Archive for May, 2010

Marblelife of Delaware Valley colored and polished this concrete hallway in a Philadelphia school after the worn floor covering was removed.

As part of my research into the story “Are finished concrete floors right for your school?” which I’m writing for American School & Hospital Facility Magazine, I interviewed Mark Muller, Treanor Architects, Lawrence, Kan., whose firm has designed for many schools, including the Lawrence public school system, University of Kansas, University of Missouri and Kansas State University.

Mark’s short answer to that question is – it depends.

Whether or not a school should use concrete floors depends on the floor’s purpose, the size of the project budget, the size of the maintenance budget, the desired aesthetic, and environmental concerns.

Whether or not Mark recommends concrete floors – and he has in many cases – depends on all the preceding factors and a few more.

“You have to consider the level of expertise of your contractor base,” he says, “and the degree of difficulty of the installation.”

That includes the amount of time you’ve got to complete the project. While all projects are “schedule-sensitive,” Mark says, students returning after summer break, for example, means that the work may be accelerated to the point of nonconformance with the spec.

Construction activities create wear and tear on a slab that is exposed for the duration of construction. For example, oil spilled on an exposed slab that’s meant to eventually be a finished concrete floor will set a project back while the surface is cleaned. The same type of damage to a slab that’s meant to be covered by tile or carpet isn’t as much of a disaster, Mark said.

Construction creates wear and tear on exposed slabs set to become finished floors. A concrete floor protection plan will help keep the project on pace.

And while the possible “X-factors” such as spills don’t present insurmountable obstacles, design professionals do have to consider their likelihood and potential in making their recommendations, and in writing the specifications.

The first piece of advice Mark offers school officials tasked with deciding on flooring options is to consult a design professional trained to weigh and evaluate these factors.

Utility spaces
That said, there are some places in schools where finished concrete floors are always appropriate. They include janitorial and electrical spaces, and anywhere there could be wheeled traffic and other heavy use.

Those floors, at a minimum, require some sort of dustproofing, such as a film-forming sealer or a hardener-densifier.

Student, staff and faculty spaces
Flooring options increase in student, faculty and staff spaces. Finished concrete flooring is still a good choice in vocational “shop” classrooms, corridors, and other areas where a hard floor surface is acceptable.

You have to be careful about choosing concrete floors for labs where students might be handling acids or reagents, or art rooms where dyes and paints might be spilled, Mark said.

Concrete floors with a limited aesthetic — a few colors without extensive and expensive saw-cut designs – may be a good choice for cafeterias. But you have to weigh the cost of the grinding and other surface prep against that of simply putting down resilient flooring materials.

On the other hand, since finished concrete floors don’t need waxing, buffing or stripping, they can save on the maintenance budget, Mark said.

“Be sure to educate the maintenance staff on that point,” he added. “Some maintenance technicians are of the opinion that if it’s horizontal and doesn’t have carpet, it should be waxed and buffed no matter what.”

Eliminating waxing, buffing and stripping can save schools quite a bit of money over the course of a year, a decade or a bond-issue, he said.

Wherever concrete flooring is being considered, Mark said, the acoustics of those spaces should be taken into account. In many cases an acoustical panel ceiling will mitigate some of the “liveliness” of sound that a hard surface flooring material will promote, as will some wall and window treatments, but often the solution is to soften the acoustics with carpeting.

The flooring in this auditorium is a combination -- sealed, trowel finished concrete for durability and low-maintenance, and carpet for its sound-softening properties.

Larger rooms may benefit from concrete floors. However, Mark said, since the hard surface can help in projecting sounds, there are escalated risks for acoustical backfire. Check with an acoustician.

To get the simplified cleaning and maintenance benefits of concrete flooring, school officials will sometimes remove worn-out carpet or tile, exposing and finishing the concrete floor underneath.
It’s not a bad idea, since the concrete floors will last the life of the building. But you may want to reconsider, Mark said, if the worn flooring to be replaced is vinyl asbestos tile.

