I would like to address a few problems that we have experienced on past projects that I believe can be significantly reduced by looking at alternative products made by the same manufacturers that are currently being specified. 

 

1. Joint filler separation — I am seeing the same shore hardness of 85 or greater which is designed for heavy industrial traffic being spec’d in for light duty commercial and retail floors. A shore hardness of 85 or greater is rigid and allows for very little movement of the slab, so any shrinking or settling causes separation of the joint filler either cohesively or adhesively. A product with a lower shore hardness is more flexible and will allow more movement in the slab without joint filler separation. Below is tech data sheets on two different such products.

 
2. Final Sealer — For years “Guard” type semi-topical products have made a strong push into our industry, and while they have a certain aesthetic appeal when brand new they have proven to be difficult and costly to maintain. When there is a stain that happens, because the sealer is topical, to remove the stain it requires removing the sealer from joint to joint or wall to wall instead of being able to just address where the stain was. There are now penetrating sealers that give the same if not better stain protection but do not leave a topical film. This allows the stain to be addressed within the area affected versus having to go several feet beyond to find a joint or wall as a stopping point. One other point of interest is a penetrating sealer does not enhance or diminish the shine, so the polisher is required to make the floor shine with diamonds instead of relying on a semi-topical sealer to make the floor shine.
 
3. Densifier — It is important to have a densifier that works in unison with the final sealer that both hardens and helps with the sealing of the concrete.

To seal, or not to seal, is it even a question?

I cut my teeth in the natural stone industry as a boy working weekends and over the summer break with my dad and grandfather’s marble, granite, and terrazzo installation and refinishing business, and every floor we did received a penetrating sealer for stain protection.

Today we use very similar equipment, tooling, and processes for the polished concrete industry with the basic techniques being the same as polishing natural stone; start with a course diamond to remove minor surface imperfections and create a uniform scratch pattern, then run progressively finer grit diamonds to remove the previous scratch until you achieve the desired sheen or shine you are looking for.

One of the main differences that I have seen with polished concrete that I did not see with natural stone is the use of densifiers/hardeners. Densifer/hardener is a water based reactive silica that is designed to react with the free lime and calcium to help dustproof by lining the capillaries of the concrete, thus adding density to the concrete, or “densifying”.  Some manufacturers started putting silicone into their densifiers to add water repellency, which works well for a short period of time when used as a topical application.

The problem comes into play when the densifiers is used as part of a diamond grind and polish process because the densifier is ground off the surface during the polishing steps leaving exposed concrete that is not protected. But even if the densifier is applied after the polishing steps it still does not have the sealing properties that a true sealer must have.

There are to distinct classes of sealers for polished concrete penetrating and film forming. For several years the film forming versions have been very popular since it was required to lock in colored dyes and stains, but the drawback being they create a wear surface that has to be maintained often times including yearly reapplications. Today there are penetrating sealers that can lock in color, provide stain protection, and not create a topical film or wear surface; thus allowing polished concrete which is very durable to be the wear surface.

Polished concrete with a penetrating sealer is much easier to maintain, protects from stains better than densifier or no sealer at all, and has a lower life cycle cost. For me it’s not even a question for my polished concrete floor…I am going to protect my investment with a penetrating sealer.

What type of sealer are you using to protect your polished concrete floor? No sealer, a Densifier, a semi- penetrating/topical Guard, or a true penetrating sealer?

In 1996 when we started polishing concrete the technology we used stemmed from the process of polishing Marble, Granite, and Terrazzo. It was understood that these types of floors had to be sealed once polished to offer protection from stains created by oils, coffee, soda, and even slightly caustic materials like vinegar, pickle juice, etc. Years of experience and trial and error in the natural stone industry proved that a truly penetrating sealer offered the best protection and life cycle cost vs. a topical sealer.

