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.
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.