Chips, cracks, and stains aren’t good for any floor, but as soon as you bring children into the mix — infants to pre-kindergarteners, in this case — the problem gets amplified. Safety is always a concern, and it was no less so at the Smart Start Academy in New Jersey.
The client, which has four different locations, wanted to complete the reworking on one of the building’s floors during winter break. There were no staff or children to work around, but the crew only had one week to complete the job. That meant no time for mockups, mistakes, or slow-cure coatings.
The school found High Performance Systems (HPS) online. The coating contractor’s website shares various jobs that they’ve completed over the years; "our previous work spoke for itself,” said Stephen Smedley, director of operations. “That’s our storefront nowadays,” he continued. “Nobody comes to your office if they need a floor. You need to kind of draw the picture for them so we try to chronicle all the projects and use them as illustrations for future projects.”
And it worked. “They were sold on the idea of something seamless because of the cleanliness of it for a preschool. It just makes it a lot easier to disinfect or sanitize a floor,” Smedley explained. But HPS soon turned the school’s leadership from choosing a ceramic carpet to considering a metallic epoxy floor. “I think that that’s what they wanted, they just didn’t know how to voice it. It’s kind of a common thing in our industry,” he continued. HPS then brought in various coating manufacturer reps to show options. Smedley believes that looping in the manufacturers “gives our customer a little bit more confidence in what we’re doing.”
Whole Lot of Work
In total, the new floors covered 3,200 square feet (297.3 m²). The first phase covered the kitchen area, two bathrooms, two play areas, and three offices. The client moved all the desks, chairs, and any other movable pieces from that 2,000-square-foot (185.8 m²) area to the other half of the building. That allowed HPS’s eight-person crew to cover the edges of the decorative walls with 3-foot (0.9 m) craft paper.
Because they only had a short amount of time, they also worked with the existing substrate. On phase one, that was ceramic tile. “To remove tile, you’re opening up kind of a can of worms,” Smedley explained. “And also they [the client] didn’t really want to remove tile because they had some pieces of furniture that were installed or assembled in place that couldn’t be moved out of the space so it would have made for some elevation issues on that side.”
That meant using 30G-X Lavina diamond grinders purchased from Niagara Machines to level the tiles on day one, as well as taping off transitions and cutting keyways around doorways and drains. The prep equipment used S36 Pullman-Ermator high-efficiency air particulate (HEPA) vacuums. Combined with the use of solvent wipes, the vacuums helped keep the dust at a minimum, crucial for a children’s area.
On day two, they applied both the self-leveling cement urethane, General Polymers (GP) Fastop SL with 80/120 grit silica, and the primer, GP 3569.
“We used a lot of different products on this project, like a cement urethane primer, which is not necessarily typical,” Smedley said. “But it was all designed with the idea that these guys needed their place back within four days. They were going to have children back in the space after their shut down for Christmas. So, basically, we were trying to get accelerated cures on all of these products while achieving their metallic effect.”
The crew laid down the urethane cement with a v-notched squeegee and roller. That was applied to an average thickness of 1/8th inch (0.3 cm), broadcast with 80/120-grit silica, and then screened with 100-grit buffers. On top of that, the crew applied the first layer of the epoxy system, tinted black. “That metallic ends up being a little translucent, so that background almost adds a depth to your metallic system when it’s done,” Smedley explained. The crew wore safety glasses and respirators as necessary.
That first epoxy layer was applied at an average of 80 square feet a gallon (2.0 m²/L), which Smedley explained is a bit thicker than normal to make the floor flat for the metallics. That black layer also included a dry aggregate called Sil-Co-Sil by U.S. Silica, which not only helped thicken it but also acts as a “heat sink.”
Epoxies put off heat as they cure, which can cause outgassing and blistering. “Then you end up with bubbles in your coating and you’d have little craters in your floor that you’d need to patch before you put down your metallic,” explained Smedley. The silica helped regulate the epoxy’s temperature to avoid defects.
The next day, the crew buffed the basecoat using those 120-grit screens, then vacuumed, solvent-wiped, and patched it. “So it’s a whole lot of prep work before you get into that metallic,” Smedley said.
Because this project took place during the winter, the crew had to deal with cold weather. They raised the heat inside the building to 90 °F (32.2 °C), but there were huge windows on the walls that didn’t help. “Most of these coatings, the heat’s going to accelerate the cure, so from 70 to 90 degrees [21.1–32.2 °C] is a drastic difference,” Smedley explained. “With that said, 90-degree [32.2 °C] heat on those exterior walls only brought me up to like 70 degrees [21.1 °C] so it didn’t exactly accelerate the cure — it just allowed us to get back in the curing window that we wanted.”
With the temperatures set, the crew moved on to the main coating: a tan color called sandbar. They troweled it down at 55–60 square feet per gallon (1.3–1.5 m²/L). Smedley said the thicker it’s applied, the more “movement” the metallic will show. Into that layer, they painted the pearl veining. Wearing spiked shoes, they used a mist of acetone to encourage more movement and then backrolled the coating. “You really have to be specific about where you roll through the white so you don’t muddle the colors too much,” Smedley said.
To protect the metallic floor from ultraviolet (UV) rays and scratches and offer slip resistance, the crew top-coated it using a clear polyaspartic mixed with 220 grit white aluminum oxide. That layer was squeegeed and backrolled to an average of 125 square feet per gallon (3.1 m²/L). And as opposed to other topcoat options, it only took 4 to 6 hours to cure.
“It’s almost like artwork on a floor that’s permanent,” Smedley said.
The second phase of the project, which covered the book room, play areas, and bathroom, was slab on grade and went similarly to the first phase. One big difference was the floating wood that they first had to remove. They installed a few transition strips where the original tile and wood floors met, which they also covered in vinyl. “That was really just to show a clean, professional job on it,” Smedley explained.
Despite the project’s abnormally short turnaround, cold temperatures, and various substrates, the client was pleased with the results.
The crew delivered the finished floor to the client on Saturday, the day before Christmas, which allowed the staff enough time to move the furniture back in just in time for school to resume after the holiday.
“It was really highly specified,” Smedley concluded. “It was like utilizing pretty much everything in the product line and it actually worked out perfect. Not to sound like that was a surprise, but it’s a little bit untraditional and if you’re a flooring contractor it’s a little bit exciting.” What a way to spend a winter break!