Vinyl asbestos tiles, and particularly the mastic used for adhesion, can introduce harmful fibers into the air if removed by abrasive or mechanical means. Asbestos abatement procedures must be followed, which can get expensive, so simply covering the old tiles with another floor covering is an acceptable solution, and may be the best bet for cash-strapped schools, Mark said.

Environmental concerns
Asbestos tiles aside, finished concrete floors do offer environmental advantages. New concrete is usually produced locally, so you avoid the energy consumption for lengthy transport of heavy rolls of carpet and boxes of tile.

Old concrete, already there, doesn’t even require the limited transport cost of a concrete transport truck.

Since concrete floors don’t need to be replaced, they don’t take up space in landfills like other flooring types that have to be removed at the end of their service lives, or because of accidents – floods or spills for example. While many flooring manufacturers offer recycling options for their products, concrete will remain serviceable for the life of the building.

All these factors, from budget to contractor skill to environmental concerns must be weighed, Mark says. In the end, finished concrete floors are a reasonable choice, if not the only choice, for many school spaces – and definitely worthy of consideration.
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Technicians from Preferred Concrete Polishing, Kernersville, N.C., use Consolideck® LS® to harden/densify 388,000 square feet of soon-to-be finished concrete floor at Bartle Hall Exhibit Center, Kansas City, Mo. The space is one of the biggest column-free exhibit spaces on the planet. photo by John Young

By Joe Reardon and Gary Henry
Finished Concrete Flooring has grown explosively in the past few years with many new products benefiting applicators and owners.

It has evolved from simply scrubbing and sealing floors to grinding, coloring, decorating and polishing. We’ve created products that contribute to LEED® points and create virtually no waste. We’ve got UV-stable colorants that also harden and densify concrete.

The innovations for finished concrete flooring are coming fast and furious. It looks like not even the sky is the limit.

It started with hardener/densifiers.

Potassium- and sodium-silicate hardener/densifiers for concrete have improved the durability of concrete roads, slabs and floors for more than 70 years. Though application procedures varied according to specific products, basically, you spray, brush or roll the liquid hardener/densifier on the concrete. Then, scrub it in to help penetration.

What doesn’t penetrate has to be flushed away before it forms a hard white deposit.

Increasingly strict environmental regulations added another step to the process: containment, collection and proper disposal of the waste stream from flushing.

The benefits were – and are – concrete that has dramatically improved stain-resistance, abrasion resistance, and that no longer “dusts.”
But just as the ways we work, communicate and travel have become faster and more streamlined, so have hardener/densifiers.

Lithium-silicate hardener/densifiers arrived several years ago. They’ve gained steam because they reduce waste on job sites, and meet the needs of ever-accelerating construction schedules.

Lithium-silicates work the same way as their sodium- and potassium-silicate predecessors, and provide the same benefits. They penetrate the concrete pores, and react with “soft” calcium hydroxide in the concrete left from curing. The product of that reaction is hard calcium silicate hydrate – the same material that makes cured concrete hard to begin with.

The big difference is that lithium-silicates penetrate without scrubbing, saving time, money and energy. Lithium-silicates penetrate completely.

There’s nothing left to flush. That means you lose the flushing, waste containment, collection and disposal steps – and cost.

If you over-saturate the concrete, lithium-silicate hardener/densifiers just dry into an inert white powder, easily swept away.

While time-savings benefits installers and clients, taking the waste stream out benefits the environment.

The higher coverage rate lithium-silicates offer compared to the older products – three times or more – are another environmental benefit. That means less packaging, fuel and transportation costs, and reduced environmental impact.

With an easier hardening/densifying process, finished concrete floors become more achievable; so many complementary products and procedures have sprung up.

Polishing, once limited to the stone and terrazzo industries, has been adapted to concrete floors. Hardening/densifying makes polishing go faster and get better results. With today’s lithium-silicate hardener/densifiers eliminating scrubbing, flushing and waste, polishing is now a more realistic option.

