A fabulous new floor could be hiding right underfoot, when you consider terrazzo restoration.
"Unlike most floors, Terrazzo can be refinished to a higher gloss than it had originally 40 years ago." - Frank's Flooring, Orlando FL
Repurposing your original terrazzo floor
You may have seen it, but paid very little attention to it… that hard, speckled terrazzo floor with a dull yellow finish in your parents or grandparents kitchen. Today's terrazzo restoration changes the entire game. It seems contractors were pouring this stuff like crazy in the '50's. The yellowish film came from floor wax build-up because it had to be waxed and scraped and re-waxed to keep it clean and protected. Like marble and other stone surfaces, it's porous and absorbs stains easily.
In fact, because it was such a pain to keep up and never really looked that great, it’s my theory that American moms all over the nation revolted and covered over terrazzo kitchen floors from coast to coast.This terrazzo extermination took some doing since the cement-like floor surface is nearly impossible to remove. Basically it was hidden from view like a pimple at a prom; cosmetically overlaid with tile, carpet, and wood flooring of the '60’s and '70’s.
However, lucky for us, you can't get rid of the infamous floor terrazzo that easily. Because, as it turns out, terrazzo floor is today's hottest new flooring; around here, it’s trending as madly as the cronut. Hip people are re-discovering the many benefits of re-finishing a floor that is now economical, easy to care for, and absolutely beautiful. When refinished, and usually with very little repair, the terrazzo surface is ground and buffed to a fabulous sheen. Then, a clear over-glaze keeps it shiny and easy to clean for years to come! Now that’s a lot easier than wax-on, wax-off every couple of weeks.
"Terrazzo has been rediscovered by contemporary architects and designers because of its timeless beauty and versatility. Not only does terrazzo make an impressionable floor, but can also be used in the fabrication of counters, bars, table-tops and vanities. Terrazzo is a craft that can be molded and created into anything imaginable." Greenwise Flooring
As you can see by these photos of re-finished Terrazo, I’m not exaggerating. Just about any old pattern turns a room into a glowing show-piece. I fell in love with the idea, and wasn’t disappointed. Here we’re going to take a look at the plusses and pitfalls of refinishing rediscovered terrazo flooring.
What is terrazzo, exactly?
"Terrazzo is a composite material, poured in place or precast, which is used for floor and wall treatments. It consists of marble, quartz, granite, glass, or other suitable chips, sprinkled or unsprinkled, and poured with a binder that is cementitious, chemical, or a combination of both. Terrazzo is cured and then ground and polished to a smooth surface or otherwise finished to produce a uniformly textured surface". -Wikipedia
Typical issues to consider to restore your terrazzo floor.
Unless you have experience, this is not a do-it-yourself project. You will need to have someone come in to your home with their floor machine and diamond-grind the surface. Although, if you know someone that has experience in this type of work, I believe you can rent the equipment at Home Depot.
Like any other type of contract work it's best to know exactly what you're paying for. Especially in this situation. I compare it to buying an iron; twelve bucks at Walmart, two hundred at Nancy's Notions, pricing can be all over the lot. Whether you are looking for complete palatial-standard restoration, or your surface needs just a bit of prep and grind, terrazzo offers a great palette for just about any home décor.
To get an accurate itemized estimate, take into consideration the following:
1. Do you need current flooring removed?
- Vinyl Tile: You'll probably need to remove either tile, carpeting or wood flooring. The vinyl tile squares are very common, and that's what I had. They were fairly easy to remove. I pulled them off myself, however, they did leave a checkerboard pattern of glue stains, which is very common with tile removal. Some contractors suggested using a metal scraper to loosen the tile if it doesn't pull off easily.
The stains take a considerable amount of work to remove completely, but it can be done. My contractor described how one of his client's removed it.The property was a rental unit, and the client wanted the terrazzo perfectly stain-free. It took him several days to apply a cleaning solution, scrape off the 'sludge', then reapply. The stains actually seep into the terrazzo. The process allows the solution to seep into the terrazzo and 'pulls' out the stain. Since the unit was empty, he could apply the bleach solution and leave it for a day with windows open. He did it about three times. It was time consuming but it did work. Another contractor I worked with recommended an amonia/peroxide solution.