Topical sealers started making their way into the industry around 2004 and many of them are branded as a “Guard”. There are different manufacturers of these products that make similar claims as to the level of protection that they offer, but what has not been considered is the life cycle cost of repairing them once a spill has taken place and a stain appears. Because of the make-up of a topical sealer in order to remove the stain you must first remove the sealer to address the stain. The problem lies in not being able to remove the sealer just where the stain appears but rather you have to remove an entire section often times to the next saw cut joint in all four directions, which can take an area affected by the stain from a couple square feet to several hundred square feet that has to be corrected. Now a repair that should have been able to be completed inside of 30 minutes consumes a couple of hours, and whoa be it to the individual that is doing the repair if they are not well trained on the finicky re-application of the topical sealer.

Penetrating sealers on the other hand have very similar sealing capabilities, but protect the floor from within the concrete not sitting on top of it. This allows for stains to be addressed simply as they are and does not require additional work in the surrounding areas. Since it penetrates into the concrete it is far less likely to have issues arise during the installation such as streaks, discoloration, or contamination from debris.

Overall a penetrating sealer is much easier to maintain thus giving a lower life cycle cost while ensuring that you are protecting your Polished Concrete investment.

Polished concrete is one of the most versatile surfaces to design with, and no other product allows the  same level of customization.  Perfect Polish has created a virtual design tool that allows you to adjust the sheen, aggregate exposure, colorant, and design options of your floor to create a unique look.

Want to visualize your floor?  Click here to use our virtual polished concrete design tool to create your own custom floor.

Polished Concrete Virtual Design Tool

 

Polished concrete is a highly versatile floor choice, but requires skill and care for installation as it is a craft, not a product.  To ensure the success of the flooring, the designer should begin with a strong specification and demand results.  Below are 8 factors you should understand before beginning a polished concrete project.

  1. Polishing Method – One of the first things to be considered when choosing Polished Concrete is the functional needs of the floor and the desired aesthetics. There are two main types of polishing methods that can be utilized to achieve a polished concrete floor:  Topical polishing or mechanical polishing.Topical Polishing:  The topical polishing process employs light weight machines, densifiers and sealers to put a shine on new construction concrete floors. This process will not grind out the imperfections in the concrete, but will rather polish the top layer of cement exactly as it was left by the concrete finisher.

    The end result is a clean and shiny surface that is functional, but depending on what the finished concrete looked like to begin with, may have power trowel marks, low spots, and discoloration throughout the slab. It is the products applied to the top of the floor that provide the sheen, so these products must be reapplied on occasion to maintain the shine.

    Mechanical Polishing: With a mechanical grind and polish process you get a functional floor with the added benefit of the aesthetics. This process employs large floor grinders, densifiers and sealers for both new construction or rehab concrete floors. This process has the ability to grind through the top layer of cement exposing the aggregate and thus removing many of the surface imperfections. This process typically leaves you with a much more uniform appearance and a more consistent, higher gloss. The value of this system is an economical floor that is functional and aesthetically pleasing, that lasts somewhat longer than the topical method.

  2. Flatwork – No matter which method you choose, the final polished concrete floor is only going to be as good as the canvas that your polished concrete artist is given to work on. It is critical that the flatwork finisher turns over a flat, well consolidated slab. Require that the general contractor pay particular attention to the edges of each pour, around columns and walls, and any other vertical abutments that will be exposed. If these areas are not consolidated and finished just like the main floor, they will turn out white and chalky and there is very little your polisher can do to blend these areas.
  3. Aggregate Exposure – Make sure you specify what size aggregate is desired, typically anything larger than sand size aggregate is going to require aggressive grinding and will be more costly. It is important to make sure the aggregate size desired is as close to the surface as possible, this will ensure that there is plenty of cement around the aggregate. The deeper the polisher has to grind into the concrete the more porosity and non-consolidation will be exposed. Aggregate exposure can only be achieved with the mechanical grinding and polishing method.
  4. Curing Use of a removable cure-n-seal is recommended.  Often a wet cured slab will leave too many color inconsistencies from overlap lines of the curing blankets, or where sections of the floor were more or less wet than other areas.
  5. Color – This can be achieved in a wide variety of ways. Integral color is the most expensive, but will give the most value in appearance and longevity. The use of penetrating dyes is a more affordable way to attain color, and is easier to use if multiple colors are desired. Dyes will often time leave a more mottled appearance than integral since the colorant will fluctuate depending on the local density of the concrete.  Color can be used with both the mechanical and topical process.
  6. Level of gloss – The level of sheen is quantified by using a gloss meter. A matte finish will range between 15 and 25 reading, a low sheen from 26 to 35, a high sheen from 36 to 50, and a high gloss is a reading of 51+.
  7. Sequencing – The designer should communicate with the general contractor to ensure the polished concrete is completed during the correct time in the construction schedule. Ideally, the floors should be completed later in the construction schedule to reduce the opportunity for damage from other trades.  However, the more walls that go up ahead of the polishing, the more cost will be incurred to address the edges. It may be best to have the polisher come in before the (interior and maybe even exterior) walls go up to do the initial grind up through the densification step, and then come back towards the end of construction to do the final polishing steps.
  8. Maintenance – Though polished concrete is considered low maintenance, it is important that designers communicate with their clients on the maintenance needs of the polished concrete to keep up it’s aesthetic.  Aside from the daily or weekly cleaning regimen, a semi-annual revisit from the polished concrete company for stain removal, sealer re-application, and burnishing is highly recommended.