The hardened, densified and polished floor at Bartle Hall gleams with a 1500-grit resin-diamond finish. photo by John Young

That may partly explain the dramatic growth of these unique, beautiful and durable floors, from big box stores like Wal-Mart to offices, schools, and even churches.

Color, once largely limited to hazardous acetone and acid stains, is now available in infinite variety in safe, UV-stable water-based stains and pigments for indoor and outdoor concrete, polished or unpolished.

And new high-tech protective treatments, combined with advanced burnishing techniques can make even unpolished concrete gleam and shine.
As owners reach out for these unique and sustainable flooring options, our industry is responding with new innovative products and techniques.

Finished concrete floors are on their way to being as mainstream as carpet, tile, wood and other common flooring options.
But we’re not there yet, and won’t be until installers and owners understand and accept one crucial point: MAINTENANCE.

We’re all guilty of it — don’t need maintenance; concrete floors are indestructible! Aren’t they?

That’s a myth, and until it’s cleared up, finished concrete floors and the people who make a living from them will never come into their own.
Everything needs to be cleaned and maintained – especially surfaces subject to foot and vehicle traffic.
It’s true that finished concrete floors need less maintenance than other floors, but they still need it.

The reason is “grit.”

Grit – tiny, abrasive dirt and dust particles — comes from inside buildings or gets carried in on your shoes. Walking around, or pushing a shopping cart helps grit grind away at the finish of concrete floors.

Traditional cleaning agents can dull finishes, or if they have acidic components, can damage concrete floors.

Our industry has responded with maintenance cleaners specifically made for finished concrete floors.

New best-of-breed cleaners contain lithium-silicate, which finds, hardens and densifies any unreacted parts of the concrete. This ensures that floors not only stay clean, but that abrasion and stain-resistance remain at top levels.

I believe that finished concrete flooring will soon be seen as the go-to flooring for offices, homes, hospitals – all the places we’re only now making inroads.

As owners and applicators identify new needs and problems, applicators and manufacturers will continue to develop the products and procedures to address them.

The “clean-up on Aisle Two,” which can potentially stain a polished or burnished concrete floor is close to being solved, thanks to this kind of cooperation.

Other advances will include complete systems to maximize abrasion resistance; tests that show where sealers aren’t working; and improved penetration of sealers and densifiers to increase their effectiveness and service lives.

The finished concrete flooring industry is evolving and learning at the same time.

Working together, we’ll help our fledging industry reach its full potential. That’s good news for all concrete flooring professionals, as well as for a sustainable built environment.

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Black, White and friends -- A sample of ColorHard Black and ColorHard White stand on either side of an uncolored concrete sample, with samples of other ColorHard hues in front. The samples were all ground to to a 200-grit metal diamond finish, and looked similar to the uncolored sample before receiving ColorHard.

Our Concrete Product Group guys are excited because we’re coming out with “White” ColorHard. We’re coming out with “Black,” too, but it’s “White” that seems to be making their day.

Evidently, nobody has a white surface-applied pigment for concrete that also hardens and densifies concrete like ColorHard. I went online to try to verify the veracity of this claim, but couldn’t find any other surface-applied white. I did find some integral white coloring, but that’s a different beast, with its own advantages and drawbacks.

The way ColorHard works is that you mix a 4-oz. packet with a gallon of Consolideck LS (lithium-silicate) hardener/densifier. Then you put it on the concrete with a pump up sprayer, and spread it with a micro-fiber applicator. After an hour or so, you put a protective treatment on it — LSGuard if it’s indoors and you want glossy, or Saltguard WB (water-based) if it’s outside and you want it water- and de-icing salt repellent.

In any case, the concrete, sustainable already, is now colorful, and more sustainable because it’s harder, denser and resistant to stains and abrasion.

