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How scratch resistant is your floor?!

Posted by Dennis Yurconis on Feb 26, 2010 in Concrete Knowledge Base, Decorative Concrete Maintenance


Customers often ask how scratch resistant our floors are.  This is really a tough question to answer because to my knowledge there is no laymans measurement for scratch resistance.  I could get into some technical jargon on the measurements a lab uses to indicate scratch and abrasion resistance, but it wouldn’t do any good since there is no basis for comparison.

Instead, let’s focus on reality and expectations.  Part of my job in installing floor finishes is creating a floor that compliments the intended use for the space and the surrounding décor.  The other part is taking into consideration the budget, the volume and types of traffic the floor will see, and the maintenance routine the owners plan to adhere to.   This will ultimately determine what the final finish will be.

At first glance a high gloss floor gives the impression of a clean and well kept space.  But it’s not just an impression, it’s the truth.  Maintaining a floor to a high gloss finish requires a high frequency maintenance program to include daily dust mopping and wet mopping.  A weekly high speed burnish, and a monthly re-application of acrylic floor finish.  This is because no flooring material or coating is durable enough to withstand the abrasion resulting from foot traffic grinding debris into the floor.  Over time, this action creates micro abrasion that dulls the gloss of the surface.  Unless you are a property owner willing to deal with the expense of such a maintenance program, a high gloss option probably isn’t for you.  The end result is money spent on maintenance increasing the cost of the floor in the long term.  As a business owner, we often look at the life cycle cost for any purchase made, and maintenance can be a huge factor in that cost.  Sometimes it makes sense to spend more now, to save even more in the long term.  For example, the 10 year cost for vinyl composition tile (VCT) is approximately $16/sqft as reported by facilities managers, which is 2-3 times the cost of our floors in the same time frame.  And quite frankly, VCT is purely functional and has no decorative appeal.

Many of our flooring systems require the use of epoxy primers and binders, but seldom ever do we install a floor leaving epoxy as a topcoat.  This is because as durable as epoxy is, it is more prone to abrasion than any other finish.  Our recommended finish of choice you will hear us refer to is a “high wear urethane”.  Urethane chemistry is far superior to epoxy in terms of hardness and chemical resistance, and makes an excellent coating for protecting a floor against stains, scratches, and abrasion.   Regardless, urethanes are still subject to wear as any other material is.

Enter the “high wear urethane”.  High wear urethane is one of the most significant advances in floor coatings in the past several decades.  It’s high wear properties ensure you will not get any micro abrasion or traffic wear patterns, and is extremely scratch resistant.  It is the ultimate in a maintenance free floor finish.  This particular coating is formulated first with a high solids content, unlike the urethanes of yesteryear that have extremely high VOC levels.  As well, this means a thicker product is on the floor once it cures.  Additionally, a micronized aluminum oxide grit is added to the urethane.  This increases the friction coefficient of the coating for added slip resistance and provides body to the coating to inhibit abrasion and scratches.  This means in order for the floor to scratch, a material harder than aluminum oxide must be used, which is not common with ordinary dirt and debris.  This coating however does have a satin finish.  In my opinion, a satin finish lends to a more natural look.  And rest assured a satin finish will never wear into a high gloss floor, where as the opposite is most certainly true.

So on your next flooring project, when we are pushing for a ”high wear urethane”, it’s because we know that it really is that important.  Important for you to keep your maintenance costs down, and important for us knowing that our work will still look terrific even 10 years from now.

 
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Caution: Wet Concrete

Posted by Dennis Yurconis on Jun 4, 2009 in Concrete Knowledge Base

         I’ve often said, “Bad concrete has been very good to me.” As a technical specialist in the commercial resilient flooring industry, concrete issues are an almost daily topic of discussion, and my clients need answers. Flooring failures attributed to moisture-related concrete problems are at near epidemic proportions today. Coatings, carpet, vinyl, rubber, wood, laminates and most floor coverings are affected to one degree or another by pH issues and excess water vapor emissions through a concrete slab. Moisture causes gaps between tiles, adhesive oozing, bumps, dents, cupping, bubbles, indentations, wheel marks and more. Left uncorrected, these problems can evolve into health and safety issues caused by mold, mildew and floors lifting. Here’s a crash course on concrete floors and the issues related to flooring installed over concrete. I hope it will go a long way to helping you to understand what could go wrong. 

