Too bad we can’t follow the old western movie adage about the good guys wearing white hats and the bad guys black. That would make picking a solid contractor a bit easier. My favourite line these days is “trust me, I’m a contractor”.
It seems that every day I hear another horror story about some person who hired what they thought was a reputable contractor only to find themselves in a mess. The one positive thing about this recession or slow-down is that it might put some of those not-so-good contractors on the sidelines.
So before you hire a someone to work on your home take some advice from the commercial construction world.
- Get referrals and check them.
- Ask to see any licences that might be required (ie. electricians, plumbers, ect.) or membership in trade groups (ie Home Builders Assoc., TTMAC, ect).
- Get a contract with a set price or a set-method to calculate the bill if the work is to be done on a time & material basis.
- Have a lawyer review the contract.
- Keep 10% of all payments as a hold-back, not to be paid out until all the work is complete.
- Prior to final payment have the contractor issue you a “Statuary Declaration” (When the lawyer reviews the contract ask about this item. It ensures that the contractor has paid all suppliers and sub-contractors that have supplied services or material for the work done.)
These are a couple of simple rules that should help. It can be a sleazy world out there so keep your eyes on your fries.
Centis Tile & Terrazzo. That’s been the name of our company since 1953 and in the past couple of years I can’t count how many times I’ve had to spell the word terrazzo for people or try to explain what it was. We even had someone call our office and ask to speak with Mr. Terrazzo.
Not so many years ago while I was growing up, my father and uncle were installing terrazzo floors in almost every school, hospital or other government building in northern Ontario. I thought everyone on the planet new what terrazzo was. It was the flooring of choice for government buildings and institutions. You couldn’t step into a post office, hospital or school without walking across a terrazzo floor. Design professionals and construction professionals all knew what terrazzzo was and who could deliver a great finished product.
Today, while epoxy terrazzo is still specified in most hospital surgical suites because of it’s seamless quality and ease of maintenance, the use of this winner flooring in other applications has greatly dropped off. So much so that many construction professionals know very little about the product and how to specify it. I can attest to that because we are installing some terrazzo in three separate hospitals right now and on two of the projects the consultants involved have never seen it installed before.
Ouch! That really hurt the old ego.
Well for most of the population knowledge about terrazzo is not essential but for those of you involved with institutional construction please track down the T.T.M.A.C. (Terrazzo, Tile & Marble Association of Canada www.ttmac.com) or the National Terrazzo and Mosaic Association (www.nmta.com ) in the U.S. and get informed. If you’re stuck, call up a flooring company with the word terrazzo in their name and ask if someone there is a terrazzo mechanic or installer and speak to them. Then you’d be getting it straight from the horse’s mouth so to speak.
However you do it, learn a little about terrazzo flooring. It’s too great of a product to be relegated to back pages of an old spec book or in the minds of 50-some year old terrazzo mechanics like me. I think you’d be surprised that it’s not the darling of the flooring world that it used to be.
Polished concrete made a big splash when it hit the scene a couple of years ago. Finally a high end looking finish with a low dollar investment and a low to no maintenance floor that is eco friendly to boot. Wow! Almost too good to be true.
The fact of the matter is polished concrete can hit almost all of those hyperboles with pretty good consistency. Some people even named it the poor man’s terrazzo.
Hmm, pretty good but there are some drawbacks to polished concrete. Let’s take a closer look.
I believe the most common issue is that the floor is still concrete and even though the polishing procedure renders the floor shiny and dust free it can still be attacked by acids. Even mild acids will remove the shine and breakdown the chemistry that keeps the floor dust free. I know this might sound funny but, hard as Hades concrete reacts in a similar way as marble and limestone do with acids. It’s all in the chemistry of the material.
Like my earlier discussion on natural stone you need to know thy enemy if you want to be victorious over it.
A quick backround check will tell you that most concrete polishing systems start with flooding the concrete with a liquid that contains silicate polymers. These polymers penetrate the concrete and bind with free silica in the concrete to produce a hard, relatively inert crystal. This crystal helps seal the pores and hardens the concrete’s surface to allow it to be polished to a high shine.
This works relatively well and for many applications you have a really good finished product. However, high traffic over a concentrated area call dull the finish over time and those nasty mild acids can damage the floor’s finish. Also the sealing ability of the silicates takes time, usually a couple of weeks to really kick in and you need to guard against oil based stains during that period.
Ok, you’ve fallen head over heels for the look. What about the no maintenance miralce? Not so fast. The floor is not no maintnenance but it is low maintenance.
So the easy maintenance is use a neutral ph cleaner and sweep the floor to keep abrasive dirt off the floor. Next step up, you can use cleaners manufactured by the companies who produce the densifiers. These cleaners are formulated with a low concentration of the silicate polymers similar to those that were used initially to start the process and they help keep the concrete hard. Finally you could use stone soap. I like stone soap. I talked about it in the post on natural stone and I really like it for maintaining concrete floors.
