Polished Concrete Flooring vs Epoxy Flooring. 6 Key Factors to Keep in Mind When Comparing Their Values

Whether you are just starting to explore some different flooring options for your home, retail or commercial area or you have already narrowed your choices down and are trying to decide between polished concrete flooring and epoxy flooring, you’ve come to the right place.

When looking at flooring options, it can sometimes be tempting to immediately go with the least expensive choice, especially when you are on a tight budget. However, when it comes to flooring, what you really need to focus on is not so much cost as value.

Basically, what you want to remember is that one choice might seem inexpensive at first glance, but if it ends up requiring huge amounts of additional labour over time or it has other major drawbacks, it may end up costing you more in the long run than another choice that is a bit pricier at first but requires less maintenance and lasts longer. In this case, the label prices are less important than the lifetime value. This is true of a lot of types of services and products—not just floors!

When choosing between polished concrete flooring and epoxy flooring, there are some specific points of comparison you may want to pay attention to when considering the value of each choice. The purpose of this post is to help you break down some of these points of comparison so you can choose the type of flooring that is perfect for you.

We invite you to read on to learn more about 6 key factors to keep in mind as you assess the overall value of polished concrete flooring versus epoxy flooring.

  1. Cost over Time

When assessing the overall value of different flooring choices, it does make sense to start by looking at cost over time. At first glance, epoxy flooring may seem more affordable than polished concrete. If you are looking for flooring in a commercial premise for a space that is greater than 200 m2, for instance, the initial cost of epoxy flooring can seem lower initially, depending on if you only require a commercial grade epoxy or if your purposes actually require a pharmaceutical grade epoxy (such as for the storage of food supplement ingredients). In this case, epoxy can be a more expensive product than polished concrete, or perhaps you need a light coloured floor that requires several coats. It is also worth keeping in mind that epoxy flooring tends to require a lot more ongoing maintenance.

If you are looking for a floor for a short period, epoxy flooring might make sense, but the truth is, epoxy flooring is by its very nature a temporary flooring type. This is because epoxy flooring can be damaged by wear and tear and will eventually have to be redone or replaced altogether. This is partly because epoxy flooring can chip off, can scratch easily, and, if the underlying surface was not prepared properly, the epoxy coating can ‘delaminate,’ which means that large sections of the coating peel off the floor. Even just dragging a piece of equipment across an epoxy floor can visibly damage the surface of the epoxy, and spot repairing results in patchy, obvious sections.

So, when looking at the cost of an epoxy floor over time, while it may be less expensive to install, you are inevitably going to have to have another coat put down to maintain the appearance of your floor. In contrast, polished concrete is more durable and has a significantly longer lifespan. It can last for over twice as long as epoxy flooring, meaning that you won’t have to have your floors redone as quickly. Of course, the choice between epoxy floors and polished concrete will always come down to your own unique needs and preferences, but generally speaking, you will get a better lifetime value with polished concrete when considering the cost over time.

2) Maintenance and Cleaning

Another aspect that you will want to keep in mind when considering the overall value of your flooring choices is maintenance and cleaning. While you might think that cleaning wouldn’t make much difference in terms of value, keep in mind that maintenance and cleaning can both involve extra labour, expenses, and time, so it is important to think about those costs, too.

Perhaps one of the biggest disadvantages of epoxy flooring, as compared to polished concrete, is the chemicals that need to be used to clean epoxy floors. They are fairly difficult to clean because many cleaners run the risk of causing the epoxy coating to peel. As a result, you usually have to purchase specialised chemicals, usually acid-based, to clean the epoxy without peeling. Not only can these chemical cleaners run on the pricy side, but they also typically require that you use protective clothing, eyewear, and breathing devices. All of this can require extra time, labour, and expenses—not to mention that, if used improperly, these cleaners can pose a health risk.

Meanwhile, it is also difficult to clean off paint overspray from epoxy flooring, and, as mentioned, epoxy flooring can scratch, peel, and even delaminate entirely.

