Businesses that fall victim to floodwaters will face a long list of challenges that need to be carefully approached in order to get the site back on its feet as quickly and effectively as possible.

One area of the building that will be particularly at risk, but that might not be immediately apparent as a cause for concern, is the floor finish. The floor is a crucial area for any business: It’s part of the visual image for commercial companies and it’s the solid foundation for the intensive work in an industrial facility.

The floor is also the part of a building that can least avoid the damaging effects of floodwater. Floodwater will subject the floor to many things, including sewer waste, silt, mud and impacts from debris. This combination of factors could mean that the floor is not only damaged and corroded, but also that bacteria and unsanitary contaminants could have soaked into the coating.

If the floor has been affected, then fixing it needs to be a priority. Without repairing the floor, which will involve a protracted process of cleaning, drying, removal and replacement, much of the renovation work can’t take place.

As a general rule of thumb, anything floodwater touches should be removed and disposed of. Carpeting especially needs to be removed as soon as possible because it holds large amounts of water and provides bacteria with an ideal environment to colonize and spread. Adhesives from carpet or VCT will be soft and gummy, so special attention will need to be taken to remove these before grinding or shot blasting the concrete substrate.

In comparison to soft coverings, hard surfaces may be salvageable if treated with disinfectant in less than a week; otherwise, this too will likely need to be taken up and replaced.

Once the floor is opened up back to the concrete slab, this surface will need to be cleaned, disinfected and treated. This will ensure moisture is minimized and any bacteria is killed before installing the new flooring material.

After the floor is cleaned and disinfected, fans and dehumidifiers should be placed in the area to help dry the floor slab. Complete drying usually takes a minimum of three to five days, and this is generally the time when replacement flooring options should be considered. This is also the time when the walls are being reconstructed. Flooring installation or maintenance projects are often delayed until the walls are installed, allowing more time for the floor slab to dry.

The surface will then need to be brought to the proper surface profile for the new floor. The anchor profile will be even more important for the new coating system if contamination and moisture have impacted the concrete slab.

The exact time for installing the floor will depend on the type of system that’s to be installed. For example, if carpeting is being installed, small levels of moisture can be allowed to continue to dry over time because this is a porous system.

In comparison, hardwood floors will need to wait for a longer period of time, as this material needs a much drier substrate. This is because the adhesive is generally a water-based material, so it will not set properly if moisture levels are high. This same issue will occur with vinyl tile or linoleum flooring.

Polymer flooring also should only be installed after the floor has been tested for moisture. Different polymer systems have different sensitivities to moisture, so the exact dryness required will vary depending on the coating in question. As a general rule, water-borne epoxies have some breathability, while high solids epoxy systems create a barrier so the moisture must be controlled to a higher standard. Cementitious urethane systems breathe similarly to the concrete slab, so the moisture can be higher when these types of floors are installed.

When going through this process, be sure to use the manufacturer’s recommendations for the acceptable moisture level before installing the floor. Additionally, a professional flooring contractor should be employed to test the slab and install the new coating, as they will have the proper equipment to determine the moisture levels and will know the best time to install the floor.

Businesses looking to protect themselves against future flood damage should consider installing a seamless polymer floor coating, such as an epoxy, methyl methacrylate or cementitious urethane system, as they are ideal for creating relatively smooth surfaces that can be very easily cleaned. When properly installed, they bond well to the slab, creating a barrier against dirt debris and liquid water.

In the event of flooding, a polymer floor coating system can be easily squeegeed off to remove the water. Polymer floor coating systems also generally are resistant to disinfectant chemicals, allowing them to be cleaned quickly without having to worry if the disinfectant will impair the floor finish.

In many cases, these systems will withstand high levels of water damage so they will not need to be removed after flooding. They are also non-porous, so they don’t allow moisture to penetrate into the concrete slab. If there are minimal scratches or other damage to these floors, they may be placed back into service without being removed and re-applied.

A polymer flooring build-up that is particularly advisable for recently flooded buildings looking to protect against similar damage in the future would be to install a combination of a fast-curing, low-viscosity, moisture-tolerant clear epoxy primer alongside a cost-effective slurry broadcast and water-based epoxy coating system. Moisture-tolerant primers prevent moisture from causing the blistering or delamination issues that can occur with standard epoxies.

Lastly, make sure to thoroughly consider the long-term flooring needs of the site before committing to a new finish. While the immediate need to get up and running as quickly as possible after a flood might seem like the highest priority, if the floor is not up to the site’s long-term operational challenges, then the facility might just face another flooring renovation after the new coating subsequently fails. Remember to discuss what the ongoing needs of the facility will be with the flooring supplier to make sure that the chosen system will meet both current and future needs.   

Paul Anderson is technical director of Flowcrete Americas, Spring, Texas. For more information, call (936) 539-6700, email amerweb@flowcrete.com or visit flowcreteamericas.com.