Polishing Concrete Floors

Bob Borson —  December 4, 2012 — 39 Comments

After grinding down the original concrete floors, we decided the best finish would be the simplest … just not the easiest. This is the “Part 2″ version of refinishing concrete floors – go here for part one “Refinishing Concrete Floors” – and in this post we will take a look at the polishing process. Considering that I have 3 different sections of concrete, I had some concerns about going back into these areas with a stain … the swirly-twirly finish as you recall was actually something that I was trying to stay away from creating.

The finish goal for these floors was to achieve some sort of consistency and to keep the floors looking natural. Originally I was going to stain the floors dark, partly because I like dark floors but also because I was anticipating some variations from section to section and I thought going dark would help mask the differences. Once the original color had been removed, the lighter natural color of the concrete really helped brighten up the house – something that my wife and I both responded to favorably. As a result, we decided that we would keep the floors light which meant that we were not going to add any color, just a simple carnauba wax finish – something simple.

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Bassine brush concrete polishing

The picture above is one of the test sections … you can see that the clear paste wax actually darkens up the floor quite a bit from its dry-looking state. While the sections above look wet, they are not – this is just the visual combination of the paste wax darkening the floor and the sheen that comes from polishing the wax on. (It would be really easy to throw a Mr. Miyagi/ Ralph Macchio reference in here, feel free to make your own joke.)

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Bassine brush concrete polishing - closeup look at the bristles

This is a close up look at the brushes that are used to work the paste wax into the concrete. The bristles are a lot stiffer than they look and the floors were covered in little broken off pieces of these brushes.

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Concrete Polishing - putting the wax on and polishing it in

This is a very labor intensive process – I was amazed at just how hands on the process was. Here is something to consider … see all those score lines in the concrete? If these guys just slopped some wax down on the floor, as soon as they ran the polishing machine through the wax and over one of those score lines, all the wax would end up in the crack.

Mr. Miyagi would definitely not approve of a sloppy crack.

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Concrete Polishing - by hand

Concrete Polishing - by hand

So the guys from FloorRescue spread the wax on by hand one square at a time before buffing it in with the machine.

Let me repeat that for effect (and knowledge, I’m all about the knowledge) …

ONE

square

at

a

time.

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[shudder]

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Concrete Polishing - working the wax in

Concrete Polishing - working the wax in

 

Concrete Polishing - late hours ... again

Like I said – this was a labor intensive process and despite the fact that day turned into night AND it was now Saturday, these guys worked late into the night to get the job finished. There are two things that I find interesting in the picture above 1) you can see how it is late at night because that a giant window in the background and there is currently no light coming in, and 2) that guy working the polisher is the actual owner of FloorRescue.

Nice.

as a reminder – here is the before:

Concrete Grinding - Before 01

… and here is the after:

Polished Concrete floors

Looks really good to me, I am really happy with how the finished product turned out. The technical specifications are:

The existing stained concrete floors were first dressed with 40-grit metal-bonded diamonds beneath two HTC 500’s, which removed the sealer, most of the stain, and exposed aggregate. Afterwards, they went up to 80-grit metals, followed by 150-grit metals. They grinded the edges and the step with hand machines using cupwheels, and coarse and medium hybrid diamonds. The existing score lines were crack-chased by hand and then the entire floor received a final grind/polish using 200-grit resin-bonded diamonds, which enhanced the sheen of the top coat product. Finally, a carnauba paste wax product as the top-coat was burnished in with a low-speed buffer that was holding Bassine brushes.

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Concrete Polishing

Here is a look at the 3 different sections of concrete after the grinding, waxing, and polishing. I debated putting this picture in because in person, the color variation isn’t as pronounced. They are a little different but now that we have all our furniture moved back in, you really don’t notice it (and I am exactly the sort of person who notices things like this).

