ICS Magazine

Concrete Flooring: The Past Does Not Equate the Future

April 9, 2008

Concrete is the most commonly used building material in the world. It is nothing new; variations have been used for literally thousands of years. Today, billions of square feet of concrete are used each year and a good portion of that is flooring material.

When thinking of flooring material, the floor maintenance technician does not generally think of concrete. We might think of the use of concrete flooring in heavy industrial environments; plants, warehouses and freight terminals or even in moderate to light industrial such as mechanical or electrical shops, but as flooring? No, most technicians do not think about concrete flooring at all, but they should. Concrete floors are everywhere, in almost every environment, and where there are floors there is opportunity.

Basically, concrete is a combination of cement, aggregate and water. Though it sounds simple, it is anything but. Complex criteria are used to determine what type of concrete is to be placed in any given location. In many applications concrete is the subfloor under the finish flooring, but in some cases the concrete is the finish flooring.

Along with the many types of concrete floors we are familiar with, there is a growing assortment of concrete classifications known as decorative concrete. These classifications have been expanding the concrete floor maintenance market offering for years. Technological advances and development have enabled trained technicians to be extremely creative and in some cases border on the verge of artistic in creating some of these interesting floors.

Pigmented concrete is concrete that has ground color particles blended with the concrete before it is placed. The color infuses with the concrete, creating a color that carries throughout the body of the concrete. Sometimes the colors may fade, but because they run throughout the material they will never wear off.

In addition to adding color, concrete may be stamped, patterned or imprinted to make it look like brick, stone or other geometrical shapes. Exposed aggregate concrete is concrete with aggregate exposed on the surface, giving the surface a pebbled or rocky appearance. These types of concrete are usually found outside as driveways, entries, patios, and some entries, however, if it is outside, there is a good chance you will find it inside as well.

Concrete that is ready for use will generally have a coating, sealant or even paint applied to it. There are many different types of polymeric films and colorants that have been developed for use on concrete flooring. They range from extremely durable epoxy and urethane multi-part systems used in heavy industrial plants to common commercial acrylic films that one might find in the local grocery market. Topical and penetrating stains may be applied before sealants to enhance the look of the concrete or in some cases colorants may be mixed directly into the seal to change tone or color.

The look of concrete can also be changed by modifying the slab. Overlays are used to cover up ugly imperfections of severely damaged or discolored concrete and can change the look and texture of the floor considerably. Scoring, engraving or etching may be incorporated to lend a geometrical pattern to the floor. In some cases, stenciling or combining dyes and stains can dramatically change the slab’s appearance.

Diamond abrasives can be used to polish the concrete to different levels of gloss. The abrasives can be superficial, or they can be used to remove the concrete cream and create polished exposed aggregate surfaces very similar in appearance to terrazzo. The result of concrete polishing with diamond abrasives is an extremely durable, aesthetically appealing floor.

Daily maintenance of concrete flooring is not that complex; basic dry soil removal followed by mopping will suffice. Most of the sealants and coatings used on concrete are durable and will withstand daily/routine maintenance with neutral and all-purpose cleaners. In the industrial environment the coatings may be extremely durable and will be able to withstand high-alkaline cleaners such as degreasers.

Periodic maintenance for concrete flooring will be light-, medium- or heavy-scrubbing service procedures depending on the type of concrete floor and the environment. Heavy and light industrial environments are usually not a problem, but be very careful when scrubbing some stained, stenciled or painted concrete flooring. A pad that is too abrasive, or cleaners with high alkalinity, may remove the sealant as well as the stain underneath. Always do a test patch in an inconspicuous area before proceeding. I have heard many a horror story of stained concrete pulled off while scrubbing.

Restorative maintenance for concrete flooring is full of options. From shot blasting and reapplying coatings to hand-decorating concrete, a wide assortment of methods and processes are available. Sure there are still plenty of concrete floors that may be stripped and refinished with traditional finishes, but more and more there are uniquely interesting concrete floor opportunities available. The concrete category of floor maintenance is an interesting field to get involved in, but it requires extensive training to become proficient. It is a good field in which to expand your business; many people in this day and age are looking at ways to make their concrete look beautiful instead of covering it up.