at the high end of glossy and low end of reflective. Since it does not require burnishing, it can be applied on most hard surfaces – including floors as well as walls.
Individual applications of NEx PAH cost more than applying a wax layer, but the overall cost of polished concrete installation/renovation is less with PAH than wax. In fact, here’s a quick cost breakdown chart between PAH and wax:
Cost comparison of polished concrete - typical Wax vs NEx PAH The labor costs required to polish concrete to get the same level of reflectivity you can achieve with PAH more than offsets its additional application costs: Comparison for a medium-polish concrete floor (grocery store/Home Depot, etc.)
Typical Wax Process: 4 - 6 passes of polish (if 1000 sq ft - you’ve polished up to 6000 sq ft) Then lay guard down Then burnish Cost ~$7/sq ft .75 to $1 per pass per sq ft ($5 - $6 /ft) $1 per sq ft (clean/burnish)
Using NEx PAH to achieve same reflectivity/look: 1 - 2 passes of polish (if 1000 sq ft - you’ve only polished up to 2000 sq ft) 2 - 3 passes of PAH Cost ~$4/sq ft 2 passes ($2/ft) $2 per ft PAH
As you can see, the cost of ownership is much less since it never needs heat burnishing or stripping. Of course, NEx PAH isn’t for every application. It’s not a good choice for wood floors. That honor goes to water-based polyurethane. It also isn’t ideal for natural stone. A sealer-impregnator is better for this, so it does not change the look/color of the stone.
A Tale of Two Major Movie Studios Switching to NEx PAH
The Dreamworks Animation Studio in Los Angeles is a massive complex with both indoor and outdoor pathways and meeting areas. These outdoor pathways had shiny Mexican pavers installed 20 years ago, but they caused slip/fall issues and needed to be replaced. In addition to the slipperiness issues, there were olive stains on the flagstone, the two-tone exterior pavers were sun-faded, and even the gloss of the interior tiles had dulled.
Dreamworks wanted to keep the glossy look of their interior tiles but improve the traction, so they contacted NEx for expert advice. Our custom formula included new color enhancers and cleaning agents for the exterior pavers and slip-resistant coatings for all surfaces. We ended up using PAH both on the inside as well as outside tiles, because PAH has a UV screen to protect color from the sun and is an effective stain-resistant coating in addition to its anti-slip properties.
Because of the beauty and functionality of the finished product, Universal Studios requested NEx use PAH for a similar issue at their studio. We’re not just going Hollywood either. From Nike to Finish Line, and even San Francisco’s Levi’s Stadium, where the Super Bowl champion 49ers play, more businesses trust NEx to understand their unique flooring needs and provide a professional job on time, every time.
Find the Right Commercial Flooring Option for You
Everyone wants that shiny floor that makes your building look professional. Whether using natural materials, synthetics, or coatings, it’s possible to find the perfect balance of gloss and traction in a commercial floor. It just takes a little research and due diligence. If you’re unsure what to look for, ask the professionals for help. We’ve worked with commercial operations throughout the west coast to create flawless finishes for any use. High traffic areas both indoors and outdoors can benefit from a little more shine. Non-slip coatings not only improve the aesthetic, but they also protect the flooring materials used and lengthen the life and beauty of your architecture. Contact NEx to learn more about our available flooring options.
Want to know more?
You can download our free Polished Concrete Buying Guide as well as design case studies and detailed information on polished concrete, concrete overlay and epoxy (resin) flooring here.
If you want to see design options and examples of materials used in a wide variety of commercial flooring, be sure to check out our website here.