Concrete flooring, on the other hand, is remarkably easy to maintain and much easier to clean. You can remove dust and debris from polished concrete by simply using hot water or even just a dry dust mop. While you want to avoid any overly alkaline or overly acidic cleaners, a simple pH-neutral cleaner is great for use on a concrete floor. For the most part, though, simple hot water works like a charm on your polished concrete.

When it comes to maintenance and cleaning, there isn’t much competition between polished concrete and epoxy flooring. Concrete flooring is easier to maintain and clean, does not require harsh chemicals like ammonia or acid-based cleaners to remove dust or debris, and is extremely difficult to scratch, due to the concrete being hardened so much during the polishing process. Plus, it is impossible for polished concrete to delaminate, as there is no topical coating involved at all. You can use hot water to clean polished concrete, whereas epoxy flooring requires specialised chemicals and protective cleaning gear.

3) Health and Safety

Speaking of protective gear, that brings us to one of our most important factors to consider when weighing the pros and cons of polished concrete and epoxy floors. Risk to health is a massive price to pay, and the unfortunate reality is that many types of epoxy flooring can pose potential health risks. Now, it is important to point out that, when properly installed, epoxy flooring is generally safe. However, the problem is that epoxy flooring can have high VOC levels.

VOC stands for “volatile organic compounds” and, to provide a quick chemistry lesson, all epoxy flooring contains two parts: a hardener and resin. The hardener and resin go through a chemical reaction, and some of the resulting chemicals are considered VOCs. All epoxy flooring has some level of VOCs, and it is these chemicals that give epoxy its odour. When the epoxy is wet, it tends to emit strong fumes, and this is particularly true of types of epoxy with more hardeners in it. This is why epoxy tends to have a distinctive ammonia odour, and why in commercial or industrial premises that have any connection with food ingredient storage, it is a requirement to use pharmaceutical grade epoxy. Otherwise, the fumes can actually permeate and remain within the goods and the building, contaminating them. This is why many commercial building projects specify that a water-based epoxy must be used if epoxy is used at all.

Now, there are epoxy floors that tend to have lower levels of VOCs than others, and solids-based epoxies may have minimal levels. Certainly, some types of epoxies have less VOCs than others. Water-based epoxies, for instance, have much less odour, but using a water-based epoxy can be counterproductive to the reason epoxy is being considered at all: water-based epoxy is quite a bit less durable than solvent-based epoxies. However, even if an epoxy flooring doesn’t have any detectable odour, that does not mean there are no VOCs present, and even a low level of VOCs can carry health risks during installation. That is why breathing equipment and protective clothes still need to be worn, even with lower VOC epoxies.

Keep in mind that the VOC level can be a greater concern depending on the location of installation. If you are installing flooring in a small or enclosed area with poor ventilation, like a basement, storage room, or garage, the VOCs may be more of an issue. Again, when properly installed, epoxy flooring is generally safe—but it is important to be aware of the risks that VOCs can carry.

Exposure to high VOC levels has been linked to a wide range of health concerns. High VOC levels have been definitively associated with many different symptoms and conditions, ranging from minor irritation of the skin and eyes to major allergic skin reactions. VOCs can cause irritation of the nose, throat and/or lungs, as well as respiratory reactions, symptoms that are reminiscent of asthma, and other breathing difficulties. Health issues can be triggered both by inhalation and by exposure of the skin or the eyes. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the risk of adverse health effects increases the longer the body is exposed to VOCs.

The vapours emitted from epoxy flooring range from mild to very strong in odour, and although the smell disappears over time, the fumes can be very pronounced during installation (and again, a low level of odour does not necessarily mean the epoxy has less VOCs).

Rarely, epoxies can actually result in chemical burns (another reason that is so important to wear protective gear during installation). Repeated, ongoing exposure to VOCs can also cause something known as epoxy sensitisation, and this is a condition in which each time the body is exposed to epoxy, symptoms get worse and a full allergy can develop.

Another alarming risk of VOC levels is that based on research from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a correlation has been found between certain epoxy chemicals and an increased risk of fertility issues, birth defects, and even miscarriages and stillbirths (https://www.cdc.gov/niosh/topics/repro/epoxiesresins.html).

