Garage Floors – Epoxy vs. Tile vs. Stains

by Troy Greenberg on November 4, 2013

Getting Started

There are  many methods for covering the garage floor, and like with most things, there is no one size fits all solution. There is quite a bit of information to go through so we’ll just jump right in.

By now you know there are three main categories of garage flooring: epoxy, tile, and stain. The following chart shows some basic characteristics to look for in a garage floor and what each flooring type offers:

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Within each of these flooring types you will also find a variety of methods, brands, and best practices to sort through. If you truly want to save yourself time and money, continue reading! We’re just getting started.

Epoxy

We will start with epoxy. This is probably the most common solution used in the average garage. The options in this category range from paints, to kits at your local box store, all the way up to professionally installed high quality showroom style coatings.

What to look for in an epoxy

When it comes to epoxy there are three performance factors that are critical:

  • Adhesion or how strong a bond the coating makes with the floor
  • Abrasion or how hard it is to get the coating off the floor
  • Izod Impact or its resistance to a suddenly applied force

Before purchasing any epoxy or hiring a contractor you will want to know the performance and number stats related to these things.

For instance, any epoxy with an adhesion rating that is less than 300 PSI can be separated from the concrete. So after getting rolled over a few times by hot tires, the epoxy is likely to start peeling or coming off in full strips.

Abrasion testing looks at the milligram loss of an epoxy floor coating after having a 1,000 gram item rolled over it 500 times (that is an industry standard test). The lower the milligram loss, the less likely the coating will lose its shine and eventually wear off.

And when it comes to impact resistance, any epoxy with an impact resistance that is less than 100 in-lbs is considered unable to withstand heavy duty tools being dropped on them.

The following chart shows how some well known epoxy floor coating brands compare to each other:

As you can see from the chart, epoxy can be further broken down into water based, solvent based, and 100% solids. Water based and 100% solids are industry standard epoxies. Let’s explore those two types a bit more.

Water Based DIY Epoxy

Most DIY epoxy floor coatings use water as a carrier agent for the epoxy resins. Having that carrier agent gives the mixture a longer pot life (that means you have a bit more time to let it sit in the bucket before it starts to harden) and also makes them easier to apply. Water based epoxies are also very affordable; further cementing them as DIY favorites.

There are major downsides to these epoxies, however. As the floor coating dries, the water and solvent curing agents will evaporate leaving only a thin layer of epoxy behind. After all the time and money spent installing a water or solvent based epoxy you end up with a thin floor coating that may need to be replaced down the road.

100% Solids Professional Epoxy

100% solids epoxy is widely considered to be superior to any water or solvent based varieties. The best path to successfully installing  a 100% solids epoxy is having it done by a professional.

There is no carrier agent in this floor coating so it does not thin out after application. After curing you are left with a thick, layered coat that is capable of lasting up to 20 years. Installations done by reliable, quality contractors will generally carry some sort of lifetime warranty in cases of failures.

Some garage flooring contractors will use a form of epoxy known as a polyaspartic. Its quick cure time allow foot traffic in less than an hour and heavy traffic in rougly a single day.

As with all good things though, there are also some downsides to 100% solids epoxy. Due to the absence of a carrier agent (which in most cases is water), the pot life is much shorter. 100% solids floor coatings are also more sensitive moisture present in the concrete. Applying a polyurethane topcoat will be important as well to seal the coating. And all of those things added together leads to the biggest downside: cost.

The short pot life and meticulous preparation required to lay down 100% solids epoxy makes it practically necessary to use a professional for the job. In fact, it is very difficult to find a company that will sell it directly to homeowners. It takes three or four experienced individuals to install a 100% solids coating in a typical two car garage.

While the initial price may be a detterent, keep in mind that the price may be justified over the long term. This is especially true if your garage is exposed to chemicals regularly, used as a workshop, or sees heavy foot and car traffic. Another thing to consider is that the epoxy used by professional garage flooring contractors will be much better than anything you can buy off the shelf.

Whether you choose to install an epoxy floor coating yourself using a kit or hire a professional to do the work for you, the quality of the end product will all come down to proper preparation of the garage floor. In order for the epoxy to bond with the concrete, it needs to be thoroughly stripped and cleaned of sealants, grease, dirt and grime. Also, to get the best adhesion, the pores of the concrete need to be opened up with shot blasting or grinding (most box store kits use an acid scrub bath instead of the machinery brought in by the pros). Pits, cracks, and craters need to be filled in to achieve a quality finished look. And most brands of epoxy will also require that the concrete be fully dry and cured prior to applying the floor coating.

Overall Advantages of Epoxy

A good, high quality epoxy floor coating will usually offer more strength and durability than the other floor coating options. If the floor is properly prepped and the coating applied according to the manufacturer’s instructions, an epoxy floor should last for several years. And as long as you are using a quality epoxy, the floor should be able to take a bit of abuse. An epoxy floor should be fairly easy to keep clean as well.