 

         Moisture related failures of resilient floor coverings installed over concrete have focused unfairly over the years on the premise that the flooring product itself is at fault or the flooring contractor, perhaps, did not install the product correctly.  In reality, the vast majority of flooring failures result directly from high emissions of moisture (moisture vapor, if you will) from the concrete slab over which the floor covering has been installed.  When discussing these issues, people in the trade may refer to this as a water problem, hydrostatic pressure, capillary action, or moisture migration.  

 

Concrete is porous by its very nature, and the degree of porosity has to do with its design recipe, placement, and cure method.  Moisture vapor emission is a function of that porosity, combined with environmental factors that influence and drive it.  The greater the porosity, the greater the potential for moisture vapor to move at a volume intolerable to the floor covering.  The problem is further exacerbated when high levels of alkalinity move with the vapor emissions and attack the adhesive that bonds the flooring to the concrete.

 

Moisture related failures in flooring applications is not a human error phenomena, with the exception of the unwillingness of people to accept that nature is indifferent to their contract specifications, construction requirements and schedules.  Environmental conditions (temperature, humidity and dew-point, for example) and the chemistry of concrete will, by and large, determine moisture and alkalinity emission rates that will have a direct bearing on the success or failure of any flooring installation.

 

 

What is Vapor emission?-

            Moisture/Vapor Emission is simply the movement of moisture through concrete to the atmosphere. 

 

What causes high levels of vapor emission?

            There are several situations that can cause high levels of vapor moving through the slab. If there is  variance in humidity between the air above the slab and the concrete itself, this often causes slow drying time. Excess water being added to the mix design can prolong dry time as well. Another common problem is what we call an “active source”, this is when there is water seeping under the slab from either rain runoff or a plumbing leak. Sometimes we see job schedules get rushed and there is not enough time for the slab to dry out. The last is a rare problem yet the most serious. This is true hydrostatic pressure. Hydrostatic pressure occurs when the water table is higher than the slab. Although this is serious, there are products that stop hydrostatic pressure as well as all the aforementioned issues.

 

How do I know if a vapor barrier is needed?

            There are a number of ways of doing this. The most simple and what we refer to as “the poor mans method” is to tape 4 mil plastic and look for condensation over the next day or two. There are many electrical testers out there that work well. I prefer the calcium chloride test. These tests can be purchased for 7-20 dollars each and you should do one for every 700 s/f or so. Concrete floors should be tested for alkalinity before the installation of resilient flooring (epoxy etc.). The pH scale runs from 1 to 14, with 7 being neutral. Below 7 is considered acidic while above 7 is alkaline. When testing for pH, the allowable readings for the installation of resilient flooring are 6 to 9 on the pH scale. The quantity of moisture is noted as the rate of moisture vapor emissions, measured in pounds of moisture over 1000 square foot area during a 24-hr period. There are vapor barriers out there that will withstand up to 25 pounds per 1000 sqft. One common misconception is that if a slab is 28 days old it is ready to accept resilient flooring. The truth is even an elevated slab that is up to eight months old can emit vapor well over 12 pounds if the conditions are not right for it to wet out. The 28 day or 30 day mark is only related to the slab reaching 80% of its intended compressive strength, nothing to do with vapor emissions. The other fallacy is that if there is a vapor barrier under the slab you have no worries. This is simply not true. I have never seen one get installed that doesn’t get punctured, torn,ripped, and generally trashed during the install of the slab. And they can often hinder as well as help. We have gone to requiring a vapor barrier on non-breathable systems to extend warranty against de-lamination due to vapor on all non-breathable systems we install.

 

Do upper level slabs dry out quicker?

            This is a misconception. Most pan filled cements are designed with a light weight aggregate that act as miniature sponges plus additional water is needed in order for the cement to be pumped. This slab very well may take longer to dry out than a slab on or below grade. Much depends on weather the air has been conditioned during the drying phase.