Again, this is not to say that epoxy flooring can’t be safely installed or that there aren’t practical steps that can be taken during and immediately after installation to mitigate potential risks. It is also not to say that everyone who is exposed to epoxy will exhibit major issues or that all epoxy contains dangerously high levels of VOCs. But the fact that these risks exist at all is something that you should be aware of when you are choosing your flooring. Especially for people with pre-existing health conditions or weakened immune systems, make sure that you educate yourself and do your own research to determine if epoxy flooring is a safe choice for your home.

In contrast, polished concrete does not use harsh chemicals and produces little to no toxins when installed. The great news about polished concrete is that it is not treated with harmful chemicals or sealers and they do not have any negative effect on indoor air quality. Concrete flooring is also considered a sustainable and eco-friendly flooring choice, and because it is toxin-free, it is an overall safer and healthier choice, especially when compared to epoxies with high VOCs.

In contrast, polished concrete does not use harsh chemicals and produces little to no toxins when installed. The great news about polished concrete is that it is not treated with harmful chemicals or sealers and they do not have any negative effect on indoor air quality. Concrete flooring is also considered a sustainable and eco-friendly flooring choice, and because it is toxin-free, it is an overall safer and healthier choice, especially when compared to epoxies with high VOCs.

Polished concrete is considered one of the safest flooring options when it comes to health, thanks to the fact that it does not require hazardous cleaners, coatings, or adhesives (https://www.concretenetwork.com/blog/healthy-flooring.html). Polished concrete is also a good choice for those with allergies or asthma, and when in-floor radiant heating is used for polished concrete floors, because there is no air that gets blown around with underfloor heating, it prevents dust or dirt from being recirculated.

4) Durability

There is no question that durability plays a key role in determining a floor’s overall value, and this is another category where polished concrete has the upper hand over epoxy flooring. As discussed earlier, polished concrete typically lasts longer and is easier to maintain than epoxy. But there are also other elements to consider when looking at the durability of these two flooring options.

As mentioned earlier, the durability of epoxy can vary somewhat based on the type. Water-based epoxies are typically much less durable than solvent-based epoxies. One disadvantage of both water-based and solids-based epoxies is that maintenance is higher and these floors will have to be redone much sooner. Not only does this require extra time and labour, but extra maintenance also means that in an industrial or commercial space, the business has to carry an ongoing cost that it need not have had.

Also, it is important to keep in mind that unfinished epoxy flooring (as well as the cheaper epoxy, which is not UV-stable) is sensitive to UV rays and yellows. This issue can affect epoxy in outdoor spaces as well as epoxy in brightly lit indoor spaces with lots of exposure to sunlight.

Then there is the issue of redoing your flooring. Both polished concrete and epoxy flooring have unique requirements for installation and both require specialised labour for proper installation. However, epoxy flooring is likely to need to be replaced or redone more often, and preparing existing floors for the application of epoxy can require a lot of time and labour, including the time it takes to clean existing floors thoroughly or to remove the old coating entirely with surface preparation grinding and hole/chip repair. The actual application of epoxy does not take an especially long time but it does still need days to dry, generally a day between each coat and then, at completion of coating, between 7-14 days cure time (depending on weather/temperature and humidity conditions). During this time, there is usually no foot traffic allowed across the floor. If you are having to have your epoxy flooring redone every few years, all that time, expense, labour and the required downtime of your business or home definitely adds up.

Another important thing to consider is how well your floor will hold up against moisture. If your concrete is too damp, your epoxy coating will not adhere well and may start peeling or lifting. Ripples can also form in the floor and become visible as cracks spread in the epoxy. If the surface under the epoxy is not smooth or even, the ripples will become an even greater problem, making it paramount to ensure that uneven surfaces are levelled before an epoxy coating is laid down.

Moisture levels in the floor can have a lot of negative effects on epoxy. Epoxy is not a breathable material, so if moisture gets trapped under the surface, that can cause a lot of problems, including delamination, when the floor essentially “bubbles” and then peels. Moisture can also cause buckling that can be so severe that it may require repairs or may even necessitate redoing the epoxy flooring entirely. As mentioned, in wet conditions, the epoxy can also start lifting.

