Floor coating – cost fuzz

Sanding our old hardwood floors was the easy part. Particularly for me, as my job was just to watch and learn, to get stuff out the way and to manage the power cords.

Getting things set up for the floor coating was a lot more complicated. Mainly because it involved a lot of research.

Most common floor finished are polyurethane based and have a very high VOC (volatile organic compound) content. Something that was not acceptable to us, as we are very conscious about managing indoor air quality (IAQ). And like with paint, we were looking for a VOC free option.

Well, the first thing I learned is that there currently is no such thing as a zero-VOC floor coating. But there are water based products that have very low VOC levels.

The current LEED system, which can be used as a guideline, permits a VOC content up to 275 g/l (grams per liter) for floor sealers. Some water based products are at the 275 g/l threshold, others have a lower VOC content. A look at the specifications usually tells how the product performs on the VOC spectrum.

The next lesson was about the product costs. Your typical polyurethane/high VOC products run around $40 per gallon. The water based options ranged from $40 to $120 per gallon.

Needless to say that I immediately focused on products at the lower price range. That didn’t last long, for two reasons. First, the products reviews that I found were non-conclusive. Second, our flooring contractor, Frank, flat out refused to use any water based product that was not two component based, i.e. did not come with a catalyst.

All right – this will need some more dissecting:

Frank likes quality work and has a good business sense. He knows that using a economic product that has a limited performance span will eventually nip him in the butt. That explained his refusal.

What I learned is that the more economical water based products do not come with a catalyst (also referred to as hardener) and apparently wear off pretty rapidly. Only the higher priced options come with a catalyst, which is mixed into the sealer just prior to the application. These have the reputation to last a few years longer.

Still, the purchasing decision was anything but straightforward. Using the most economic two component water based product with the lowest VOC content would be the logical choice. Except that we ran into supply problems.

Water based floor coatings are not that commonly used, because of their price point. Retailers are hesitant to keep them stocked, because they have to purchase the product by the palette and then sit on it for several months, if not over a year, before it is all sold.

We had to investigate all the products that were locally available, and see which one was stocked at the quantity we needed. We finally settled on Arboritec Avenue, but had to source it across three different retailers to get the quantity we needed.

Here is a quick summary of the few products we investigated:

Arboritec Avenue
VOC content: max. 200 g/l
Coverage: 350 – 400 sf/gallon
Drying time: 1/2 – 1 hour

Bona Traffic
VOC content: max. 210 g/l
Coverage: 350 – 400 sf/gallon
Drying time: 2 – 3 hours

Bona Traffic HD
VOC content: 125 g/l
Coverage: 350 – 400 sf/gallon
Drying time: 2 – 3 hours

STREETSHOE® 275
VOC content: max 250 g/l
Coverage: 550 – 700 sf/gallon
Drying time: 2 – 3 hours

About Marcus de la fleur

Marcus is a Registered Landscape Architect with a horticultural degree from the School of Horticulture at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, and a Masters in Landscape Architecture from the University of Sheffield, UK. He developed a landscape based sustainable pilot project at 168 Elm Ave. in 2002, and has expanded his skill set to building science. Starting in 2009, Marcus applied the newly acquired expertise to the deep energy retrofit of his 100+ year old home in Chicago.

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