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Kartell FLY Light Fixtures

I thought I would wrap this post up by wrapping up the Life of an Architect World Headquarters Renovation. The pendant lights I put in are the FL/Y from Kartell. I went with these because they were large enough (22 1/2″ across) to cover the table we selected (104″ long) and they throw light down but also radiate the light out – which is nice because I wanted to illuminate the ceiling. Remember ‘Architects don’t always get it right‘? Well, the trash bag study and the relocated J-Boxes worked out right this time around.

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Hanging Kartell Light Fixtures

Hanging Kartell FL/Y Light Fixtures

I mounted these pendants a little higher than normal – at 74″ above the finished floor. I did this because while I like the look at them, I didn’t want to have to look through them when looking out the new window I just put in. I also set them high so that if the table gets pulled out, we can use this room as a performance stage – sort of a “Back-of-house” area (don’t ask). I can still walk underneath them without hitting my head. I can just imagine what that sounds like but believe me when I say it was important.

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polished concrete floors, Kartell lighting and a new table

polished concrete floors, Kartell lighting and a new table

So I didn’t really have a finished photo to show so I took these “very professional” photos about 30 minutes ago. (Yes, we put up our Christmas trees this weekend).

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  • Eatston

    Your house was so dusty because they didn’t use the proper separator and Hepa vacs.
    Did you want less polish, hence stopping at 200? How do you find the wax to hold up, and what maintenance is required frequently?. I personally like the look of a staged polish up to 1500, but might tone it down for the garage.
    It is a job that takes lots of time with many varying conditions but turns out nicely.

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      I didn’t want to pay for anything more than a 200 – believe me – the floors are plenty shiny AND slippery. It’s almost been a year and the wax is holding up very nicely. We vacuum regularly and wet mop monthly and the floors look brand new. If I had taken it up to (and beyond) an 800 grit, it would have required a lot more chemicals (like densifiers) and would have cost more than twice what I paid. I’m very happy with my decision to stop at 200.

  • architectrunnerguy

    Came out lookin’ great Bob. I think the Christmas tree tends to have the lights look more “centered” in your new space. You might want to consider leaving it up all year long.

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      luckily for me, they don’t just look centered – they ARE centered. Although, having a tree in your house year round wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing.

  • Ak

    That’s an interesting composition of windows on the wall opposite the area that just got extended and fixed. Were they part of the original house? They have a very Mondrian’esque quality to them.

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      Yep – original to the house. We also have a similar pattern in the wall in the kitchen. We are on the end of the block and this wall is against the traffic. Other than these small openings there are no windows on this side and as a result, we don’t hear the cars outside. It’s a great design solution.

  • Kevin

    Why not fill the joints in the floor with a joint filler?
    What was the biggest benefit of using wax instead of polishing the floor and applying a semi penetrating sealer? Just curious.

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      I like the joints and didn’t want to fill them for aesthetic reasons. I went with wax because I would had to of polished the floor to a higher grit, applied a densifier, and then the penetrating sealer – and all of that adds up to more money than I had in my budget.

  • John Elledge

    Bob, I really enjoy your posts about your house renovations. It’s great fun to see what architects do with their own houses when the budget is limited…the floors look great!

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      Thanks John, sometimes I think it simply adds to an already nerve-wracking situation … but I am very glad that you enjoyed the process.

      Cheers

  • Nancie Mills Pipgras

    Bravo to Floor Rescue and kudos to you for a truly “enlightened” reno. If this is what it looks like in the dark, I can only imagine who transformed this space is in daylight. Those pendants are The Bomb – light in every direction. Congrats and happy holidays!

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      Thanks Nancie – the light in the space is absolutely transformed the house. As an architect, it’s the sort of thing you almost always aim for so when it comes out right, it’s a very good thing.

      Happy Holidays

  • http://www.facebook.com/francisco.garcia.127648 Francisco Garcia

    You (and your wife) must be happy that the dust is gone. Congrats.
    As you debated your options for refinishing the floors, did you consider doing shot-beads and new skim coat over the different surfaces for more uniformity?

