Capitalism is predicated on the idea that this isn’t a one-size-fits-all world. I might want a sportscar while you prefer an SUV. You play softball with the gang on Saturday afternoons while I like to hike nature trails.
The same holds true with concrete flooring. While it’d be nice if everyone wanted polished concrete floors, for several reasons that isn’t always on the table. Many times you need to come up with a durable, attractive alternative.
For many clients, that alternative may involve grinding and sealing concrete floors. For contractors, this method saves time, which translates into the client saving money.
“Everything is about price points,” says Troy Vancil of Boulder Polishing in Salina, Kansas. “It depends on what the customer wants to spend, but a grind-and-seal runs a little bit cheaper.”
Edgar Fragoso, owner of Surface Prep Systems in Stanton, California, has a slightly different take on it. He mainly deals with commercial work where tenants come and go or the building’s ownership changes. In these cases, a full polish isn’t only more expensive, it also takes much longer and can be a bother.
“A lot of people are in a space for a year or two,” he says. “And they’d rather do maintenance because they don’t want to go through the whole process again.”
Hold the wax
Where once his work divided about equally between residential and commercial, Jason Trihey of Dapper Surfaces LLC in Rochester, Minnesota, says he finds himself doing more residential work during the pandemic. Subsequently, the grind-and-seal method doesn’t only attract clients who have smaller budgets. It also attracts those more conscious about safety.
“Clients concerned with slip-resistance in some places, especially places that get wet frequently, can add aluminum oxide to the sealer. It gives a little more grip,” he says.
The grinding-and-sealing method includes quick surface preparation to open the concrete and a durable product to seal it back up. The advent of water-based urethane seals has been a boon.
Trihey tells of one client with several U-Haul storage facilities. Originally, the specifications called for an acrylic sealer with several coats of floor wax.
“We upgraded them to the (St. Cloud, Minnesota-based) Ultra Durable Technologies Inc. Impact for concrete and terrazzo,” he says. “They were very happy with that. They don’t have to wax it anymore, and it has held up really well as far as durability.”
Appreciating the system’s simplicity
Vancil, who only recently added Ultra Durable to his list of suppliers, can’t yet speak of its durability. However, he made the switch because he has had issues with UV-cured urethanes.
“I just had problems getting those to work,” Vancil says. “The product seemed fine but getting it to cure in an aesthetic way became an issue. I was getting a lot of lines in it.”
Fragoso agrees that a water-based urethane sealer will do the trick. However, many clients who want multiyear durability choose to wax a floor after Surface Prep Systems has sealed it.
“It’s going to hold up, although a lot of clients throw two or three coats of wax on it. That way they keep their floor for three, four or five years,” he says. “As long as they keep up with the maintenance, they won’t lose a thing.”
Surface Prep Systems has used the Grind & Seal System from Westcoat Specialty Coating Systems for the past 15+ years. Above all, Fragoso appreciates the system’s simplicity.
“I got tired of other manufacturers changing formulas and changing systems every year,” Fragoso says. Not so with San Diego-based Westcoat. “It’s convenient and easy to use. I have about 40 installers working in the field and I don’t want to confuse them.”
Choose the right grinder
While a good grind-and-seal job relies heavily on a good sealer, contractors shouldn’t overlook the importance of proper floor prep. Prep work, however, will vary by job and contractor. Kurt Seppanen, a sales manager with Watertown, South Dakota-based grinder manufacturer Terrco Inc., says contractors should emphasize speed.
“Time is money,” notes Seppanen, also a former concrete contractor “Typically, you can do a 100 or 200 grit. Hit it in one direction, then hit it in the other direction, and then seal it up.”
Choosing the right grinder for a particular project depends a lot on the job size. While Terrco’s 701-S will suffice most residential projects, someone grinding and sealing concrete for industrial clients might need something as large as the 6200.
And, yes, grind-and-seal jobs have a place in industrial settings, Seppanen says.
Preparing the slab
“I did a lot of airplane hangars and helicopter hangars,” Seppanen says. “They were on a budget, so we’d do a quick clean-and-seal after construction. It lightens up stains and gives a protective finish.”
When grinding and sealing, he recommends having the proper equipment for optimal results. Besides a good grinder, contractors also need a water tank or a vacuum hookup. This depends on whether they prefer to work wet or dry.
To properly prepare the floor for sealer application, you must use the correct equipment and tooling. Fragoso says much of the decision on how to prepare a slab depends on the floor’s condition and hardness. For a slab that requires diamond grinding, he’d start a job with a couple of passes with metal diamond blades. He’d then switch to a transitional blade to remove grinding marks and present a smooth surface.
The secret ingredient
On the other hand, Trihey says, some jobs require little more than thoroughly cleaning the floor with a roto or swing machine. Others require various degrees of grinding. It all depends on the condition of the concrete.
“Sometimes, we’ll use sanding screens and water,” he says. “A lot of times when the concrete is in really good condition we’ll use a 100- or 200-grit DIP (diamond impregnated pad) wet under a roto to clean and smooth the floor. And then we’ll apply the water-based urethane. At times you can do as little as use a roto and stripping pad.”
The true secret ingredient to these contractors’ successes, however, comes from their suppliers and the technical support they provide.
“If I have a problem, all I have to do is pick up the phone. Someone from Westcoat will answer or get back to me right away,” says Fragoso. “And, if I need someone to come to a job site to evaluate the concrete or give me an idea on what I can do, they’re there. It’s amazing.”
“I was on a job on a Sunday night, and I had an issue,” says Trihey. “I got Travis [Negaard, president of Ultra Durable Technologies] on the phone and he helped me out. They always have answers to my questions.”
The bottom line, says Fragoso, is that the grinding and sealing concrete method is simple. “It’s just so easy, and it gives people what they want,” he says.
Moreover, Vancil adds, polished concrete isn’t always the best option for every job.
For people on tighter budgets, grinding and sealing concrete can fulfill the look they seek at a lower cost. “It’s another tool in my pocket for people who want the look of polished floors that’ll last a long time. It can solve people’s problems,” he concludes.
Products mentioned in this articleOffered by Concrete Decor Store
- IMPACT® Water-based Sealer for Concrete and Terrazzo
by Ultra Durable Technologies
- Terrco 6200 Concrete Polishing & Grinding Machine
by Terrco Inc.