Epoxy flooring is a mainstay in commercial and industrial settings, where its cost-effectiveness, durability, and ease of maintenance translate into operational savings. Those same qualities make epoxy flooring an increasingly popular choice for residential applications, including garages and even kitchens. But residential flooring doesn’t just have to work well: it needs to look good, too. That’s where color flakes come in.
WHAT ARE COLOR FLAKES?
Color flakes, also known as color chips or epoxy paint chips, are small, thin wafers of polymer paint aggregate that complement or completely cover an epoxy floor’s base or color coat. Chosen and applied correctly, they can add visual texture and turn an industrial-looking epoxied slab into a beautiful, welcoming floor. We’ll spend some time later in this guide describing how color flakes are applied; for now, let’s look at the options available, and how to choose among them.
Color flakes are 4-5 mils thick and range in size from roughly 1/32” up to 1”. Combining differently sized color flakes can make it tricky to achieve the sort of even, random distribution most applications call for, so most jobs stick with a single size. The most common size for residential garage floors, for example, is ¼”.
Most manufacturers provide a healthy range of off-the-shelf UV-stable colors, and most provide custom colors as well. The standard color-flake application uses a palette of three colors: a neutral dark, a neutral light, and a chromatic color somewhere in between.
When the base coat is to be only partially covered with flakes, its color adds another element to the palette. This is usually a neutral color such as grey or tan, which may argue for stronger dark and light color flakes, or two chromatic colors instead of one. Full coverage, known by contractors as full refusal or full broadcast, completely covers all base coats, rendering their colors moot.
As with most things, it’s always a good idea to have a few too many color flakes than a few too few. A light smattering might take a fraction of an ounce of color flakes per square foot, while full refusal calls for a budget of at least .15 pounds per square foot.
All-in-one epoxy-floor kits tend to contain enough color flakes only for a very light treatment, and it can be difficult to find additional flakes that match exactly. The best approach is to begin with an idea of what you want to accomplish, and develop a bill of materials that meets that goal. Besides, while prices may vary by location and over time, color flakes are inexpensive.
NOT JUST FOR LOOKS
At heavier coverages, color flakes may add some benefits beyond their appearance. Because they are made from vinyl and acrylic resins, flakes are inherently strong and flexible. At full coverage, they add roughly 5 mils of thickness to the floor’s coating, making it even more durable.
They may also disperse the impact force from falling objects, lending a bit of protection to the subfloor. This same energy-baffling effect offers some sound-dampening qualities as well. Some concrete subfloors contain minor flaws, and even the most carefully primed wooden subfloors can be subject to natural movement, exposing epoxy coatings to risk; color flakes hide the results of these subfloor imperfections./
HOW TO APPLY COLOR FLAKES
As with the rest of an epoxy floor installation, the procedure is straightforward, but technique and attention to detail are vitally important.
In most installations, color flakes are applied after the base coat or color coat of epoxy and are followed by one or two top coats. Using a typical garage floor as an example, here’s what to expect before, during, and after you apply color flakes to the base coat.
Before the first coat of epoxy touches the subfloor, first-time users of color flakes should practice their technique on bare concrete. Flakes thrown directly at the floor never get a chance to properly disperse, and tend to remain clumped together.
The best approach is usually to toss handfuls of flakes up into the air, as if feeding birds in the park. This allows flakes to spread much farther before they reach the ground, resulting in the kind of even-yet-random patterns most applications call for. Some installers, especially DIYers, are tempted to use a handheld seed spreader or broadcaster. What works for seed doesn’t work so well with resin chips: the hand-tossed method is all most projects need.
A full garage’s worth of practice will also reveal whether enough flakes are on hand for the desired level of coverage. When complete coverage is called for, some areas will naturally be stacked several flakes high. That redundancy might seem like a waste, but it’s unavoidable.
Color flakes work best when the base coat is tacky but not wet. Since application can take a few minutes, it is best to start adding color flakes no later than ten minutes after the final back roll.
Applying Color Flakes
A one-car garage of ~260 square feet will require two five-gallon buckets’ worth of color flakes to achieve full rejection. If that’s the goal, it’s wise to prepare two buckets in advance, each with roughly the same amount of color flakes and each thoroughly mixed. Put on your spiked shoes to avoid disturbing the base coat, place one bucket just outside the coated area, pick up the other one, and feed some pigeons. Lighter coverage might only require one bucket.
Full rejection often requires two passes of flake-tossing: the flakes are so irregular and settle so randomly that it’s normal to leave a bare spot or a dozen. Carefully examine the floor within ten minutes of the first application to see if any base coat is peeking through.
Application doesn’t end with color flakes settling to the base coat. While most flakes land flat, some will come to rest at undesirable angles, leaving them too proud of the surface. A drywall-taping knife, of all things, can help here. Taping the knife to a roller extension pole and dragging it gently across the floor should knock down any proud-standing flakes.
While sweeping up the discarded flakes, or the excess left after a full broadcast, it’s wise to take a knife along to address any significant protrusions. The goal here isn’t to make the floor perfectly flat—that’s accomplished in the next step—but to address any flakes that might threaten to poke through the top coat. After another round of sweeping, vacuum the entire floor with a Shop Vac.
The Top Coat
Color flakes can affect the kind of top coat appropriate for a given job, and can even affect the schedule on which the top coat is applied.
Popular top-coat materials include clear epoxy, polyurethane, and polyaspartic coatings. Epoxy and polyurethane can be applied as thin coats that allow just a bit of the color flakes’ texture to affect the surface. All three can be applied more thickly, to achieve a surface that is perfectly smooth. A bit of texture shouldn’t be confused for protection against slipping: polyaspartic coatings are so slick when wet that they often require the addition of an aggregate to provide a bit of slip resistance.
Full-rejection applications can even buy crews some time. Because the top coat adheres solely to a layer of color flakes and not to the base coat of epoxy, the usual 24-hour window for applying the final coat doesn’t apply.
Color flakes might be the least structurally important element of an epoxy floor, but they might contribute the most to your long-term enjoyment of it. Knowing what to expect from any part of your next project, whether you’re doing it yourself or hiring a contractor, is the key to getting what you want, staying on schedule, and doing it all within your budget. We hope this little guide has helped you plan your next flooring project with confidence, and to have fun doing it.