By Adrian Henry, Artisan Award-winning General Manager of Polished Concrete at NEx Systems (image - NEx Systems technicians finishing an epoxy floor at Nike's global photo studios)
Long known to be one of the most toxic commercial flooring options available, innovations in the hard surface flooring industry have made a version of epoxy flooring completely non-toxic with the same look, feel and performance of traditional epoxy floors. Epoxy is a multi-usage miracle resin. It’s used as an adhesive, paint, or plastic, and a wide range of products either use or are created from it. Epoxy is made from synthetic polymers, and you’ll find it everywhere from industrial flooring to restaurant, airport and hospital flooring as well as in paints. As a floor, it can withstand acids, can be installed without seams, can be colored or textured to match almost any specification, holds up to heavy foot traffic and with additives can even take the weight of heavy equipment or airplanes without cracking…. All this and it’s easily cleaned with a standard mop. With so much adaptability and low maintenance costs, it’s an ideal flooring surface. The problem is that traditional epoxy isn't environmentally friendly, and is very toxic to the health of the workers who install it, the other work crews on the same job site, and to a lesser extent, the future tenants who could be affected by it’s off-gassing in sealed buildings. Much as asbestos was widely used in construction before it’s health impacts were fully understood and it’s use in most applications were banned, isocyanates, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), formaldehyde and other commonly used toxins have gotten increasing scrutiny in the past decade. Sick building syndrome, indoor air pollution (linked to chronic respiratory, skin and reproductive damage) and environmental harm have all been linked to the use of some commercial building materials including epoxy flooring. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health at the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention has reported that icocyanates specifically has led to “deaths from severe asthma in some sensitized subjects.” Similar disturbing findings about the impact of these chemicals on the environment, worker safety and tenant health has come out of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Institutes of Health, the Environmental Protection Agency and even state agencies such as the California Department of Public Health.
From a construction management perspective, epoxy floors are problematic because their toxic cure time creates a dangerous environment for job sites. Crews are required to suspend all work on a jobsite – across all trades – during the 72 hour off-gassing cure period for new epoxy installations. Typically, this is right near the end of a project, where schedules tend to be the most impacted as contractors race toward their delivery date.
A New non-toxic Epoxy
NEx Systems is not a typical flooring company. We are led by a chemical engineer who started out developing proprietary carpet and upholstery cleaning methods that have saved California millions of gallons of water over the past several years. When NEx expanded its service offerings to include hard surface floor installations, it became his mission to find a way to find a way to deliver high quality epoxy flooring with all of the adaptability and versatility of standard epoxy but without the damaging environmental and health impacts. The result of his years-long search, research and collaboration with other like-minded innovators in the construction materials space is NEx Green Epoxy, a product exclusively offered by NEx Systems. It’s priced similarly and performs as well as traditional epoxy, but for the first time ever offers an epoxy floor with NO VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds - linked to chronic asthma and respiratory damage) and NO Isocyanates (the deadly toxin found in resins that has caused reproductive and respiratory damage – and even death).
This means for the first time ever, a general contractor can install an epoxy floor with:
Non-toxic off-gassing during the cure period – so other trades can keep working instead of stopping construction for 72 hours across a job site
No toxic fumes to seep into walls or carpeting or contribute to indoor air pollution to protect the health of future tenants
No toxic fumes to leach into food packaging - so it’s usable in restaurant or grocery renovations without completely emptying the building
No residual toxic off-gassing that could affect sensitive populations in hospitals, doctors offices, elderly facilities or schools
This proprietary epoxy blend is non-toxic and is approved for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification. Green epoxy is a vital step toward achieving certification or even raising your level. Here’s how to get started.
When to Specify Epoxy Flooring
Despite the inherent dangers of standard epoxy floors, there’s always been a variety of reasons to use it, especially in a commercial or industrial setting. Many businesses have unique needs which epoxy flooring is well-suited for. In all of these applications, you can use NEx Green Epoxy instead with the same performance, longevity and adaptability.
