How can some companies produce polished concrete at a far lower cost than the next? Are they cutting corners? Missing something out of the process? Using inferior products or are they simply more efficient?
Let’s take a look at some of the aspects that affect polished concrete floor cost and also discuss if there’s anything can be left out or scaled down in the process. Is there any such thing as cheap polished concrete?
We all work really hard these days and whenever we make a significant purchase we all want to feel safe in the thought that we’ve paid for a quality product or a quality service, often both! Is it true that when it comes to polishing concrete floors you get what you pay for? We genuinely think it is.
We’re not going to make light of the fact that polishing concrete correctly is incredibly labour intensive. The industry is largely unregulated and we know from experience that not all concrete polishing tools are created equal.
All of the processes involved in creating a beautifully decorative concrete surface are necessary. Quality professional tools, chemicals, professional concrete grinder and machinery costs are sadly quite high. Unfortunately there’s no real way of saving money on this process without leaving something out or doing parts of it incorrectly.
We’ve all heard of the saying ‘false economy’. A very important thing to consider after the concrete polishing has been completed is to make sure that what you’re left with is fit for purpose. Is there really any point in saving a few pennies here and there only to find that your concrete flooring loses it’s shine very quickly, or is actually too porous to use? If it needs replacing or redoing in 6 months, then you really haven’t saved yourself any money. After all, concrete floors polished are intended to be an incredibly durable flooring solution.
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In the interests of being fair and before we get into the nitty gritty of the process we should mention that concrete flooring isn’t overly expensive when comparing it to other premium flooring options, such as ceramic tile, porcelain tile or natural wood but of course will seem expensive if you compare it to alternatives such as lino or bamboo flooring. Let’s take a look at the process now and also discuss what you should ask your concrete contractor before you start and what should be visible on your quotation.
What is polished concrete and how is it achieved?
Concrete cannot be referred to as polished concrete until it has undergone a process of being mechanically refined with diamond tooling. Not all concrete requires a grind but in most cases the top surface of the concrete will be removed by grinding with very abrasive diamond metal tools. Polishing is done with resin tools.
In simple terms, how do we polish concrete flooring? Once the surface has been ground down to the correct level, the scratches in the concrete that have been made by the very abrasive and rough tools need to be removed by the next set. Simply put, this process is repeated over and over again with finer and finer grits or grades of diamonds until the concrete shines to the level you are aiming for.
We’ve sadly lost count of how many floors we’ve viewed where you can tell the contractor has jumped through the grits to save time, leaving behind scratches that are unsightly and attract dirt, possibly hoping they will lay undiscovered.
As well as using the diamond tools to grind, hone and polish the concrete you will also need to chemically treat the slab with a concrete densifier and once all processes have been completed, seal the concrete flooring with a stain guard.
Initial installation of the concrete slab has to be performed correctly. We often work with our clients and their chosen contractor to make sure the concrete is poured and laid to our specification, particularly if it’s being installed over radiant floor heating.
The process of concrete staining, acid staining and using metallic epoxy isn’t regularly carried out by concrete polishers. More often than not these services are offered by specialist decorative flooring contractors.
Choosing your contractor
The concrete industry is largely unregulated and therefore it makes sense to make sure you choose the right concrete contractor for you and that you’re fully satisfied that your chosen contractor has the relevant experience and expertise to carry out your works.
Take a look at their website, are there any examples of previous works they have undertaken? Please do take care on a website where there are lots of photos but no explanation as to what works took place or where geographically the project was. Please do take care here as lots of photos are available on the internet and it’s imperative that you check the photos are originals and not stock photos.
There are a number of short training courses (2-3 days) available on the market now for new concrete polishing contractors to experience. Now, we’re not trying to discourage any new tradesmen from joining the industry or prevent interested parties from taking these courses but concrete is an extremely fickle medium to work with. It doesn’t always react in the way you think it’s going to and part of the skill required when working with concrete is to be able to be flexible in your approach when difficulties occur. We believe that contractors new to the industry should have mentor support for their first year in business so they have that back up if they come across a job they are struggling with.
There’s every chance you may get a reduced price if someone is being honest with you about being new to the job. That’s all good as long as you feel comfortable with the works being performed and that trades person is fully supported along the way.
For a concrete polisher, aiding you with aftercare is a must and a responsible company will also offer you detailed maintenance information and help you get the most out of your floor going forward. On the flip side of that they will likely also be able to offer detailed information to ensure a competent installation, letting you know the correct grade of concrete to use and how that concrete should be laid to ensure you end up with the floor you want.
The importance of quality diamond tooling
Believe us when we say that we’ve tried almost every tool on the market during our 10 years polishing concrete. Some have been good and some have been horrendous.
Achieving a suitable finish when diamond polishing is, as the name suggests, all down to using quality diamond tooling. It is after all these diamonds that are either grinding the floor down, honing the surface or polishing the concrete.