I’m told our White will be a great alternative to white VCT in hospitals, pharmacies and other places needing a clean, sterile or simply cheerful look. It’s not planned for release for another month or so, but looks like it’s already planned to go down on 80,000 square feet of white Portland Cement concrete at a new Woodman’s Food Market in Madison, Wis.

Here’s a shot of the mockup they did for the Woodman’s project — photo by Shawn Wardall, Specialized Construction Services inc. The strip in the foreground of the panel is the white cement concrete with several types of protective treatments, but no White ColorHard.

Test panel - White ColorHard on white Portland Cement concrete. The strip in front is the white concrete without ColorHard, but with several types of protective treatments.

Here’s another shot from the other direction, in different light.

White ColorHard on white concrete - test panel for a finished concrete floor going into a new Woodman's Food Market in Madison.

I believe the procedure will be — grind to a 200 resin diamond finish, apply the ColorHard, burnish with diamond pads, and put glossy, lithium-silicate containing LSGuard protective treatment on it.

That’s all I know for now, though I expect to get the gory details for a story in PROSOCO News when the project is done.


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A worker completes the liquid-applied flashing of a rough opening, without having to use fabrics, tapes or wraps. New R-GUARD Fast Flash is instantly waterproof and can go on damp surfaces.

We just formed a partnership with BEI (Building Envelope Innovations) which is based in — I love this name — Clackamas, Ore.

I actually visited Clackamas in 2007, to run a race up and down Mt. Hood. Had the greatest seafood in a little restaurant there…

Anyway, BEI, in Clackamas, makes these sensational air barrier products… a line called “Wet Flash.” This suite of gun-grade, liquid-applied air and waterPROOF barrier products is used for rough-opening flashing, joint treatment, window installation, and overall sealing of structural walls.

You just gun it on and spread. there’s no tapes, fillers, wraps or fabrics. It’s instantly waterproof, and works on damp substrates. That means no weather-related construction delays! And tougher than anything else out there — keeps air and water out of walls in conditions from every-day up to a Category 5 Hurricane.

My slogan is “Prevent air and water penetration of the building envelope — in weather mild to wild!”

Interesting how these products came about. Repair contractors Tatley-Grund, Seattle, found that a lot of their business came from repairing windows that failed to keep water from coming in between the frame and rough opening. They’d take the windows out and discover the whole wall assembly was rotted and mildewed.

Once air and water got past the window frame, the building wrap couldn’t keep it out either.

The company questioned the wisdom of making repairs with the same kind of materials that let the damage happen to begin with. Unfortunately, in the early 2000s, that’s what there was. Only it wasn’t good enough, so Tatley Grund started their own manufacturing company — BEI — to make new materials that met their checkpoints for what windows, doors and structural walls needed to stay dry.

Even in extreme conditions — up to say, a Category 5 Hurricane!

I’m leaving out a lot here. Including who they hired to make it happen (some very smart people); the test chamber they built to make sure their window installations can stand up to anything (ramps up air pressure to 4500 Pascals plus), and a lot more.

Bottom line, BEI makes some incredible air barrier products. But marketing and distribution — different story.

At PROSOCO, we’ve got marketing and distribution for our own PROSOCO R-GUARD air barrier products, built up over about five or six years now. So BEI needed what PROSOCO’s got, and PROSOCO really liked what BEI makes — so we teamed up!

I’ve just finished penning the first ads, the partnership press release , marketing letters and glossy brochures. These products are very cool and will do a lot to make buildings more sustainable.

And I like the name of the overall air barrier product — PROSOCO R-GUARD Cat 5 — for Category 5 hurricanes. You can read more about Cat 5 and the other BEI Wet Flash product here. My guess is that if you’re in this line of work, you’ll be hearing all about them soon enough.

But my favorite thing about this whole deal is where the Wet Flash product are made — Clackamas. Love that name! I already decided that’s what I’m going to name my next dog.

More later!


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