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Retailers' guide to tile & stone: Epoxy settings coming of age for installers

November 30/December 14; Volume 30/Number 12

By Ken Ryan

(Editor’s note: This is the tenth in a 10-part series familiarizing flooring retailers with merchandising and installing tile and natural stone.)

Screen Shot 2015-12-18 at 6.47.57 PMHistorically installers have shied away from using epoxy grout. While these products satisfy the needs of the end user with uniform color, durability and stain resistance, they are more difficult to install. The consistency of the epoxy grout makes it challenging to spread and fill the joints. However, technological enhancements have made epoxy grout easier to work with and, in the process, improved its reputation among tile contractors and builders.

Unlike cement grout, which is made from a cementitious powder mix, epoxy grout is derived from epoxy resins and a filler powder. The grout is said to be exceptionally durable and almost completely stain proof. “Epoxy grout is changing for the better because it is getting easier to use, and applications are easier to use,” said Brett Maundy, business development manager, Midwest, for Merkrete, which manufactures a full line of tile and stone installation systems. “The problem with epoxy mortars has been their image—people are scared of it because of what they heard in the past, which is that it sets up too fast or requires hot water cleanup.”

Epoxy adheres to a wide range of materials and its properties are dependent on the specific chemistry of the system. Some of the most important performance requirements include adhesion and exceptional chemical, heat and water resistance as well as satisfactory mechanical and electrical insulating properties.

Epoxy grouts are typically a two-part product system—one part epoxy and one part colorant. Epoxy grouts offer maximum resistance to staining and chemical attacks from food, beverages and cleaning agents, and never require sealing. Because of their chemical-resistant properties, epoxy grouts are often specified for commercial environments such as health clubs and restaurants.

There is a higher product cost with epoxy and installation is typically a bit more labor intensive but the end product is exceedingly durable and stain resistant. “The chemical resistance allows it to withstand acids and other chemicals,” Maundy said.

Because epoxy grouts eliminate many of the limitations of standard cement grouts and boast high levels of stain resistance, they are sometimes used in common residential tile installations such as kitchens.

The cleanability of epoxies has changed dramatically in the last decade and contributed to its growth. Whereas epoxies once required hot water to clean, today they can be cleaned with cold water. Many epoxies also have a built-in soap ingredient that allows for easier cleaning. Cement grout, meanwhile, attracts dirt, grime and grease, making it more difficult as well as time consuming to clean it without considerable effort.

Low absorbency is another benefit that comes with epoxy grouts because they are highly water resistant. Instead of suffering the same water ingress as cement- and sand-based grouts, the water simply sits on top, waiting to be cleared away or dried by the sun. As a result, outdoor areas are regularly epoxied, along with kitchens and bathrooms.

Maundy said workability time for tile setters has become much more forgiving. Workability is the degree of ease by which a material can be cut, shaped or smoothed by hand or machines. In the case of epoxy grout, tile setters can work with large format tile without having to set up too quickly. “I do a lot of installation training and my advice to installers is to find an epoxy you like and get used to it because they all perform a little differently. I also recommend advertising on your business cards that you are a grout epoxy specialist; this is a skill and an upsell over a standard traditional mortar.”