The problems we have come across with diamond tooling have been many. However, the main ones have been as follows:- Tools with a low quantity of diamonds incorporated or tools with a low grade of diamonds incorporated within them
Polished concrete requires the scratches for each set of tools to be removed by a finer set on the next pass. For example 200 grit tools remove the scratches produced by 100 grit tools. The system just falls down when you have interchanging quality levels in your tools and we can say from experience that it’s incredibly frustrating when you’re getting on so well and then your tools let you down by not being able to remove scratches properly from the concrete.
Approximately five years ago we became incredibly frustrated at not always being able to rely on the diamond tools we were using and began to design and engineer our own. Nowadays our diamond tools now never let us down, incorporating high levels of quality diamond that do the job we want them to. Priceless.
The importance of densifying and sealing the floor
It is often these two steps that are either left out of the process or charged separately as though they don’t matter. This just isn’t true I’m afraid. The occurrence of quickly stained concrete floors becomes much higher without these two items.
Without thorough saturation of the concrete surface with a quality silicate densifier you are highly unlikely to get a decent floor. Sand and stones will pull free from the matrix during concrete grinding and polishing and more than likely the surface will appear dusty and difficult to clean. Densifying the concrete also works hand in hand with any sealant put onto the flooring as it effectively seals the concrete from the inside out, increasing stain resistance and decreasing porosity.
Is a sealer included in your low price? Concrete stains easily without thorough sealing, especially if the contaminant is not removed quickly enough. Many contractors will claim that the densifier will seal the floor effectively without the application of a quality sealant and to a certain extent this may be true. However, as densifier works via a chemical reaction with the concrete this may take between 6-12 months to achieve. Can you manage not to get any dirt on your floor or manage not to accidentally spill anything on it while you’re waiting for this to happen?
You will always need additional stain protection to give you reaction time to remove spills and dirt contamination. Sealants take time to apply, cure and dry. Quality sealants are expensive but extremely necessary products. Staining is not an option!
A final point to watch out for. Epoxy coatings and any other type of plastic like floor coatings are never used when flooring has been mechanically diamond polished. If they are used, it’s often to cover up the fact that diamond polishing hasn’t actually taken place! These types of coatings will not be sympathetic to the organic nature of concrete and really detract from the beauty of what essentially is a very organic flooring medium. We are not fans at CARRcrete of an epoxy floor, resin flooring or epoxy in general!
What should be on your quotation?
We feel that it’s very important to have a comprehensive quotation that details properly the works that are to be carried out. Is the concrete surface being ground off? Are flooring materials such as densifier and sealer included?
It’s always a good idea to know on your quote how much of the surface is to be ground off. If you don’t have a figure (1mm, 2-3mm, 5mm) how do you know what you are getting? Obviously grinding 5mm away is far more expensive than 1mm, as by logical reasoning it’s going to take 5 times as long.
As a company we always arrange a site visit in order to be able to view the concrete before working on it. This is also a great opportunity for client and contractor to meet.
During this site visit we’ll always conduct strength and scratch tests on the slab to ensure that it will yield the finish that we have been asked to provide. Quotations should show whether or not it is a pre site visit quotation or a final quotation to provide clarity for both parties.
It’s always a good idea too for the gloss level you have asked for to be included in the list of works on your quotation. As the amount of grinding makes a difference to the quotation, so does the amount of polishing. You have to do many more passes with the polishing pads for a high gloss finish than you do for a matte one, so being clear with this on a quotation will just give you a little more peace of mind.
As we are discussing what polished concrete floors cost I suppose we should mention about this being on the quotation too! The concrete floor cost should of course be clearly visible including any vat that’s charged. If you’re being charged per square metre you may want to ask your concrete polishers to double check your calculations.
What to look out for when comparing quotations
I think the most important thing to consider here is, are you comparing like for like? Do all of the quotations quote for the same amount of grinding? As mentioned above, are processes such as densification and sealing included? Are the gloss levels the same and just importantly, are you comparing the services of a contractor who’s been in the field for many years to a contractor who’s in his/her first year of business?
How is your estimate or quotation presented and prepared for you? Is it a ballpark price quickly knocked out in an email or a professionally presented quotation, clearly setting out what is included in the cost? I think it has to be said that a professional, detailed quotation will often look more organised and more transparent.
So, are you now convinced that when it comes to achieving a quality polished concrete floor and looking more deeply into what floors cost, you will ‘get what you pay for’?
At CARRcrete, polishing concrete floors has been our business for over 10 years. Polished floors are our passion and whether you’re wanting to achieve the very popular ‘no stone’ polished look or require grinding and polishing to create something reminiscent of terrazzo, we’re here to help.
We’ll also be on hand to advise you regarding the installation of a concrete overlay, concrete countertops, granite countertops or to point you in the right direction when it comes to the purchase of one of our environmentally friendly chemical consumables. We don’t manufacture countertops ourselves but we work very closely with a company who does so whatever the enquiry, don’t hesitate to get in touch
CARRcrete InfinityFloor - providing cost effective concrete flooring solutions for everyone. Residential, commercial or industrial.