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No Maintenance? Who Are You Kidding?

April 28, 2008
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Figure 1


Recently the director of operations for a large casino for which I was consulting asked me why their 6-month-old “no-maintenance” floors were looking so bad. Here is where you pause, take measure and wonder whether to sell him your oceanfront property in Arizona or sit him down and explain that there is no such thing. Even a path through the woods needs to be cleared of debris if it is to continue as a path. And that periodic clearing of leaves and branches is maintenance. As long as a surface is used and abused, as a floor is, it needs maintenance.

Figure 2

Now stone is low maintenance, but I have never heard or seen anyone guarantee it as no maintenance. So I did the safe and prudent thing: I asked to see the guarantee because if he could produce it, I was going to have every friend in the country buy one of these “no maintenance” floors, and I planned on buying two.

Figure 3

So we determined that his floors were low maintenance, not no maintenance. They sound the same and I can understand why an end-user (or whomever is responsible for the outlay of cash for the upkeep) would want to hear one word over the other. So what type of maintenance is advisable?

One of the first things I ever taught (and continue to teach) is that stone does not require wax. Using was results in increased maintenance costs. Another practice guaranteed to be harmful on calcium-based stone is a continued and regular use of acidic products. I ask, can the use of the two of these products combined be deemed as “maintenance”?  Some would say yes, others no.

Figure 4

While in Las Vegas the last several months, I have been privy to the regular goings-on of the night maintenance staff at many of the large hotels and casinos. I have even taken many of my students from our Las Vegas training center on “field trips” to observe the destruction of our marble jungle. As we begin the tour, I urge the faint of heart and young children to look away.

Figure 1: note how the stone has the appearance of being coated by several applications of wax. And yet the maintenance staff does not wax the floors. They are using an acidic compound on the floor. They are buffing it with steel wool. Now, many of these compounds do contain wax in them for “lubrication purposes,” and the manufacturers state it does not adhere to the floor.

Now I ask you, as they asked Jack Black in the movie Envy: “Where does the stuff go?”  As you look through the pictures, please take note of the waxy look of the floors; I think you can figure it out.

Look at a wider angle of the same floor (Figure 2). What seems to be happening here?  Again, it looks waxy, but now we see a holey deterioration of the floor. What could it be that is causing a young floor to lose its life before its time?  Could it be foot traffic alone?  If so, why has marble been so popular for millenniums without this problem? Yes, I know the argument that Vegas sees more traffic than the Taj Mahal, but why the breakdown in the floor where people don’t walk? There has to be more to it. Could it be the very chemical used to maintain these floors on a nightly basis? Could the acid actually be eating away at these calcium-based floors, and the wax be locking it in?  I urge you to look further.

Now in Figure 3, a brass divider strip is being stripped with a quarter. What is coming off? Wax. Where does it come from? The maintenance staff is not out blocking off sections of the floor to apply wax and let it cure at night on this floor. When asked, the staff claimed to use only steel wool and a spray compound every night, and no wax. So how did the wax get on the floor?

Observe the appearance of rust along the white and cream-colored stones. Brass does not cause rust, but iron does. So how would iron get on the floor? Could it be from the steel wool buffing this acid with wax-lubricated product every night?

Notice how in Figure 4 the stone is very textured. If you look at the stone on the wall where no one walks, and subsequently no one maintains, you can see how the floor is not meant to be textured. Now, yes, you could argue that it is only foot traffic, but you could also argue that the acidic compound being used is eating away at certain minerals while leaving others not as sensitive to the product. However, even though it is being maintained on a nightly basis, it still looks waxy and dull compared to the untouched wall area. This makes me wonder how effective this maintenance really is.

Can this process really be defined as “maintenance” of stone? Well, yes, because it is performed on a nightly basis. But if a man whittling a whistle out of a piece of wood removes the wood, is it maintenance?  Or is it sculpting?  Are end-users of stone paying to have their stone re-carved? Do they want to have holes and texture (which can increase expensive slip/falls and claims) on their floors? Do they want their stone to look dull and waxy (and thus require more maintenance) most of the time? Do they have an option? To answer that last question directly – yes, they do. Do they know that they have an option? Chances are they have been convinced over the years by many a salesperson (and the low initial cost of this process) that this is their only option. Show them the difference. Show them how a flat, well-polished, well-maintained stone floor should look and how maintenance over time is a fair amount less with better-looking results.

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