Ok, I’m a stone guy but concrete acts like stone so why not clean it like stone.
So polished concrete is more like a second cousin to terrazzo floors with all the great things about terrazzo without some of the cost and a distant relative to stone floors. Not a bad product if you ask me.
So until next time, think hard surfaces for great floors.
I was in the middle of my presentation about the properties of natural stone at a local “Home & Life Style Show” when a person in the audience asked me that question.
I was the lead off speaker that day and had been introduced as a fountain of knowledge for all things stone. The event had been keenly publicized with a number of well known speakers and booths displaying everything from home fashions to gourmet cooking classes.
With the growing environmental awareness and the availability of almost limitless information concerning green products, asking a question about how green something is or is not at a public event can be compared to tossing a live grenade at the speaker.
I turned and smiled. On the surface the answer was simple, so I casually caught the grenade and started with the obvious.
Natural stone can be considered green because, as the name suggests, it is natural. Truly a product that comes from Mother Earth herself with little or no added man-made content or alteration.
Smiles all around, especially from the people who were hosting the event. However the person who had asked the question was still looking at me and expecting more. I knew where this was going so I nonchalantly slipped on my Kevlar jacket and while holding onto the grenade I continued into the mine-field.
However, how green any product is depends on how you want to define green.
Now I had them thinking. Was I about to pull the pin?
How green are you asking stone to be? Are we just talking about the material that makes up a product or are we getting into the entire production and delivery of a product? Are we asking about the entire ecological foot-print with regard to stone products?
The person that has asked the question nodded, the local media person was scribbling something on a note pad and the next speaker who was standing at the back of the room was searching for the nearest exit. The look on his face had morphed from that of a passive on-looker to one of terror.
Ok. I had pulled the pin but was I going to toss it back into the crowd? I continued.
I think that stone can be very green. It has total life-cycle cost that is lower than most products that it competes against and it most certainly will outlast the cabinets your counter sits on or the walls and floors it is installed on top of.
Good. People were still nodding. The next speaker had stopped inching towards the door.
Stone does have some drawbacks but nothing more than most building products and while it can be more challenging to re-use or re-cycle, waste stone does not decompose and create green-house gases or leach pollutants over time.
I re-inserted the pin into the grenade, slipped off the Kevlar jacket, handed the grenade back to person who had lobbed it in the first place and fielded the next question. Which thankfully was about maintaining stone floors.
Yes I think stone is quite green but there are some things to consider when buying stone.
All stone is heavy and as a result transportation is an issue. Not all stone comes from across the pond. Look around you may be able to find a suitable stone that is quarried closer to your home.
Quarrying always causes some environmental impact. However, quarries for stone that is used in the building industry tend to use stone that is found on or very close to the surface and therefore cause less ecological damage than mining operations.
Finally, the processing of stone requires energy, with different finishes requiring more or less energy. Slates, for example may require less energy than polished stone in their production. On the other hand, all stone uses much less energy for maintenance over their life-time when compared to many other products.
As you can see there is a lot to consider when you start to compare how green one product is to another. Personally I feel all hard surface products are quite green because of their inherent long life-cycles and low maintenance. Stone is just one of your options.
So keep those questions coming. I have my Kevlar jacket close by.
I was reviewing possible flooring selections for a new home with a client this past weekend when she asked…
Good question. Would that be red wine or white? Whole wheat or brown? Natural stone tiles or ceramic tiles? Hmm, sounded simple enough.
As soon as my client asked the question her husband, who had been looking what the carpenters had done over the past few days, was instantly engaged. This was no longer just about colour or tile size. Oh no, now we were into something with sustenance. He stepped closer.
Why did I suddenly feel warmer?
In the good old days this could have been a simple question of taste or cost. Not so with today’s material choices however. There are porcelain and ceramic tiles that you would swear were natural stone. So it’s not just the look anymore. Modern manufacturing and a broader import-export market has helped bring down the cost of many natural stone products. So it’s not necessarily a cost issue either. Now the question revolves around usage, traffic, maintenance and client expectations.
A natural stone floor tile needs some maintenance. First it should be sealed with an impregnator. (If you read my first blog you’d know that I’m a stickler for protecting stone.) Secondly, the floors should be swept daily to remove any abrasive dirt to minimize the possibility of scratches. Finally when you wash the floor it should be with a good neutral ph cleaner, absolutely no white vinegar and water. I like “Stone Soap”.
Porcelain ceramic tiles are somewhat simpler to maintain. Again I believe you should seal the joints with a good impregnator (funny how that keeps coming up). Some porcelain tile, especially polished porcelain has to be sealed. As far as maintenance goes sweeping on a daily basis is still required and I still like neutral ph cleaners but good old white vinegar and water will work. Just rinse it really well, remember vinegar is a mild acid.
