Penny Floor Fail

Wrong! Do it again!

That’s the quote from Pink Floyd’s Another Brick in the Wall Part 2 that has been on my mind.

This is Part 2 of the Bathroom Penny Floor. It’s the part where it went wrong. The next part will be how I saved it (I hope).

The photo on the left is before I added the topcoat to seal and protect the floor. On the right, you can see that the topcoat has changed the colour and all but eliminated the pattern.

Once again I discover how difficult it is to get a clear answer on the best way to do something that many people have done before me. (The first time I really noticed this was when my first child was born early and the nurses had conflicting ideas about how best to care for her. But I digress.)

A quick recap

By the end of my first post about the penny floor, I was still laying pennies. Like everyone says on all the youtube videos, it took a lot longer than I expected. In my case, it took a full week longer and hours at a time. I stopped putting a drop of silicone on each penny and laid a thin bead down in a row–much faster, but there was some silicon trimming from between the pennies later.

Here is the final 3-minute video of me (and the cats and a bunny rabbit) laying the pennies. You will also see the grouting process.

The Process

First I found the more-or-less centre of the irregular shape I had created with the tile. Then I used a magnetic compass to draw where North East South and West are. Leanne’s Dad pointed out that this gave me magnetic North and not True North, but I don’t think we’ll be navigating a ship using our bathroom floor, so it shouldn’t be a problem.

Next, as you can see in the video, I transferred Leanne’s design onto the floor.

The compass orientation meant that the edges did not line up with the tile borders, so I used different sized coins of various currencies to fill in the gaps as much as I could.

When I wasn’t creating a pattern, I chose pennies randomly, heads or tales, from our collection. Some were discoloured, but I felt that just makes the floor more interesting. Perhaps someone can tell our fortune by the patterns in the chaos–like reading tea leaves. We were happy with the result and I set about grouting.

Grouting

I had grouted twice in my life before and I tried to anticipate how pennies would be different. I used the same non-sanded grout that I used between the rest of the tiles in the room. Non-sanded grout is just grout that you don’t have to sand afterwards. The hardest part was wiping the grout off the surface of the pennies afterward. They have little ridges that trap the grout and have to be cleaned out. Here’s a video of what that fiddly step is like:

Online guides

There are a few youtube videos that were helpful:

this one was very detailed and gave me some idea of what I didn’t want to do which was helpful. He looked deep into the question of what final coating to put on and decided finally on a polyurethane floor product because it was cheaper and easier than epoxy. He put on more coats than I did, it was a different product, and he writes that his floor has held up for over a year. After my experience, I’m recommending using epoxy.

-the most detailed video on using epoxy was this one. I watched it just before I tried again, this time with epoxy.

-a general overview with links to examples can be found here.

My Fateful Choice

A few months ago, a staff member at Haney Builders, my favourite supply store, suggested a product to cover the pennies called PIM+ by DynaCrete. When I finally checked into it online, the fine print dissuaded me.. This product penetrates concrete and is not good for impermeable surfaces like pennies.

Having noted that most penny floor artistes were choosing some kind of epoxy, I found some at our local Rona. I talked with the staff and went away with a brochure for Rust-oleum Epoxyshield which is intended for garage floors. They sell another product which is designed to penetrate concrete and will not work on other surfaces, so it’s important to get the right stuff. Key details noted in the product information that relate to penny floors for “Epoxyshield” are:

-it is clear

-it can form a thick coating, but may need to be added in thinner layers to allow for bubbles to escape while it sets

-it can be used for new concrete or previously coated surfaces, meaning it can be used on materials other than concrete

-it will change colour slightly in direct sunlight over time, but the strength will not be affected. You can add another product on top to stop this from happening. I figured that there will be minimal direct sunlight on our floor.

I always try to listen to advice from more experienced people. One such person, when I said I expected to use epoxy, suggested a “marine-grade gel coat”. This is one type of stuff they use on boats. He suggested I talk to Industrial Paint & Plastics. It’s frustrating to get a new idea when I’ve already all but made up my mind, however, I had one shot at this and I had to consider all options.

I checked out the website for Industrial Paint & Plastic and tried out their live chat feature. The person on the other end told me that marine-grade gel coats are not clear, and that I should visit the store because not all their products were listed on the website. That sounded like a lot of trouble and I didn’t think I would bother. I found an epoxy product on the website and noted the chemicals that were in it to compare to other products.

