Exposing a Concrete Beauty

When Royale Concrete took its first look at a 65-year old concrete floor at a former farm chemical warehouse, it didn’t know what it would find under years of dirt, grime, spilled chemicals, mastic, fork lift lanes and epoxy coatings. What the concrete polishing company uncovered was a floor with colorful, well-distributed aggregates, minimal repair requirements and a good dose of character. The polish gave a 2,000-square-foot area of neglected concrete a new life as a high-design floor in a remodeled office.

Promoting a polish

President Jessica Ledger-Kalen and vice president Jeremy Waugh founded Royale Concrete, Fairfield, Iowa, in 2006. The company started performing pour work mainly in the residential realm and eventually branched into commercial and government work. Ledger-Kalen and Waugh soon realized they were highly detail-oriented contractors working in a sector of the construction industry that didn’t particularly value the details. “We re-evaluated our company and decided to purely focus on surface prep and concrete polishing,” Ledger-Kalen recalls. “It made a lot of sense to us, for owners to choose polished concrete flooring over other traditional flooring options.”

“Polished concrete offers owners something other than replacement,” Waugh continues. “We can give them a repair and polish.” That business model has been working for the young company. Waugh says even though they do offer polished floors on new construction, the economy has created a strong base of work in reconstruction projects in the geographical market his company serves.

Royale Concrete was initially brought on the project at the former farm chemical warehouse to perform a 20-grit grind and apply L&M Construction Chemicals’ SealHard densifier for 70,000 square feet of warehouse space for a new branch of an oil distribution company. “If the owner’s budget would have allowed, he would have gone further with the grind,” Waugh says. “But the floor we gave him allowed for a clean, consistent look on the floors, slight reflectivity, the ability to repel stains and a smoother surface that will be easier to clean.”

After speaking with the owner and learning he was planning on tile as the flooring option for a 2,000-square-foot section of the building that would be office space, Waugh told the owner about polished concrete. Royale Concrete did a demo on an area of the floor that was getting carpet and the owner loved it. He asked Royale Concrete to proceed with the exposed aggregate polish in the office space.

Polishing sequence

Royale Concrete started the dry polishing process with a 20-grit, metal-bond abrasive grind, which removed the VCT black mastic residue, carpet glue, painted-on fork lift lanes and years of grime that collected on the floor. They did an aggressive grind on the concrete, exposing a beautiful aggregate scatter full of color and various aggregate sizes.

Then the crew moved up to a 60-grit metal grind, after which they filled the concrete micropores with a grout then densified the floor. From there the crews went through a grinding sequence with 100, 200 and 400 copper-bond hybrid abrasives, followed by 400 and 800 resin-bond abrasive steps. “With the copper hybrids it’s almost impossible to leave a scratch behind,” Waugh says. “We like the hybrids because of their efficiency in removing scratches from prior steps and leaving a consistent scratch pattern.”

Finding character

Like any concrete floor that has seen decades of use and neglect, the crew at Royale Concrete found a few flaws to work around. For instance, they discovered a section of the floor where stud wall nails were left in the concrete. “At first we thought we would pull up those nails and repair the floor, but then we decided to leave them in instead of risking the possibility of a large pop out,” Waugh explains. So Royale Concrete crews ground down the nails with a metal hand grinder; now the nails are part of the history of the floor.

Waugh says by playing up those unknown flaws you can get your customer to think about them in a different way, like history and character of a floor that can actually help you sell the concrete polishing process. “Sometimes you have to think of your floor as Cracker Jacks, and those flaws and characteristics are the prize in every box,” Ledger-Kalen adds.

Another issue Royale Concrete dealt with on this project was the owner’s last-minute change in how to deal with the edges. At the outset of the project the owner intended to install thick, wood base trim. In order to save the owner some dollars on the polish, Royale Concrete crews didn’t perform hand edgework along walls that would receive the thick trim (their full-size grinders leave less than a ½-inch unfinished edge). By the time the polish was finished, the owner had changed his mind about the wood trim and decided to install a thin vinyl trim.

“It wasn’t feasible for us to go back and finish that edge — edges need to be brought up with the rest of the floor,” Waugh explains. So Royale Concrete installed a 3-in. epoxy border around the floor, blended to match the vinyl trim. “It turned out really well,” Ledger-Kalen says. “When you first look at the floor you don’t really notice it — the border looks like it is part of the baseboard.”

The concrete polishing results were more than the building owner expected, and Ledger-Kalen says he has since become one of polished concrete’s biggest cheerleaders. “He loves showing off his floor,” she says. “He invites people over to look at it, and he says it’s the favorite part of his remodel.”

Project Summary

Polishing Contractor: Royale Concrete, Fairfield, Iowa

www.royaleconcrete.com

Staff: President Jessica Leger-Kalen; vice-president Jeremy Waugh, CPAA Craftsman; and Justin Tobin, CPAA Craftsman

Project square footage: 2,000 feet, 800-grit finish

Key products and equipment: Husqvarna Hiperfloor process, including PG-820 grinders, DC-5500 vacuums, 1100-series abrasives, GM 3000 grout and Hiperhard densifier.

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