February 16, 2022
I wanted to get a better understanding for cove base, specifically integral cove base, so I sat down with Dur-A-Flex Regional Manager – South, Kevin Stephens, and Northeast / Mid-Atlantic Regional Technical Manager, Rob Pacheco Jr.
Watch the video to hear our full conversation or read on for a synopsis of what I learned.
Cove Base vs Integral Cove Base
Traditional cove base is the piece of trim installed around the base of a room to create a transition between the floor and the wall — typically to hide an unsightly seam. Integral cove base is actually a seamless transition from the vertical wall to the horizontal floor. This transition is also watertight.
With traditional cove base there’s a seam or a gap which could allow water to get underneath it or behind it and support the growth of bacteria. An integral cove base has a rounded transition to the floor, which allows the use of a squeegee to clean it properly and remove the water. This prevents the growth of bacteria or other bad actors.
Industries Using Coving
Cove base is typically installed in any industry that requires a hygienic floor, such as pharmaceutical or healthcare facilities, veterinary offices, grocery stores, labs, clean rooms, etc. — typically any area areas that have to be sanitized and have a lot of water on the floor. Integral cove base creates a bathtub effect, so you can keep everything from going to the wall, and it’s easy to clean.
Standards for Cove Base Height
According to Stephens, four to six inches is pretty standard. He shared that anything above that seems unnecessary as it can be very costly and time consuming. “The cove base is hand troweled— it’s very labor intensive. So the higher you go up the wall, the more labor and the more material that’s required.”
If the walls are a concern Stephens recommends tying in a wall system instead. The wall system can be installed behind the cove base which creates a seamless environment all the way up the wall. This method is common in environments with wet walls such as the walls behind sinks, toilets, and showers.
The Radius and Its Purpose
The radius is the curve of the transition from the wall down to the floor and it directly impacts the cleanability of the surface. Pacheco Jr. explained that a three quarter or one inch radius is what is typically specified in the U.S. Traditionally the cove base is installed first and then the floor. Some of the base radius is lost in this process and there’s been a trend to increase the radius to make up for this loss and also further address the ease of cleaning. Stephens added that a three quarter inch radius can quickly turn into a ninety degree radius with a thicker flooring system.
He also commented on the move to larger radii explaining that the resinous flooring industry is seeing a move toward a two inch radius in pharmaceutical and healthcare environments to address issues with standing water and cleanability as it is much easier for a squeegee to get into a larger radius to pull the water away.
Stephens went on to explain that the larger radius goes beyond initial needs of cleanability. “In pharmaceutical facilities a lot of times the floors are installed over top of existing floors. So as you build floors on top of floors in those facilities, the radius becomes less and less. So starting out with a large radius allows you to build and maintain that cleanability for the future.”
Defining Cant Cove
Cant is a cove base that has a forty five degree angle instead of a rounded radius. The transition from the wall down to the floor resembles a small ramp, and it’s usually specified in areas that use carts. The cove works as a curb to prevent carts from damaging walls. These are common use in food and beverage processing plants for that reason and for use in freezers with metal walls. Pacheco Jr explained the metal walls and the concrete move at different and the cant cove helps prevent movement or deflection of the cove base from that metal wall. “If there’s enough movement, the cove will separate at the top of the cant cove versus our traditional cove which will spider crack on the face of the cove. So it makes it a little bit easier to maintain, and if there is a repair needed it’s much easier to do.”
Recommendations for Installing Cove
As mentioned before, the best practice is to install the cove before the floor just because it is a labor intensive process and it requires having the proper tools:
- Lighting “Lighting provides a back light and acts essentially as a glossy top coat, and it’ll show any potential imperfections such as trowel marks, waves in the cove, or even rough sections. That’s ultimately what you’re trying to capture and eliminate are those trowel marks and rough sections.” Halogen lights work best, they should be on the floor, aimed down the wall.
- Cove trowels Pacheco Jr. recommends having both four and six-inch trowels, a flat trowel and a margin trowel for detail work, “all of the trowels, if you will.” He reminded us of the need to take care of the trowels as any types of burls or snags will catch and create drags or defects in the cove.
- Solvents When it comes to solvents xylene works as the best lubricant because it is an epoxy thinner. It is useful for fixing imperfections with a simple chip brush. If a contractor doesn’t like using Xylene, Pacheco Jr. recommended the use of acetone or alcohol as a lesser but suitable alternative. If solvents can’t be used he recommended the use of soapy water such as a one to ten mixture of simple green and water. Be mindful to use just enough lubricant to smooth and close the base, too much will interrupt the cure or cause staining.