Keep in mind that a high quality epoxy floor installed by a professional garage flooring contractor is your best bet to get a strong, durable coating.

Overall Disadvantages of Epoxy

No other floor coating will be as fastidious as epoxy and this is especially true when doing the job yourself. Everything from prep to application has to be just right or you run the risk of a failure. Even temperature and humidity will play a factor when installing an epoxy floor. It is imperative to do full due diligence before purchasing a kit or hiring a contractor.

If you choose to do the job yourself, be prepared for a big time investment doing research, moving everything out of the garage, and properly prepping the floor. Applying the epoxy will take a few hours; and then it will take another 3-10 days for the coating to fully cure.

If you are planning on going the contractor route you will likely have more money than time invested in the project. Keep in mind, however, that a good deal of due diligence is required to find a reputable garage flooring contractor.

Let’s move on now to a floor coating that is a little less intense.

Tiles and Roll-Out Flooring

We move now to garage tiles and roll-out flooring. This type of garage flooring is by far the easiest to install for the average homeowner. You do not even need to be an avid DIYer to install this type of floor in your garage.

Tiles and roll out floors require very little prep work to the underlying concrete. Sweeping up the area is really all that is needed to start laying down the floor.

Info to know about Tiles

Check out this chart comparing some popular tile brands:

Garage floor tiles are available in a wide swath of colors, making them perfect for creating a floor that is very custom. You can create a checkered flag floor, accent or match an existing décor, or create a variety of other designs using the different colors available. Tile flooring also offers a number of textures to choose from; with diamond plate and coin being the most widely known.

Most tiles available for residential use interlock together; which is why the flooring system is so easy to install. Tiles are generally made of polypropylene (a very tough, high density composite plastic) or polyvinyl chloride (the third most widely produced plastic more commonly known as PVC). Both provide exceptional strength and durability; as well as resistance to chemicals and water.

While the tiles are made to be resistant to chemicals and stains, there may be instances where the tiles have to be replaced. Removing a tile in the middle of the floor though will not be easy. You will likely have to start on the end and take up each tile until you reach the one that needs to be replaced. Extreme care must be taken when pulling apart interlocking tiles as to not break the interlock pieces or damage the tile.

Another downside to tiles is the cost. Prices for tiles can be as low as $3/square foot and go all the way up to $10 or even $15/square foot. The difference in price can be attributed to color, the material used, and the thickness of the tile.

Info to know about Roll-out Flooring

Just when you think installing a garage flooring system could not get any easier, along comes roll-out flooring. This type of floor is made of PVC and comes in rolls that you simply unfurl to cover the concrete floor. It can be easily cut with a utility knife at the edges. And just like with tiles, there are a number of colors and textures available for roll-out floors.

A PVC roll-out floor is by far the cheapest flooring option available but it is not without major downsides. For instance, the entire roll would have to be replaced if there were ever any damage.  Also, any hopes for a custom design quickly fade as you are limited to one color and texture. Probably of more concern is that warranties for this flooring type will be in the four to five year range. It is known to develop ripples over time as your daily driver rolls back and forth over it.

This type of flooring may be better suited for use under a vehicle or motorcycle that is rarely driven. It may also serve well in a workshop area. Use as flooring for a heavy or even medium traffic garage may be ill advised.

Overall Advantages of Tiles and Roll-out Flooring

The biggest advantage of these flooring types is, by far, the ease of installation. There is little to no prep that needs to be done to the concrete. Tiles easily lock into place and the roll-out flooring just rolls out over the floor. It really does not get much easier than that. With the tiles you can completely customize to create a unique or themed design. And the roll-out flooring will likely be the cheapest option available.

Overall Disadvantages of Tiles and Roll-out Flooring

A huge disadvantage for tiles and roll-out floor coverings is the hassle with replacing them if they get damaged. In most instances you will not be able to just pop a wayward tile out of the middle of your floor and replace it. You will likely end up removing tiles starting from the edge to get to the one that needs to be replaced. In the process you also run the risk of damaging the pieces that interlock the tiles together. A damaged roll-out floor will need to be replaced in its entirety if damaged.

The cost of tiles will almost certainly be a hurdle some homeowners will not want to jump. If you want a quality product that will last, you are definitely going to pay more per square foot.

We move now to a garage flooring option that lends itself a bit more to being decorative rather than heavy duty.

Stains

Staining garage floors is a lesser known method for dressing up concrete that is slowly becoming more widely used. If your garage is more showroom than work shop or even just a place to park the car and store a few things, staining may be a better option for you than the others previously presented. Here’s a quick video that shows you the basic steps and what the end result might look like:

Stains will not peel, crack, or pull apart from the concrete; but they are unable to hide any imperfections already present as they are transparent. For best results, concrete stains should be done by a professional garage flooring contractor. Aside from being having more colors to choose from, a professional can also offer custom design options and techniques.

