Floor Prep Opportunities
There has been much discussion lately surrounding floor prep procedures and processes. From these discussions, I’ve determined that there remains much confusion, and misinformation, regarding the purpose for floor preparation. Surface preparation for a protective coating should provide a clean, durable surface with a texture sufficient for proper bonding of the protective coating to be applied. Protective coatings have various bonding characteristics and therefore each will dictate a variation in the surface texture required for proper bonding. The “clean, durable” part is non-negotiable and applies to all surfaces and protective coating products.
Most concrete flooring will be covered with a protective coating. A protective coating, in this instance, doesn’t only refer to liquid coatings like epoxy and urethanes, but also floor covering such as tile, vinyl, wood, etc. The flooring industry has been estimated to be approximately $16 billion dollars for the U.S. market, with only 5% of that estimation being exposed concrete flooring. On one hand that’s a lot of growth potential for polished concrete and on the other it’s a whole lot of potential for a contractor to perform surface prep!
Historically, floor prep was completed by two methods; chemical prep or mechanical prep. Chemical prep (acids, degreasers, hot water, water jet) has proven to be unreliable or damaging to the coatings to be applied. Another issue with chemical prep is that it doesn’t provide a sufficient bonding surface.
Mechanical prep was (and probably still is) mostly completed using shot blasting. A former employer described a shot blaster to me as; “a machine designed to self destruct during use”. He was referring to the damage the “shot” (small metal balls) causes when they are fed through a propeller to increase velocity to a point that when they hit the surface they remove a portion of the top layer. For a simpler visual, think of shooting the flooring surface at point blank range with a 12-gauge shotgun. As the shot is forced through the propellers and rebounds off the floor, there is substantial wear and tear on the machine itself. Eventually, it becomes more costly to repair/operate the shot blasting machine and the contractor usually opts to purchase a new one.
Other common methods of floor surface prep for large areas include scarifying, milling and of course grinding. When it comes to removing large amounts of media (i.e. ½” of concrete) scarifying and milling are usually the fastest methods, but not always the most economical. Scarifying and milling are similar methods, using diamond tooling (or teeth) to cut fine grooves in the surface. Multiple passes usually cause the thin “fins” to break and you have successfully removed ¼” to ½” of the surface. However, when these machines break the parts needed for repairs can be expensive (including the tooling).
Grinding, particularly diamond tooling, has come a long way in the past few years. We now have diamond tooling that is designed specifically for floor/surface prep and performs well for most circumstances. Diamond tooling, used properly on the right machine, can offer surface profiles from ICRI CSP 1 up to ICRI CSP 6-7, which is sufficient for most protective coatings.
HTC GL SP tooling series performs very well on the lower scale while the more aggressive HTC Ravager series does the heavy work on the higher end. I was amazed the first time I ran the Ravager tooling under a 950RX. I removed 120 sf two layers of CTS Rapid Set overlayment (approximately 2” thick of 7000 psi material) in about 30-45 min. That would have taken hours to complete the task using conventional diamond tooling. Shot blasting wouldn’t have been as effective and I didn’t have to rent or buy a scarifying or milling machine. I was able to utilize the grinder that I had for floor prep/removal and then transition directly into diamond polishing.
Hard surface flooring contractors don’t always have the tools to perform adequate surface prep. I’ve seen most utilize a hand grinder with a diamond tooling cup wheel to scratch the surface preparing for installation. With todays focus on Silica exposure, this method won’t be allowed for much longer. This is a perfect opportunity for polishing contractors to team up with other contractors in the region. Keeping your machine running helps you to make money and could lead to a number of potential opportunities down the road.
So, I guess what I’m trying to say is that by owning a grinder, and understanding the purpose of surface preparation, there are a lot more opportunities to grow your business than simply polishing concrete. Oftentimes, we get so focused on one aspect of our industry that we tend to ignore the opportunities that surround us daily. Get out there and network with flooring contractors and watch your business grow.