If you are considering removing old flooring adhesive, I would recommend testing a small area to see what will work for you. To do it yourself, you may need a metal tool to scrap off the dried glue and perhaps a mastic product to dissolve the glue. You will also need a cleaning/bleaching solution, to clean the stain, where you may need to soak the stain, and repeat, depending on how dense the leftover glue was. I was advised to pour highly concentrated peroxide (purchase at beauty supply store) on the stained area; soak a rag or towel in ammonia and put that on top of it; and let it sit for a few hours. I tried this and it lightened the area. Alternatively, you could have a professional 'restoration' company guarantee the results you want.
- Carpeting: This is a mixed bag. I had one room that had carpeting, which had been removed prior before I moved in. On the plus side, the lion's share of the terrazzo was in excellent condition and I ended up with a very white base color. However, as is common when installing carpet over terrazzo, the perimeter of the room had a wood tack strip nailed into the terrazzo; where large nails are driven into the terrazzo, and carpet tacks will be left sticking upward out of the wooden strip. if you try to crowbar the wood strip and it pulls the nails from the floor, you will end up with a big gouge in the terrazzo that will have to be patched. The wood pieced has to be sawed off in chucks, leaving the nail intact in the terrazzo. If you end up making holes in the terrazzo, matching the patch compound to your floor is very tricky and depends on how good your contractor is. The better solution is to saw off the nails, then grind them down even with the surface. As you can see, I have examples pictures of both from my floor.
There was also a glue stain that streamed around the perimeter. The contractor had thought this would disappear with the grinding process, but it didn't. This type of glue stain has seeped into the porous texture and takes special care to eliminate. Because of the way I have my room set up, it's not noticeable, however, if I were to do it again, I would have this issue addressed and guaranteed by the contractor.
- Vinyl Tile: I had vinyl tile in a small area, and it was easy to remove. I pulled the squares off by hand which left a thin sticky glue residue. The tile adhesive had also stained the flooring, but I didn't have to deal with the thicker floor adhesive that needs to be scraped off. I didn't do anything to remove the stain. I just just let the grinding process take care of it, and waited to see what the outcome would be. I was ok with the light checkerboard pattern. Actually, I like it a lot, it gives the bathroom floor a kind of burnished, antique look.
- Wood floor: In the case of wood flooring it's likely you will either find a wood sub flooring underneath, nailed directly into the terrazzo, which is similar to the carpet treatment above where you will need to remove wood pieces without pulling the nails out of the terrazzo. If the wood was glued down, it takes a lot of work to remove and probably requires special tools like a Sawsal (see video).
- Ceramic Tile: Ceramic tile is one of the most difficult to deal with, the level of difficulty being determined by how well the tile is bonded to the surface.You want to remove the tile without distressing the terrazzo underneath. You will probably need either a small hilt hammer drill or bosch jackhammer to accomplish this and may end up with some gouges that will need to be ground down. Again, a job I would leave to the professionals.
Terrazzo Floor Bonuses
- Easy to decorate around; the subtle patterns are usually a neutral base with a scattering of multi-colored flecks, just enough to add interest, yet doesn't fight with the other decorative elements of your room.
- Brilliant texture, the glossy finish has a top shelf, fresh and clean look, and it feels smooth as silk on your feet.
- Antique-like interest; this might appeal only to me, but a lot of terrazzo was overlaid with 12" x 12" vinyl tiles and removing the remaining glue pattern is a more difficult option. However, leaving the old markings is an easier, and I think, a more interesting option.
- Easy to care for; the new clear finish cleans easily. There are no grout lines to clean. It lasts long and looks great!
2. What condition is the terrazzo floor in now, and what do you expect the outcome to be?
- The mystery floor: There's a bit of a Catch 22 here. If you cannot see your terrazzo, especially if it's beneath any type of glue-on or grouted-on flooring, you may not know what to expect once it's removed. Your contractor should be more than willing to discuss the possibilities and the costs involved for each scenario, that way you have a best-case and worst-case. If there is any way to 'test' a small inconspicuous area, where a piece of the current floor is removed, so you can get an idea of what is underneath, you might save yourself a big headache later, if the restoration turns out to be more extensive than you budgeted for.
- Or, carpet protected: Again, I think the best case is when your terrazzo has been protected underneath carpet and padding. With special attention to some parameter detailing, perhaps tacking strips, and some glue, this floor could look like a million bucks. Many floors are probably somewhere in between the top two cases, and again, you need to actually see what's there, and have a discussion with your contractor regarding what's needed to bring it to the standard you are looking for.