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      I haven’t ever had good success with bead blasting and since I don’t have any gyp board in my house, I would be concerned over wall damage considering how much I would of had to remove before adding a top coat

  • Cyra

    Finally, after so many years! You must be so happy that it turned out so well, considering all the factors you had to juggle. Now you can relax under the tree & contemplate your expanse of beautiful floor. Happy Holidays!

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      Hi Cyra – thanks for the kind sentiments, don’t think I haven’t thought about just laying around on the floor :)

  • lp

    Your home looks wonderful! Thank you for sharing your story with us in your usual light-hearted professional manner.

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      Thanks – and thanks for allowing me to be so self-indulgent.

  • http://janrobin.de/ Jan Robin

    I like the new lights :) Also,does the new floor really make it so much brighter or did you add light in the “after” picture? It looks a lot brighter than before even the dark ceiling seems lighter than before…

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      Thanks and yes, it really does make the space that much lighter :)

  • KymberlyFunFit

    We are thinking to put in concrete floors for our new house as well. Hadn’t thought about wax so this was enlightening to read.

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      Starting from scratch, these floors would look fantastic. We still have some color mottling because we didn’t just keep on grinding until every speck of the previous color was removed. The new concrete section we poured looks the best.

  • marc

    looks great, great table as well, did you have that built??

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      Thanks Marc – while I might like to appear high-tone, having furniture custom made is still a while off for me. We picked it up at Crate&Barrel. The one we really wanted was at Room & Board but this one was about 300% less and I couldn’t justify spending the extra money.

      • marc

        we ended up going on etsy and finding a guy that built custom tables out of reclaimed wood… it ended up being a little less than the crate and barrel or room and board ones.. house is looking great, addition really opened up the space

  • Kat

    Floors look amazing! Glad your house isn’t as “pathetic” anymore. How about that laundry room?

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      Thanks! The *cough cough* laundry room is on hold for a little while … we sort of “used” up our budget. I’ll probably draw it up over the Christmas break and start on that project in January.

  • Steve Tracy

    I am amazed at how much lighter the ceiling looks between the before and after photos. I assume that is just light reflected off the lighter floor and not from refinishing the ceilings. It looks great.

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      Thanks Steve – the lighter floors were a game-changer as far as reflecting more light throughout the house. We did have to clean the ceilings (we had to vacuum every square inch of the house after the grinding process) but other than that, nothing was done to the ceiling. I am so glad I didn’t paint them white!

  • AggieContractor

    The floors turned out fantastic, Bob. This post makes me want to rip up all of my wood and get to work with a saw and polisher.

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      I would definitely recommend it to others considering the change – it made a huge difference throughout our entire home. Everything is brighter and looks much more “clean”

  • jb @BuildingMoxie

    the holiday set up looks lovely, so inviting. gonna pin it and well done Bob

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      thanks JB – the holiday decorations certainly added to the final product!
      Cheers

  • http://www.facebook.com/ron.barkey.7 Ron Barkey

    Very nice finished product. Can you give us a cost per square foot of what the concrete floor came in as? Thanks.

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      around $5 a foot. The contractor didn’t come back and ask for more money despite the project taking 50% longer than anticipated – something I give them a lot of credit for

  • http://twitter.com/remarchitect Robert Moore

    Wow! Dueling Christmas trees. Floors looks great. Did you write a spec for the work before you got a bid?

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      2nd year in a row with two trees … and twice the work.
      I did not write a spec, I found a vendor I wanted to work with (FloorRescue) and worked through the process with them. There are so many unknowns that even during the process, we weren’t sure which direction we were going to take. Once we got a good understanding of how much aggregate was going to be exposed, what the different areas of concrete looked like, etc. we took a planned course of action.

  • TALV58

    Looks great Bob! All the trouble was definitely worth it.

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      Thanks Todd!