I was ready to buy the epoxy from Rona and, with a brief window during which Leanne didn’t need the car, I dropped by. I met the same staff member I had spoken to before and told her I thought the Epoxyshield was what I needed but I just wanted to compare the ingredients to another product I had seen. She explained that Rust-oleum doesn’t list their ingredients (it’s not food so they aren’t required to). She was also very reticent to endorse the product for a penny floor because she just didn’t know if it would work. Fair enough. She almost talked me out of buying it, but I don’t always have the car, so I picked it up anyway. $165. I figured I’d return it if I didn’t use it.

Use this on your boat, not on your penny floor

On the Sunday that I had set aside to cover the floor, I decided to give the other option its due. I went to Industrial Paint & Plastic and, after some discussion with the very helpful staff there, bought something I hadn’t considered before. It was System Three WR-LPU polyurethane topcoat. It was for boats. It was clear. It was tough. It came in a smaller container more suited to the small area I needed to cover. It was $85 so if I returned the epoxy, I would be saving $80. Okay, I said, I’ll give it a go.

Application

I applied it while Leanne and the kids were away overnight.

It was kind of a lonely nightmare.

At first I poured it on and spread it with a paint brush. Somehow I was expecting it to go on thick like epoxy. Soon I realised that it was more like a lacquer and I spread it more thinly.

After an hour, I was supposed to be able to apply another coat, but after an hour it was still wet in places. Where it had pooled because I had laid it on too thick, I spread it out with the brush. This left brush strokes visible on the surface. Arg! I tried to remain calm as I checked on its progress periodically, in the dark empty house, throughout the night.

To make matters worse, a milky colour began appearing in some of the grouted spaces between the pennies. Weirdly, I noticed that if I applied more of the stuff and pressed down into those spaces, the whiteness went away. It was surreal. Was there moisture still trapped in the grout? It’s still a mystery.

By morning I had come to accept that the bright, shiny pennies, with all their variations of colour, were being blanded out into a uniform brown colour. Brush strokes were still visible. The compass was barely so.

I could have bought some linoleum with a penny pattern and it would have looked better.

“Ah, well. Live and learn. It still looks sort of cool and now I can move on to the next project.”

But I was not able to move on.

A couple of mornings later, after we had started walking on the floor again. I felt something under my sock. I discovered a penny had started to flake. The polyurethane topcoat of one penny had been flipped up by my sock-covered feet! Wha?!

This 2-minute video will show you what I mean:

I had mixed emotions about this. I was clearly not done with this floor, but I had a do-over–maybe I could fix it! My kids and I discovered the completely obsessive fun of pulling the little penny imprints up off the floor. I needed a tool to get the stuff out of the grouted spaces, and some pennies refused to give up their coatings, but large sections pulled up in sheets.

Like a snake, shedding its skin, the pennies reveal a fresh skin!

The next time I talk about the penny floor, I will show you what happened when I did it again–this time with the Epoxyshield that I hadn’t returned to Rona yet.

In fact I’m going to check if the first layer of epoxy is dry enough for the second right now. Wish me luck!

Published by

James Rowley

James lives in Maple Ridge, BC, Canada with his amazing partner, Leanne Koehn, and their two amazing kids in their beautiful house. He studied Science and English Literature at the University of British Columbia where he met Leanne. He also studied acting for a while at Studio 58 in Vancouver. He works as a teacher of English and curriculum writer for new Canadians.

5 thoughts on “Penny Floor Fail”

  1. Find helpful customer reviews and review ratings for Rust-Oleum 261845 EpoxyShield Garage Floor Coating , 2 gal, Gray at Amazon.com. Read honest and unbiased product …

  2. Polyurethane isn’t pliable. It’s meant for hard surfaces and the.pennies have movement because they’re round. You either needed a sanded grout between or epoxy. A commercial floor 100% water based epoxy product. Not a home depot Rust-Oleum product. You’d want Lifepaint.com or e2u.com type commercial floor epoxy. It would completely cover and set the pennies in looking like they’re behind glass. The white bubbles in the polyurethane were normal and you probably made it worse by touching them. Any REAL paint store could’ve given you better advise.

    1. Thanks for your comment, Caroline! It’s one of the biggest challenges with projects like this: getting the right advice at the right time.

      1. Did the Rust-Oleum epoxy work? I’m literally sitting next to my penny floor with an unopened box right now

        1. Hi Leonard, yes, the epoxy worked well. There may be higher-end two-part epoxies designed for artistic projects like this, but I’m happy with the result. I wonder if there are clearer products, for example since there is a slight tan colour noticeable in thicker spots. There has also been some effects under the surface due I think to moisture coming up from below. The epoxy remains solid, though.

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