Again, this is not the ideal floor coating for a garage that has high traffic or is used as a work shop. It is really an option that should be used in very low traffic areas or a showroom garage.

Like epoxy floor coatings, staining requires a good deal of proper prep work in order to produce the desired results. Any sealant already on the concrete needs to be removed. Dirt, grease, and grime must be removed as well using a degreaser or detergent (muriatic acid cannot be used for this as it will remove needed lime from the concrete). The pores of the concrete have to be opened up also. And that must be done using a method that will not remove the top coat of lime.

To protect a stained floor from U.V. rays, an acrylic sealer or polyaspartic coating will need to be applied. The acrylic sealer is designed to only last up to two years before needing to be reapplied. The protection can be extended by applying a wax coat(s).

There are two staining methods outlined in detail below.

Acid Stain

Acid staining is done by applying acids to concrete; which absorb into the pores of the floor and react with the lime already present there. The reaction that occurs creates a translucent, marbled look that is permanently soaked into the floor. There are eight basic color tone selections that will vary depending on the age and starting color of the concrete.

The translucent nature of acid staining means that imperfections, cracks, repairs, and old stains will be shown and maybe even highlighted. The end result could be a beautiful floor full of character or something hideous that looks worse than what you started with. Be sure to take the imperfections present in your floor into account before deciding to do an acid stain.

Dye Stain

Dye staining is a non-reactive color dying of concrete. The dye used is absorbed into the pores of the concrete to embed the color pigment. Dyes can be used in conjunction with acid stains to add additional colors and tones not available with acid staining alone. And as with acid staining, the end color will depend in some part on the concrete it is being applied to.

Dyes can be either solvent or water based. Water based dyes will be softer and more subtle; whereas a solvent based dye creates bold and bright colors. Water based dyes are more heavily used because they do not emit any VOCs. Solvent dyes are highly flammable and should not be used where there may be an open flame and may not be available in all states due to the high level of VOCs.

Overall Advantages of Staining

The best thing about a stain is that once it has been absorbed into the concrete, it is very difficult to ruin the actual stain. You will not have to worry about it chipping, peeling, or really deteriorating. As long as you do proper maintenance (add some sort of sealer or top coat and reapply wax coatings when necessary) and keep traffic and use in the garage to a minimum, you can have a floor coating that will outlast the other two options. Staining, whether done by a professional or DIY, can be very affordable as well.

Overall Disadvantages of Staining

This is definitely a high maintenance floor coating. Depending on the level of traffic in your garage, it could require regular waxing.

As stated a few times already, staining is not the appropriate coating for garages that see heavy traffic or are used as workshops. The floor is not going to be protected from dings and bruises that come with dropping tools, spilling chemicals, or being rolled over by your daily driver.

Final Assessment

Here is a quick overview of what you need to know when determining which floor coating is the best fit for you based on our research:

A DIY epoxy floor coating will be a good fit for you if you:

  • Intend to use your garage for parking your daily driver, as a place for storage, or sparingly as a workshop
  • Have the time to do due diligence prior to starting the work yourself
  • Want a fairly low maintenance coating
  • Can be without full use of your garage for at least a week

A Professional epoxy floor coating will be a good fit for you if you:

  • Want a high quality, professional grade floor coating
  • Are willing to do due diligence to find a quality flooring contractor
  • Desire the assurances and warranties that come along with hiring a local professional
  • Need a durable, yet low maintenance floor coating

Tile and roll-out floor coatings will be a good fit for you if you:

  • Want something that is easy to install
  • Cannot be without your garage for more than a day
  • Want the ability to change your flooring easily in the future or take it with you when you move
  • Do not mind devoting some time to washing it down when it starts to look a little lackluster

Staining will be a good fit for you if you:

  • Want your garage to be a showroom
  • Have the time (and energy) to monitor and properly maintain the coating
  • Have concrete that is practically free of cracks, grease stains, or other imperfections
  • Need something low cost, yet highly aesthetic

So that’s your basic guide to the options available for garage flooring. Want to explore what each of these flooring options might cost? Click here to learn more.

Tired of your garage? . . . Not sure where to start? . . . We Can Help . . . Click Here . . .!

About 

Troy is President and Owner of Greenberg Casework Company Inc. (parent company to GarageCabinets.com). He has been building custom cabinetry and casework for both residential and commercial applications since 1985. Troy is a regular contributor to the Garage Talk blog. For fun he enjoys: making improvements to his home; building cool stuff for his kids; watching short track racing; and pulling off an occasional prank now and then.

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