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Do You Really Need that Expensive Concrete Floor Sealant?

Posted on Nov 28, 2017, by Michael Eckert

When replacing commercial flooring, there are so many steps to the removal and installation process that it can be difficult to work out which stages are essential, and which are an unnecessary addition to your particular project.

Many flooring installers take a blanket approach with their quotations, to ensure they've got all potential risks covered - even if some risks are already mitigated by other processes or products you've selected. One common example is using floor sealants as part of the moisture mitigation process, even if you've already selected products that mitigate the risk of moisture problems in another way.

While you want to make sure you're protected against the risk of damaging moisture, doubling up on moisture mitigation offers no added benefits - only additional costs. So today we're helping you understand whether your project really requires that expensive sealant - and how to ensure any sealants used will actually perform as expected.

What are Concrete Floor Sealants Used For?

Floor sealants are a very effective moisture mitigation solution. They're used to seal the concrete subfloor and create an impermeable barrier between the subfloor and your flooring. The idea is that any moisture in the subfloor (either released by newly poured concrete as it cures, or released into the concrete due to fluctuations in the water table) is trapped by the sealant, and as such is unable to cause damage to your flooring, or the building above.

Does Your Project Require a Floor Sealant?

If you select the right type of floor sealant, it will adequately mitigate the risk of moisture damaging your building and flooring. However, not all projects will require the use of floor sealants.

Selecting the Right Type of Floor Sealant

If your project does require the use of concrete floor sealants, it's important to understand the different types of product available. There are two main types of sealant:

  • Water-proofing sealants
  • Water vapor-proofing sealants.

While at first glance these may appear very similar, there's an important difference: one blocks water vapor molecules, while the other only blocks the larger water molecules, meaning that water vapor can pass through the water-proofing sealant. This means the smaller water vapor molecules can pass right through the water-proofing sealer and become trapped beneath the non-permeable backing of the floor covering.

Once the water vapor molecule is trapped it only takes a few degrees' change in temperature for this water vapor to condense into liquid water - and this is where the problems start. This trapped liquid water now has no place to go, as the treated slab will not allow the water to re-absorb and the non-permeable backing will not allow it to evaporate.

This means the water will begin to activate the pH within the slab and can begin to breakdown the flooring adhesive along with providing the perfect damp conditions that are conducive to mold and mildew growth.

In contrast, a vapor-proofing sealant will trap both liquid water and water vapor molecules in the concrete, protecting your flooring and building from damage.

Alternatives to Concrete Floor Sealants

There are a range of moisture mitigation products designed to offer protection against moisture in a similar way to concrete floor sealants, such as two-part epoxies and physical vapor barriers.

However, these moisture mitigation products all have one thing in common: they manage and minimize the problems caused by the interaction of liquid water with the flooring adhesive and backing, rather than dealing with the root cause.

Thankfully, there's an alternative. The simplest (and most cost-effective) way to mitigate the risk of moisture problems on your next project is through your choice of flooring. While most types of commercial flooring have a non-permeable backing, which traps water vapor underneath the flooring, you can instead select flooring with a permeable backing. Milliken's unique open-cell cushion backing does just that: the open-cell cushion allows moisture vapor to evaporate out of the subfloor through the flooring, preventing it from condensing into liquid water.

This means you mitigate the risk of moisture problems - without any expensive concrete floor sealants or other moisture mitigation products.

how to prevent the 11 root causes of flooring failure

Michael Eckert

Written by Michael Eckert