- What type of finished product are you looking for? You can get a glass-clear palatial look with additional grinding and polishing passes. Be very clear on your expected outcome with your contractor, and talk to at least three. My job was economical and suited the look I was going for. I have a nice, smooth shiny surface. However, it could have been taken further, to a higher gloss, and bleached to perfections. Some contractors will be limited to what their machines can do, so be sure to try to speak to both the high-end and the economy company to get a thorough picture on what is possible for your floor, and what your willing to forgo for cost efficiency.
How much will resurfacing terrazzo flooring cost?
Now that you have an overview of the issues you may encounter when resurfacing your terrazzo, you should have an idea of the work that will be involved. Here's a typical item list of services provided by a contractor. My estimate took into consideration every task, including the number of nails to be removed and ground down.
- Carpet, Tile, or wood floor removal
- Nail removal
- Hole repair/crack repair (epoxy fill)
- Stain removal
- Number of grindings required
Grinding through buffing.
Finding The Right Contractor
To save money, I did as much of the prep work as possible. And, admittedly, I chose the inexpensive guy who probably purchased his own concrete grinder and hires himself out for economical jobs like mine. A more expensive 'restoration' company probably would have recommended more thorough stain removal, had more accurate matching epoxy for hole patching, and also covered nail ends with epoxy. Also, more grinding, with finer diamond grinders will give the floor an even glossier glow. So, it all depends on what you're going for. For me, if I put in a palatial looking floor, well, then I'd have to upgrade my whole house to match it!
I removed my own tile and carpet. I used the ammonia/peroxide method to take out a couple of discolorations on the main floor. This worked pretty good for what looked like some type of spills, however, it did not work well enough to get rid of the glue stains. The contractor said that the grinding process would probably take care of the glue stains, but it did not. I may go back at some point and re-do the parameter of the larger room to eliminate that stain.
Itemized breakdown of my job:
- Four carpet tack strips removed
- 16 nails cut/ground
- Three small holes patched
- Diamond grinding
- Terrazzo sealant
I ended up using a local contractor, for some very basic services. He gave me the impression that he was a small business owner in a franchise situation. We discussed what I wanted on the phone. Then he visited to inspect the floor and write an estimate for me. I had a bedroom and adjoining bath done for $450, which is less expensive than what I would have paid for carpeting.
Preparing the room.
You will need to completely clear the room for this process. If you are having old flooring removed, designate a place to put the discards unless you're having the contractors haul it away. If you're having a significant amount of stain removal, it's good to vent the area during, and after the process. If there are no windows in the room, consider setting up some portable fans to help you through the drying processes.
For the actual terrazzo grinding, you may want to drape or partially drape your walls so you'll have less to clean up later. The process leaves a fine dust residue on walls and exposed surfaces. The process requires entirely wetting the floor, and then they will wet vac the area. They will need somewhere to dump the water, similar to having your carpet cleaned.
Drying time is required after each grinding, and after the sealant is applied. We were advised not to walk on the finished floor for 24 hours.
My little project took about five hours, which means they were in and out in one day.
Grinding, polishing and sealing your terrazzo.
Just like sandpaper grits, concrete grinders have different surfaces and weights to achieve different results, from grinding down irregular surfaces to polishing. Unless you have significantly damaged flooring or other unique needs, your contractor will probably give you his standard recommendation. He is the expert, but I would discuss what type of grinding he is doing, and how many passes he will do. Keep in mind, your options will be determined by the tools available to him.
The last step is sealing the terrazzo. This is just like the sealing finish given to marble countertops or any other stone-like porous material. The clear sealant penetrates and protects to prevent absorption of anything spilled on the surface. My contractor said it should last about five years. I find the surface completely transparent and easy to clean.
Quality is timeless.
If you happen to have terrazzo underneath any of your floors, I really hope this inspires you to bring it back to life. I'm a sucker for old world quality and charm when it comes to buildings and décor. Today's building industry has made so many compromises in our dwellings, I'm glad I was around to see walls that were actually made of plaster. In fact, I remember my dad actually hand plastering walls. He could spot an uneven mitre or un-plum door frame without touching his level. Today, having experienced hot and cold faucets assembled backwards, cockeyed doorways, unparalleled windows and ceilings, and an assortment of jerry-rigged electrics, the discovery of this wonderful, high quality flooring right underfoot was a very nice surprise. If you're so lucky as to find some underfoot at your house, I hope that you will be inspired to consider giving it a second life. I think if you do, you'll be very pleased.