 

Will acid etching create a PH neutral slab?

            Many manufacturers recommend acid etching to achieve an acceptable PH level. Etching changes the PH at the surface level only and is temporary. Etch a slab that is suspect and then check it in two weeks, it will spike right back after a given time if it has a PH problem.  There are VB products out there that are absolutely unaffected by PH and if you want to be sure, its the way to go. Moisture Vapor barriers may seem like an unnecessary expense, but they are in fact cheap insurance against a failing floor that will have to be replaced.

           

How long does a slab take to reach acceptable vapor emission?

            This depends heavily on mix, environmental conditions, humidity and slab thickness. On average though, if the conditions are 50% humidity with an air temperature of 73 degrees, it will take one month per inch.  Therefore, a standard four inch slab will take four months to achieve a safe level of vapor emissions before installing a non breathable flooring system.

 

How long do I have to wait to install a vapor barrier?

            We have products that can be installed in as little as four hours after it has been poured. In most cases we install our systems between 1-7 days after the pour.

 
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Concrete Problems and Causes

Posted by Dennis Yurconis on Nov 3, 2008 in Concrete Knowledge Base

Concrete is an excellent material, but it is not perfect.  You don’t have to look very far to identify the real life concrete problems listed below.  However, most of these problems are avoidable, or fixable.  There are way to many variables in the production, mixing, placing, and finishing of concrete for me to discuss in detail.  Unfortunately, most concrete problems are the result of error with the finisher you or the builder chooses.  And builders, to maximize profit, take the lowest bidder.  And in my experience, so do many homeowners.  The lowest bidder uses the least amount of manpower to get the job done, and uses cheaper, lower quality concrete with low compressive strengths and inexpensive admixture fillers (fly-ash).  Most problems associated with concrete arises from the inability of the finisher to finish the concrete slab correctly, because of production rates and low manpower.  I have examined warranties offered by many homebuilders, and short of the concrete self-destructing, most concrete defects are not covered.  Therefore, builders get away with their practices, and you are left dealing with concrete problems long after your home has been built. 

These are the most common problems associated with concrete.  Every one of these problems is either corrected, prevented, or reduced with the installation of our polymer modified cement overlay.

Surface Scaling/Spalling

Surface scaling is when the surface of hardened concrete breaks off to a depth of 1.5mm to 5mm, generally during the first year of placement.  This occurs because of application of calcium or sodium chloride deicing salts on concrete with inadequate strength, air entrainment, or curing.  Unfortunately, as an end user, you may have no control over these factors.  Concrete that is subjected to use of deicing salts combined with freeze-thaw conditions are prone to scaling.  The National Research Council’s Strategic Highway Research Program tested deicing salts to see how they would etch and destroy concrete. The tests were interesting. It appears that magnesium chloride did the least amount of damage. Calcium chloride caused 26 times more damage to the concrete than magnesium chloride. Regular rock salt, sodium chloride, caused an astonishing 63 times more damage. If the tests were accurate, it appears that it may be worth the extra money to purchase and use magnesium chloride. Even still, your driveway will track rock salt from the roads, and it will concentrate in your garage where the snow/salt slurry collects and evaporates.  Chemicals such as ammonium nitrate and ammonium sulfate, which are components of most fertilizers can cause scaling as well.  Scaling is most common in concrete with poor surface strength, caused by finishing a slab while bleed water is on the surface, or overworking the surface resulting in a lower air content.  Air entrainment is vital for concrete slabs placed where freeze/thaw conditions exist.  When scaling occurs, so does the blame game.  The homeowner blames the concrete finisher, the finisher blames the homeowner or the redi-mix company.  The mix company blames the finisher

Cracking

This one needs little explanation.  Cracking is breaks that occur in areas other than those placed intentionally.  Almost everyone has cracks in their concrete, and because there are so many reasons why concrete cracks, it is often impossible to know the exact cause.  The good news is, cracks seldom result in structural problems. Some of the many reasons concrete cracks include:

Excess water in the mix.