Of course, moisture can cause issues for polished concrete, too. Fortunately, though, when sealed correctly, polished concrete is resistant to water. Because polished concrete allows the floor to breathe, this improves its resistance to moisture transmission issues and contributes to greater durability.

The choice between polished concrete and epoxy flooring does, of course, depend on the location of your floor (which we will discuss more below), but in general, there is no question that polished concrete is the more durable choice.

5) Location

Keep in mind that for both epoxy flooring and polished concrete, the cleaner and drier you are able to keep your floor, the less risk there is of trips or falls.

When looking at the location of your floor, as mentioned earlier, epoxy flooring can get a lot of damage from high moisture levels. Polished concrete, on the other hand, is more versatile in a range of settings because it is more resistant to moisture transmission.

If you are looking for flooring in an area that is going to have high foot traffic, please keep in mind that epoxy flooring is a topical coating, and as such, it will scuff, scratch and get damaged over time, requiring repair or replacement. Polished concrete is considered much more resistant to foot traffic and, as mentioned, has an extended service life.

For an enclosed space with special requirements like a garage, there are options like hot tyre rated epoxy, but that is typically going to run on the expensive side anyway, so polished concrete may end up being more affordable for a garage.
If you have an industrial or commercial setting where there will be lots of wheels on carts or rolling toolboxes, please be aware that epoxy flooring can be damaged if something rolls over it.

If you are considering polished concrete or epoxy flooring for a specific location, you might want to do some more research about the best types of flooring for your specific space to make sure you choose the option that best fits the needs of your space—known as ‘fit for purpose’ within the flooring industry.

6) Appearance

One final factor to consider when making a decision between polished concrete and epoxy flooring is the appearance of each option. Depending on your setting (residential, commercial or industrial), the appearance may or may not be a huge priority for your space.

One aspect you will want to know about epoxy is that after epoxy cures, it is very difficult to change its look, so you need to be pretty certain that you are going to want the same look for a while. On the other hand, because epoxy flooring is a more temporary flooring choice that will have to be eventually replaced anyway, it might be a good option for a place where you will be redoing the floor again soon and just want something for a shorter time.

The main limitation of polished concrete when it comes to appearance is its colour because if your concrete is existing, your concrete colour is what it is. If you are choosing a new concrete slab mix, there are typically a set number of colour mixes available from concrete suppliers, although these are quite numerous. And if you want to change the level of exposure or matte versus gloss, that is something that can be changed through polishing.

One of the big differences between polished concrete and epoxy flooring in terms of appearance is the reflectivity. Concrete flooring has a high level of clarity and it will enhance light reflectivity significantly. As a result, polished concrete is a beautiful choice aesthetically. It can be shiny and highly reflective for a crisp, contemporary look, matte and industrial, or anything in between for a style that can suit just about any space.

Epoxy flooring, on the other hand, tends to have a duller finish in the matte range, or a plastic, artificial appearance in the gloss range, and thus is generally considered less attractive. If you are not concerned about the appearance of your floor, epoxy might be fine, but if you are trying to achieve an attractive, modern style, polished concrete is going to be a more aesthetically pleasing choice overall.

The Next Steps

Once you’ve considered the specifics of your own flooring needs and preferences, it is time to move forward with making the choice between polished concrete and epoxy flooring. If you have considered the six factors we mentioned—cost over time, maintenance and cleaning, health and safety, durability, location and appearance—then you might notice that polished concrete comes out on top in a lot of significant ways over epoxy flooring. Thus, although epoxy flooring might seem less expensive initially, when you look at the cost over time and overall value, polished concrete is often a much better choice. There are certainly situations when customers prefer epoxy flooring or when epoxy flooring makes more sense, especially depending on which factors are your greatest priority. But at least in terms of the six factors discussed here, there is no doubt that polished concrete has a lot of inherent advantages over epoxy flooring.

If you would like to learn more about some of the unique qualities that polished concrete can offer, we invite you to contact us at Grind and Seal Melbourne for additional information and a free quote.