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Al's column: The upside to polished concrete

March 19/26, 2018: Volume 33, Issue 20

By John McGrath

From a design perspective, the look of polished concrete floors and open ceilings is a highly desirable, contemporary aesthetic for commercial spaces. As a major trend sweeping across retail, industrial and other markets, architects and designers are finding polished concrete has significant environmental, safety, sustainability and maintenance benefits as well.

From helping to earn U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) LEED credits to providing performance benefits, polished concrete is fast becoming an attractive alternative to carpet, VCT and vinyl flooring. While new flooring options like LVT have seen explosive sales growth, this seemingly simple alternative to traditional floor covering products has slowly but surely cemented its place in the industry due to a specific combination of attributes.

As a result, numerous large retailers such as Wal-Mart, Albertsons and Safeway have moved to polished concrete as the standard flooring material for both their new and existing stores. The same rings true for smaller boutique stores, office buildings, institutional facilities and more. From an aesthetic standpoint, polished concrete offers a modern and sophisticated look. A number of stains, colors and topping materials can be added to the floor, along with inset logos and etching. The result is an installation with a varied, natural look that is highly light reflective, slip resistant and visually impactful.

The thermal properties of concrete also help reduce heating and cooling loads for buildings. This translates to significant energy savings when spread across hundreds of thousands of square feet in warehouse stores and large commercial spaces. It’s a plus for large chains and companies like Amazon that operate massive fulfillment centers.

Since concrete is already used as a subfloor in most new buildings, polishing it cuts back on material usage and waste. This adds to LEED credits as there are no additional flooring manufacturing enlarging our carbon footprint. Similarly, since polished concrete is reflective, it helps architects and designers earn electric credits. And because there is limited maintenance and no replacement materials, polished concrete flooring also lessens water use and construction waste.

Altogether, polished concrete flooring can contribute to nearly 40 different LEED point categories. These include points for materials and reuse, indoor environmental air quality along with energy and atmosphere.

Beyond achieving LEED points, the other reason facility managers, interior architects and designers are gravitating toward polished concrete is maintenance and cost-savings. “Whether you are installing VCT, carpet, hardwood or laminate, it’s going to be expensive to maintain over time and replacement is inevitable,” said INSTALL instructor Dave Gross, Northeast Floorlayers, Local 251. “Polished concrete requires virtually no maintenance and when the surface begins to dull it only requires a quick buffing to restore it.”

When installed correctly, according to Tod Sandy, coordinator of the Detroit Carpentry Apprentice School, polished concrete is easy to maintain, cost-effective and environmentally friendly. “As a result, more end users are requesting it.”

With an increased focus on training and new advances in product and installation technology, polished concrete flooring will continue to grow and evolve in the coming years.

John McGrath is the director of INSTALL, a group dedicated to industry-leading training for professional installers and flooring contractors.