Using Tape Lines and Cove Strips
To achieve a straight edge for the top of the cove base there are two main methods:
- Tape Line Method With the tape line or chalk line method, a straight line is applied to the wall demarking the height of where to build the cove base to. This method is seamless.
- Cove Strips Cove Strips made of metal, zinc or plastic are affixed to the wall and create a lip to build the cove base to. These are necessary when having the cove base meet a thicker material such as a fiberglass reinforced panel or tile. The lip does create a seam which should be caulked.
Interestingly enough Stephens and Pacheco Jr differed in their preference for cove strips versus tape or chalk lines. They came to an agreement that there is a time and a place for both and it comes down to individual use and or preference for aesthetics. The max thickness for cove is an eighth inch — anything thicker and it could sag and crack as it cures, especially at a six inch height or higher. A cove strip will help installers maintain the eight inch max thickness throughout the cove base. If the cove needs to meet a wall surface over an eighth inch the area behind the cove should be built out with wood, cement board or backer board to fill any differences in thickness.
“Cove base is critical to make a seamless sanitary floor. So very, very important.”
Kevin Stephens, Dur-A-Flex Regional Sales Manager – South
Determining the Quality of Cove Base
The quality of the coving is determined visually by a consistent appearance in height and radius throughout the cove base, and how well the inside and outside corners are constructed. Pacheco shared that the smoothness of the surface of the cove is imperative as this is what impacts the cleanability. Any kind of rough spots, any kind of voids or lips, can trap dirt and harbor bacteria, etc. and could create issues down the line for the customer. A good way to make sure a cove base is smooth is the glove test. If the glove snags on anything it needs to be sanded further. Use the back light to fix issues while the cove is wet, when the cove is cured often it is too late to fix visible mistakes.
Stephens added, “when you walk into a room and you look over the flat floor, an okay floor can look really good, but a bad cove base looks really bad. That’s what the light reflects off of. So cove base is critical.” He advises that contractors have their best and most talented person install the cove base; noting that the quality of cove base is typically what an owner or an architect will have an issue with more so than the floor installation.
Recommendations for Pricing Cove Base
Understanding how to price coving is important for every flooring contractor. It isn’t as simple as just taking linear footage. Pricing cove base involves understanding the space and looking at drawings to determine if you have long straight runs or a mix with inside and outside corners.
Stephens expanded, “are there a bunch of small rooms like bathrooms or kennels in an animal shelter with a lot of inside and outside corners? Those inside and outside corners are very time consuming and somewhat difficult to do. You can lose a lot of money if you do not price your cove base properly by understanding the rooms that it’s going into.”
Thoughts on Preformed Coves
The consensus on preformed coves are they’re not recommended or designed to be used with resinous flooring systems. Preformed coves are not seamless and typically are applied to the wall using a type of adhesive. Since many walls are not perfectly straight, the preformed cove can create gaps and spaces that need to be filled — essentially creating an unnecessary maintenance item.
The labor involved with cutting, fitting and caulking preformed cove negates any time or cost savings; more importantly, the cove base is not as strong or seamless as a troweled resinous cove.
Mastering the Craft
For any flooring contractors who would like to hone their cove base skills, Pacheco Jr. recommends attending an Applicator Training Program (ATP) with Dur-A-Flex. The ATP gives an introduction to Dur-A-Flex and best practices in terms of industry standards for installing resinous flooring projects. A section of the training is dedicated to installing cove base.
Pacheco Jr. recommends contractors continuing to practice at their own shops. “Honestly coving should be the first skill flooring contractors should learn because it forces them to pay attention to detail and really learn the craftsmanship it takes to install a good cove or good floor in general.”
Stephens agreed and explained that not every person on a crew is going to be able to do it extremely well. He admitted that he can tell someone how to install it perfectly, but he couldn’t install it perfectly himself. “It’s an art form and it’s a skill, that to Rob’s point, definitely requires practice to be really good at it.”
Learn More on Cove Base
Author: Jes Grant
Jes Grant is the content development manager for Dur-A-Flex. She has over 15 years of experience creating content for various technical industries, and has been featured in several publications for her writing and design work.