A lot of water is not needed to allow concrete to cure.  However, builders add extra water to make it easier to finish out the concrete before it dries, because there are not enough people available to do the job correctly.  As concrete dries the slab will shrink as excess water evaporates.  This shrinkage literally pulls the slab apart.

Rapid drying of the concrete

The chemical reaction, which causes concrete to go from the liquid or plastic state to a solid state, requires water. This chemical reaction, or hydration, continues to occur for days and weeks after you pour the concrete.  You can make sure that the necessary water is available for this reaction by adequately curing the slab.

Improper strength of concrete for the job.

Unknown to many people is that concrete comes in different strengths, and can have fiber mixed with the concrete to add to its strength.  The Roman Coliseum was built with fiber reinforced concrete and is still standing today. A pueblo house built in 1540 with straw reinforced adobe brick is believed to be the oldest house in the US.

Improperly placed tension control joints.

Plain and simple, concrete cracks because there is a stress on the concrete that exceeds the tensile strength of concrete at any given point in time.  The use of tension control joints are placed to help alleviate those stresses.  Many finishers have a lack of understanding about where control joints should be placed.  Improperly placed, or too few control joints will mean the slab will crack to alleviate those stresses.  The saw cut, or tooled control joints are placed to provide an area for a controlled crack, because once they are in place, the concrete will eventually crack in those places.  This prevents unsightly cracks elsewhere. 

There is a popular misconception that the use of steel reinforcement bar (rebar) will prevent cracks.  It will not.  However, rebar will hold a slab together that has cracked and reduce shifting and heaving.

There isn’t a single concrete contractor that has never had to deal with their concrete cracking.  Sometimes, no matter what you do, problems will arise that were not seen before the job started. 

Dusting

Dusting is the presence of a powdery material at the surface of a hardened slab. A concrete floor dusts under traffic because the wearing surface is weak. This weakness can be caused by the finishing operation performed over bleed water on the surface. Finishing or working this bleed water back into the top of the slab produces a low strength layer right at the surface. Placement of concrete over poly or some non absorbent surface, increases bleeding and as a result the risk of surface dusting.

It is caused by insufficient or no curing of the surface. This omission of curing often results in a soft concrete surface, which will easily dust under traffic.  In cold weather the concrete sets slowly, particularly cold concrete in below grade placements. If relative humidity is high, water will condense on the freshly placed concrete. This water condensation, if troweled into the surface, will cause dusting.

Popouts

A popout is a conical shaped fragment that breaks out of the surface of concrete.  Popouts are usually caused by the expansion of porous aggregate particles having a high rate of absorption. As the offending aggregate absorbs moisture or freezes under moist conditions, its swelling creates internal pressures sufficient to scale the concrete surface. Ironstone, coal, shale and soft fine grained limestones are the commonly observed causes of popouts.

Most popouts occur within the first year of concrete placement. Moisture induced swelling may occur shortly after placement due to moisture absorption from the plastic concrete, or they may not occur until after prolonged rainy weather or the first winter. Popouts are generally considered a cosmetic flaw primarily affecting the concrete appearance and usually do not affect the service life of the concrete.

Efflorescence

Efflorescence is a crystaline deposit on surfaces of concrete. It is whitish in appearance, and is sometimes referred to as “whiskers”. Efflorescence has been a problem for many years, and is a topic of much controversy. The formation of these salt deposits are not mysteries. They are, for the most part, water-soluble salts that come from many possible sources to mar and detract from an otherwise beautiful and serviceable structure. First of all, there must be water present to dissolve and transport the salts. Groundwater is often a source of efflorescence. For water to carry or move the salts to the surface there must be channels through which to move and migrate. The more dense the material, whether it be brick, stone, stucco or concrete, the more difficult for the water to transport salts to the surface. Conversely, the more porous the material, the greater the ease with which salts are transported and deposited. Salt-bearing water, on reaching the surface of a structure, air evaporates to deposit the salt.

Crazing

Crazing is the development of a fine network of random cracks on the surface of concrete caused by the shrinkage of the surface layer. Generally, these cracks develop at an early stage and are evident the day after placement or within the first week. Crazing does not affect the structural integrity of the concrete and rarely affect the durability or wear resistance.

