Polished Perspective

Author: GMI Engineered Products April 22, 2013

We have reached a point in time where an increasing number of major retail stores, manufacturing facilities and government buildings are embracing polished concrete floors as the preferred choice for sustainable floor systems. When the decision-makers of these buildings enter into the specification and selection process, choosing the most viable concrete polishing system for the job, it is apparent that there are important features and benefits still unclear to them.

After speaking with many such end users about polishing systems, it seems the majority find the maintenance program of the floor to be the most confusing component. These specifiers are learning that maintenance programs differ greatly depending on the intended use of the finished floor and the daily impact of foot traffic on the system. For example, the foot traffic of a home improvement store may be equivalent to that of foot traffic in a grocery store. However, the introduction of other elements that cause micro abrasions, whether it be an accidental spill of shelved merchandise or exposure to sand or ice through extreme hot or cold environments, will determine the frequency of cleaning to remove them. Fortunately for new end users of concrete polished floors, a lot of data has been recorded over the past several years that is specific to these two types of applications. This allows these end users to develop specifications for polished concrete floor systems and create an effective maintenance program with the contractor.

End users that do not enforce maintenance programs immediately after a polished floor system has been completed usually find themselves at a disadvantaged in the long term, especially when it comes to the appearance and sustainability of the floor. Some floor systems are unable to be completely returned to a “like new” state and ultimately need some form of corrective work within the first year of existence.

Polished concrete systems are not equal across the board, but they all share a common component. This component is important to consider and will provide answers when troubleshooting potential challenges regarding the selection of an appropriate maintenance system. All polished concrete systems have what is referred to as a “return.” In this instance, the return refers to a specific time in the polishing process just before the sealer is applied. Having a floor at the maximum refinement before the guard or sealer is applied will not only naturally increase abrasion resistance, but will also require less maintenance afterward. A flat floor without surface irregularities and scratches contains nothing for foot traffic and wheel traffic to grab onto. Polished concrete surfaces with 800, 1,500 or even 3,000 grit finishes may not necessarily be completely free of micro scratches and surface irregularities, and may require excessive amounts of polish guard and sealers to act as fillers.

Furthermore, It is important to understand if the polish guards and sealers being used are water soluble or not. If a sealer is used as a filler and is water soluble, wet foot traffic and normal floor maintenance with the use of an automatic floor scrubber will remove the sealer and reveal the return point of the floor. Proper surface refinement processes, in conjunction with proper sealers used as intended, will produce results that keep polished concrete a viable option for a durable and sustainable floor system.

To help educate those who offer concrete polishing as a service, or are considering the start up of a concrete polishing company, the Concrete Sawing & Drilling Association (CSDA) has expanded its membership to include polishing contractors and manufacturers of associated tools and equipment. The association has also added concrete polishing classes to its training program. The first of such classes was held at World of Concrete in February 2013, and the intention is to hold more classes in the future.

By participating in CSDA concrete polishing classes, contractors will learn how to eliminate the majority of risk factors associated with this discipline. For the first time in the history of the sawing and drilling industry, a course has been created to educate people on a technique outside the core disciplines. Now, a contractor can gain important knowledge from experienced CSDA instructors that will help him or her produce a polished floor that exceeds customer expectations. The aim is to give participants a model for producing floors to a consistent high level of quality, regardless of the type of concrete. Also, part of the class focuses on the maintenance of polished concrete floors and how contractors can work with customers to keep a floor system in the same condition it was when installed.

In addition to training, a polishing committee has been formed within the membership and CSDA plans to expand on its Standards, Specifications and Best Practices to include more documents specific to concrete polishing. Document CSDA-BP-008 Concrete Polished Floors has been in circulation since 2010 and is available for anyone to download in PDF from www.csda.org.

Polishing contractors, new or experienced, are encouraged to consider industry training. This will not only help them to create a high-quality polished concrete floor, but also give them the knowledge they need to set up an intelligent maintenance program for the surface. Over time, this will give customers confidence—their decision to install a polished concrete floor was a good one. As faith in this type of floor system grows, so too do the reputations of those contractors who install them and help customers maintain them correctly.