For many floor owners, the concept of maintenance begins when the completed floor is turned over for use. But adequate floor maintenance is the culmination of the entire floor installation and preparation process.
A well constructed polished concrete floor requires contributions from many disciplines:
- Architects design floor specifications to meet owner’s expectations.
- Batch plants prepare a mix design to fulfill strength, durability and workability requirements.
- Concrete installers and finishers must have the requisite equipment and experience for the job.
- Polishing contractors work within the limits of the substrate to achieve a finished product consistent with the floor specifications and owner’s expectations.
- Floor owners must establish and enforce a floor maintenance routine.
Throughout the process, decisions are made and actions are taken that impact floor maintenance requirements. Floor owners are done a great disservice if given a floor they are unable (or unwilling) to maintain. In fact, the entire polished concrete industry is given a black eye when floor owners are soon dissatisfied when they equate the results of inadequate maintenance with inferior product. Consequently, its imperative the maintenance conversation begin at the outset of floor specification and continue throughout each step of the installation process.
Maintenance requirements also vary considerably based upon application environment. There are profound differences in the severity of wear and contamination expected in an optometrist’s office versus, say, a wine store. Each application environment will have differing maintenance requirements, resulting in differing product expectations, specifications and installation/finishing techniques.
Further complicating matters, polished concrete contractors have an aversion for “coatings”, though (depending on the environment) a coating can be an essential component to long-term durability and maintenance. The basis for this aversion is often founded on the perception that coatings are maintenance items and polished concrete is maintenance free.
Water borne contaminants vs. non-water borne contaminants
Don’t confuse polished concrete’s ability to bead water with stain protection. Highly polished concrete is smooth enough to lower its surface energy. As a result, liquids with higher surface tensions (like water at 72 dynes) will bead. But water borne contaminants will still form a stain beneath the droplet itself. Don’t believe me? Place a drop of red wine on some unprotected polished concrete. It beads readily with a significant contact angle. Wipe it away and see what’s underneath...a stain.
Non-water borne contaminants such as oil, grease, solvents, fertilizers, cleaners, etc, will readily wet out and stain polished concrete as well. Countless experiments have proven this time and again.
Uncoated polished concrete in an optometrist’s office can be perfectly acceptable, given the exposures in that environment. But polished concrete in a grocery, automotive supply, beverage center, etc. will be subject to contaminants that create unsightly stains and blemishes. What is polished concrete if it is not aesthetically pleasing? A dying profession.
Polished concrete contractors also have an innate suspicion of coatings because they can be used to achieve the appearance of highly polished floors. Personally, I don’t have an issue with the use of coatings to achieve gloss, if that’s what the floor owner expects. But some “ethically challenged” contractors know how to coat a 400 grit floor to give it the appearance of a 2,000 grit floor… for a while. It’s said this occurs because there’s inadequate supervision on polished concrete projects. Really? Believe me, if that’s the case, the problem is not the coating.
Regardless, the decision to use a coating (call it a “guard” if it makes you feel better) should be a function of the floor environment, and will significantly impact its maintenance requirements.
Involving floor owners in these decisions from the outset, and throughout the installation process, will go a long way. A well maintained floor looks better and lasts longer. And that’s something that makes every floor owner happy.