Crazing is caused by poor or inadequate curing, an excessive concentration of cement paste and fines at the surface caused by an overly wet mix, which allows coarse aggregate to settle, bullfloating or finishing while there is bleed water on the surface or the use of a steel trowel sealing the surface and diluting the cement paste.  Sprinkling cement on the surface to dry up the bleed water is a frequent cause of crazing surfaces. This concentrates fines on the surface. 

Blistering

Blisters are hollow, low profile bumps on the concrete surface typically ranging from the size of a dime up to an inch, but occasionally 2 or 3 inches in diameter.  The most common cause is when a dense troweled skin of mortar about 1/8 inch thick covers an underlying void which moves around under the surface during troweling. Blistering can also be caused by troweling too soon; resulting in the surface being sealed too early while the underlying concrete is plastic and bleeding or able to release entrapped air.

Plastic Shrinkage

Plastic shrinkage cracks appear on the surface of a freshly placed concrete slab during finishing operations or soon after.  Plastic cracks are usually parallel to each other, between 1 and 3 feet apart, and do not cross the perimeter.  High slump concrete increases shrinkage. Excess water can be expected to increase shrinkage approximately in proportion to its percentage of the total mix water.  Vapor barriers are a key contributor to plastic shrinkage cracking. All bleed water must migrate to the surface, which seriously affects timing, and surface set control methods. 

Stamped Concrete Issues

There are additional problems conventional stamped concrete contractors must have knowledge of in order to avoid failure of their finishes.  These problems are non-issues with polymer modified cement overlays.  They are:

* Air entrainment–Low air entrainment that results in spalling and scaling of the surface destroys decorative finishes. When dry-shake color is used, scales typically have color on one side and plain concrete bonded to the colored layer on the back side of the scale. This is because dry shake color hardeners provide a densified layer that effectively protects the colored layer from freeze-thaw damage. When air entrainment is excessively high, strength goes down, and there is virtually no bleed. It can also be difficult to properly “wet out” dry shake color hardeners.

* High water-cement ratios–Because of the more porous surfaces that result from too much water, colored finishes, including chemical stains, diffract more light, giving the impression of weaker coloration. Due to the weaker surface, traffic wear patterns can develop. In the case of chemical staining, wear can remove the colored layer.

* Lack of curing–These symptoms can be similar to high w/c ratio conditions. Un-hydrated cement does not develop calcium hydroxide, so there is less of it for some decorative products to react with. Colored surfaces will appear less intense than well-cured concrete with the same amount of color. Stained surfaces also appear less intense. Dusting and traffic wearing patterns problems can also result. However, most decorative finishes can’t tolerate the same curing methods used for plain concrete.

* Low strength–When there isn’t enough cement paste in a mix, integral color isn’t properly restrained in the paste, and color can be lost from the surface. Chemical stains may not have enough calcium hydroxide to react with, resulting in less coloration. Low strength in decorative finishes can cause traffic to wear into the finishes.

* High moisture levels in concrete–Chemical stains react differently in areas of a slab that have higher relative humidity. Decorative treatments, which do not have good moisture vapor transmission properties, can peel off the surface, blemish, turn cloudy white, or cause blisters to develop.

* Cold weather conditions–Long initial set times and excessive bleed water mean that more calcium hydroxide comes to the surface where it reacts with carbon dioxide from the air to form efflorescence. More laitance also comes to the surface from silica in the aggregates, causing hard white silicates to form. Also, slab finishes are often wet in appearance. In cold weather, concrete is usually covered with curing blankets or plastic, causing unsightly efflorescence markings.

* Hot weather conditions–When conditions are really hot, there is less time to perform all the added steps needed for some decorative finishes. In the case of stamped concrete it is more likely that impressions will be “mushy” at the beginning of the stamping process and too light, with little texture, at the end.

Abstract Concrete is well aware of these problems and how to prevent them.  If you are looking for quality in your next project, you can be confident in your choice to hire us.

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