No two slabs are alike, and each floor, whether new or existing construction, has unique needs.  Getting an experienced polished concrete specialist involved at the design phase of the project will help improve the success of the project.

Perfect Polish is here to help.  Download our master specification or allow yourself to be inspired by creating your own floor using our polished concrete design studio.

Expensive terrazzo and maintenance-intense VCT and carpet were once the only flooring options found in schools.  Today’ institutions have another choice: polished concrete.  Polished concrete has the beauty and durability of terrazzo without the expense, and the affordability of VCT without the maintenance hassles.

  1. Century Floor Solution – Properly maintained concrete can last for a century.  The surface is hard wearing and is less likely to chip or dent.
  2. No Stripping and Waxing – Polished concrete can last for decades with proper maintenance that doesn’t include floor waxing and stripping.  Janitors can spend more time removing gum from the bottom of the desks, and less time running the autoscrubber.
  3. Cost Savings – Reducing costs is critical to school operations budgets.  In addition to the reduced maintenance, highly reflective polished concrete improves natural lighting.
  4. Allergen Free – Polished concrete does not harbor allergens like carpet, and does not support mold growth.
  5. Design – Polished concrete can match any school’s spirit with unlimited design choices to add color and even mascot emblems to the surface.

To see how polished concrete costs compare to traditional carpet or VCT, view our 10 year life cost polished concrete comparison.

The new Colorado Army National Guard Readiness Center serves as a home station for a National Guard unit, and can house one company of 140 soldiers. New readiness centers are being built in communities across Colorado to increase the value of the National Guard to the local community, and to better support them in times of need. The building is also an asset to the local economy, as it is expected to increase jobs and bring nearly $12 million of revenue to the state.

The 35,553 square foot building construction was overseen by FCI of Grand Junction Colorado and includes over 11,000 square feet of highly decorative polished concrete. “Even the stairways were dyed and polished,” exclaimed Ashley Hamby, Project Manager for Perfect Polish, thepolished concrete specialty contractor tasked with the ambitious flooring work.

Multiple dyes were used to create a basket-weave like pattern onto the corridor floors, meandering down the hallways to meet one of two stenciled logos in the project.  The first logo symbol was that of the Colorado Flag, with its rich red, gold and blue hues representing the deep blue skies, golden sunshine, and red earth the state is known for. The second was the National Guard’s own logo, which included the special placement of white Portland cement poured into the pattern.

“The GC did a great job sequencing the trades and managing the quality of the flatwork,” explained Byron Farmer, Superintendent for Perfect Polish. “The biggest challenge was the porosity of the floor.” The crew densified the concrete before grinding and exposed salt and pepper aggregate throughout the floor.

Farmer worked closely with FCI to keep the floor protected once the polished concrete was completed.  Farmer elaborated, “…once the GC gave us the green light, everyone had to work around the floors.”  As the final finishing step, FCI inlaid Copper plates representing the multiple military branches inlaid into the polished concrete.  The result is a remarkable, lasting floor that will be a landmark tribute to the National Guard and the community, for decades to come.

Click here to learn more about Commercial Polished Concrete by Perfect Polish.Image