When Acid, Chemical or Biohazardous Spills Are Possible Anywhere industrial equipment is used, there’s a chance for chemical spills. This includes oil and gas from leaky machinery, battery acid leaks, and other hazardous – or biohazardous chemicals. In hospital and laboratory settings, epoxy protects the floors from absorbing or leaking contamination. Some acids can eat through concrete or tile – and for hospitals or pharmaceutical labs, the ability to install epoxy floors without cracks or seams makes it easy to maintain a sterile environment. Examples: Hospitals, Pharma labs, Chemistry labs, Car showrooms, Industrial settings with a high design aesthetic
Flooring with Heavy Workloads that Need to Look Good While concrete is certainly strong, it’s prone to crack, especially when supporting extremely heavy loads. Even concrete slabs can be brittle or weakened by moisture seepage so the weight of something like an airplane in an airport hangar or even forklifts moving materials in and out of public spaces can cause unsightly cracks. In heavy-use applications, NEx Systems installers use a variation of NEx Green Epoxy mixed with urethane cement to amplify strength and abrasion resistance while maintaining the same polished look and easy clean-up characteristics of epoxy. Examples: Stadium and airport pedestrian concourses (see our work on Levi’s Stadium, a LEED Gold project), airport hangars, sound stages (see our work on Nike’s Global Photo Studio)
ADA Compliance Renovations The Americans with Disabilities Act has stringent requirements to ensure everyone can access public spaces equally, regardless of physical ability. This means public flooring in bathrooms needs to be seamless, easy to clean, and sterilized. Broken and missing tiles are not ADA compliant, but demolishing existing tile, removing it, resurfacing the floors and then pouring a new ADA-compliant floor is very expensive. Luckily, epoxies can be poured directly over existing tile surfaces (and colored to exact specifications), making an ADA-compliant bathroom renovation a low-cost, single-step alternative Examples: Renovations on old and damaged tile floors in public spaces - bathrooms, walkways, lobbies, etc.
When Full Design Control Is Necessary Functionality isn’t the only reason to use epoxy – there’s also aesthetic. Nike recently applied epoxy as an eco-friendly flooring solution in the photography studio and AV soundstage of its global content production center. The company needed a completely flawless floor with no visible seams, and that’s why they chose NEx Green Epoxy. Our expert installers mixed a perfectly even photo grey and applied it seamlessly from floor to coved walls so that product photo shoots could be placed anywhere with even lighting. The surface could withstand forklifts moving props through the space and be cleaned with a standard mop or rag between takes. After seeing the job done, CBRE, Nike’s property manager, wrote NEx into the contract to manage all textiles, tiles, rubber floors, and fiber-protected walls on its managed properties. But custom coloring is just one of the possible designs – NEx epoxies can create metallic effects, custom color floor mosaics with Schluter strips, stenciled graphics, and more.No matter your vision, epoxy brings it to life.
How NEx Green Epoxy Flooring is Installed
NEx Green Epoxy is applied in pretty much the same series of steps as standard epoxy. The difference is really in the non-toxic formulations used by NEx and the resulting off-gassing. For pretty much any epoxy floor installation, our experts recommend following these steps:
Floor Preparation You should only apply epoxy on a floor that’s been properly prepared to create a flawless floor that will last for years. While epoxy can be poured over imperfections and cracks, all debris and loose particles should be removed and the area should be thoroughly cleaned to ensure the best cohesion of the epoxy to the slab beneath. On a typical concrete slab, our technicians will shot-blast the surface first. This process is essentially the same as shooting high-powered metal bb’s onto the existing floor to create a rough surface that helps the epoxy adhere to the concrete. It creates divots in the surface that help the epoxy grip the floor better. Afterward the floor is thoroughly vacuumed to ensure all debris is pulled off then bathed in acetone and cleaned with microfiber to improve adherence even more.
Mix and Apply the Epoxy Once the floor is prepared, epoxy can be applied.This process should only be done by a trained professional – both because standard epoxies are highly toxic as well as because pouring epoxy is as much art as science. It takes years of apprenticeship to learn to mix the compounds to the right consistency for the current room humidity and temperature, desired density and opacity as well as to learn to pour and spread it with mirror-finish imperfection where there is no trace of the tools used. For some applications, our technicians add sand or other fillers into the mix to create additional floor traction by broadcasting a texture across the new surface. (See an example of this on our Levis Stadium case study).
Curing, UV Protection and Non-Slip Coatings After the standard cure period (typically around 72 hours), the floor is safe to use. In standard epoxies, their toxic off-gassing requires all personnel to vacate the job site during this period, but with NEx Green Epoxy other crews can keep working elsewhere in the building. If you follow our blog, you’re aware that we have developed non-toxic and highly effective floor coatings to increase traction on high-gloss surfaces. That’s why NEx Poly Aspartic Hybrid (P.A.H.) is added as a coating to the top layer to increase slip resistance. It is also an effective guard against discoloration from UV rays which makes it a great coating for both indoor and outdoor applications.
Getting Started with Environmentally Friendly Epoxy Flooring
We’ve been installing commercial flooring around California for over 25 years, and our experience is unparalleled. We’re experts in all facets of the flooring business and many of our clients are referred to us by previous clients. NEx has worked with some of the most discerning professionals in the country on commercial and industrial projects running the gamut. It doesn’t matter if you want functionality or design – we can give you both combined with longevity. Our proprietary blends create flooring miracles that increase aesthetic while maintaining traction under even the heaviest of usage. Best of all, our proprietary epoxy blend is good for the environment - and safe for workers, employees and tenants. The effect we have on the environment is an important part of our mission, and we’re dedicated to helping more businesses reach LEED platinum certification on their projects. Check out our website, send us an email, give us a call, or stop by the office. Our friendly, knowledgeable staff will walk you through everything you need to complete your architectural vision today.
Want to know more?
You can download our free Guide to Epoxy Flooring 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.