So, there you are, ripping up your old flooring. As you get down to what was there before, you realize you are one of the lucky homeowners who have beautiful terrazzo hiding under that flooring you’ve gotten tired of. Maybe you don’t feel so lucky, though —after all, it can be hard to imagine that a floor with holes or chips from tacks, patches of epoxy that haven’t come up, or grit and scratches from years of feet pushing dirt down through the carpet could even come close to a brand new floor. But you couldn’t be more wrong!
That’s the great thing about terrazzo—even if it’s been buried under carpet or other flooring for years, or looks yellowed and ugly due to buildup and aging of topical coatings, its fundamental beauty is still there and can be restored by an experienced professional. There are other things to recommend terrazzo as well. Properly finished terrazzo is non-porous, does not support microbial growth, and contains no VOC materials, making it a “green”option and an excellent choice in support of indoor air quality.
Terrazzo is also very easy and cost-effective to maintain. Daily dust mopping and regular wet mopping with either warm water alone or a neutral cleaner formulated for use on natural stone will do the trick. Not only do you not need harsh chemicals to get your terrazzo clean, they can actually damage the terrazzo (as well as the environment).
So, what exactly is terrazzo? When originally developed sometime in the 15th century, it was comprised of marble chips set in clay. You can imagine this was not particularly comfortable to walk on, so methods were quickly developed to grind the rough surface down to something smoother. By the time it became popular in America in the 1950’s and 60’s, the marble chips were still present, but instead of clay, Portland cement was used as a binder. If you’re finding terrazzo under a long-standing flooring, this is probably what your terrazzo is made of. Modern terrazzo can also be created using an epoxy binder and an incredibly diverse range of aggregate materials, ranging from the traditional marble chips to more contemporary materials like recycled glass and plastics.
In the hands of an experienced professional, the combination of aggregates and binders can allow for repairs of chips and holes in a way which blends well with the existing floor. In the wrong hands, such repairs can be unsatisfactory eyesores or worse. Be sure to ask potential contractors what their process is. If it does not involve making every reasonable effort to match the color of the existing binder, as well as the type of aggregate already present, keep looking.
Just like the components involved, finishing techniques have also evolved. While waxes or other finishes were often used to achieve shine in the earlier days of terrazzo’s popularity, today, when restored properly, such topical coatings are not required to either make the terrazzo look good or enhance its durability. Nor does terrazzo—antique or contemporary—require chemicals for the restoration process itself (unless an earlier coating material requires chemical stripping to remove it before restoration can begin).
When selecting your restoration contractor, watch out for those who use chemical shortcuts to achieve results—your terrazzo may look gorgeous and shiny right after such a process is completed, but a finish created with topical coatings is not as cost effective, long lasting, or as “green”as a floor whose shine is achieved solely through honing and polishing with diamond encrusted pads of increasingly finer grit.
Once your terrazzo is restored, you may wish to have it sealed to help protect against staining, but this is not the same as applying a coating. A sealer guards against staining by filling the pores of both aggregate and binder so it becomes more difficult for staining agents to sink in. Remember though, even if you do have your terrazzo sealed a sealer will not protect against etching caused by harsh chemicals or acidic liquids or foods. It is important to clean up spills right away. But this is good practice regardless of what your flooring is made of.
So, if you’re looking for attractive, environmentally friendly flooring that is durable and easy to maintain, don’t disregard the potential of terrazzo just because it seems to have been neglected or is covered by unsightly coatings. A qualified restoration professional, experienced with terrazzo can turn that potential into a beautiful treasure.
For more on terrazzo and some inspiring images visit http://www.digital.stoneadvisorymagazine.com/apr2013/Default/25/1/820217#&pageSet=25&contentItem=820217
This is one of a series of articles written and published on behalf of Stone and Tile PRO Partners.