So, she wanted large format limestone flooring that was light coloured. He wanted whatever she wanted as long as it was easy to maintain, not over priced and could deflect small arms fire. In other words he thought a good porcelain ceramic tile would be perfect.
Ok mister expert, what’s better, natural stone or ceramic? No one said it but I could see it in their eyes. It was like, “Dancing with the Stars” and I was about to be told I was going home.
Did I tell you that I was suddenly feeling very warm?
There isn’t a better I explained and I quickly ran through the different rooms in the house. Listing some of the pluses and minuses of both stone and tile.
Entrances: A honed, patina finish on a natural stone will wear very nicely and unless you drag heavy piece of furniture across the floor should not scratch. I probably wouldn’t recommend a highly polished stone. Porcelain is very tough, some porcelain tile can look as warm and inviting as natural stone and polished porcelain has the same wear charateristics as most polished stone.
Kitchens: If sealed both clean up nicely. Personally I like porcelain tile a little more in this area just because they can be almost indestructible and nonabsorptive.
Bathrooms: Even highly polished stone will easily survive the traffic of a bathroom. I usually give the nod to stone in these rooms just because we’d almost expect to find stone here.
Dining Rooms: With either the porcelain, stone or hardwood in a dining room you’ll throw an area rug under the table and chairs so that’s a wash. They all can look good and survive.
So there we have it. No clear winner, no clear loser. Spend some quality time with your partner or pet looking at different materials and ask plenty of questions. Then when it comes time to choose, try to balance your expectations and think long term. What do you really like?
Oh, and my client? So far it’s all natural stone… but we’re still looking. And the temperature? It’s back to normal. Well, at least for now.
I think that a good question to start off with today is,
I like Marco Campagna’s definition as stated in Studio Marmo, Stone Sampler:
Now that sounds simple enough, a little broad maybe but essentially a good straight-forward definition. If anyone should understand a definition like that it would be those of us who live here in northern Ontario. I mean, let’s face it we live in the Canadian Shield, we are surrounded by stone, or should I say we are surrounded by rock because not all rock can be used as a decorative or building material, and not all natural stone can be used for all applications.
Let’s face it, when it comes to construction most of us in North America come from a wood culture. I’m sure if I asked most you what Birch or Maple or Oak was you would, at the very least know that these are woods. Some of you might even be able to pick out these woods looking at samples in a cabinet shop and few more would know that each of those woods were different when it came to how hard or tough each was in comparison to the other.
Now, if I asked you about UbaTuba or Monaco Brown for example, would you know one was a granite and the other was a marble? Or that one could be etched by a mild acid while the other was impervious to it? Would you then say that Monaco Brown is wonderful stone to highlight a cream or ivory sink in your bathroom and UbaTuba is one of the denser granites and would make a great outdoor kitchen counter? Probably not. So today I’ll try to give you some information about the differences and qualities of marble, limestone, travertine and granite. I will also try to touch briefly on soapstone and engineered quartz.
Geologically speaking and I’ll keep this to a minimum, stone is divided into 3 groups:
Magmatic (Magma – Lava, this starts off very hot cools and becomes very hard – Granite is an example.)
Sedimentary (bottoms of rivers, lakes, oceans etc. and over time the deposits because of pressure form into rock – Limestone, Sandstone, Travertine.)
Metamorphic (all the above changed by heat and pressure – Marble, some Granites and Soapstone.)
All of the stones that we use in the counter top industry were formed millions of years ago. Some hundreds of millions of years ago. I often get questions like, I really like the look of UbaTuba can I order it in a lighter shade. Sorry, it was all made about 450 million years ago but if you have lots of time you can always try to put an order in now and wait it out.
So what stone should you use for you kitchen or vanity?
Marbles and most sedimentary stones like limestone are composed of carbonites and as a result they react with acids. So lemon juice, vinegar, wine, all contain acetic acid and they will react with those stones. So typically we wouldn’t recommend these types of stones for kitchens. Bathroom vanities, furniture and fireplaces, those are the real homes for marbles and limestones. As well these stones are not the best for outdoor use because they tend to be somewhat absorptive and therefore they can fail or crack after a number of freezes and thaws.
Granite is composed of feldspars, silicas and quartz. These crystals are very hard and do not react with mild acids. Soapstone is mainly composed of talc and some magnesium and as well doesn’t react much with mild acids. Engineered quartz stone is composed of silica and quartz, also non-reactive with mild acids. So granite, soapstone and engineered quartz stone all work well in kitchen environments.
Outdoor applications, especially in our neck of the woods (the land of ice and snow), should be the domain of granite that was magmatic in origin only. The continual exposure to UV light makes engineered stone not so good and metamorphic granites may have too many fissures allowing water to penetrate the stone and cause a failure or cracking over successive freeze thaw cycles.
So how can you tell these stones apart without being a geologist? Sometimes it’s not so easy but here are a few hints.
Marble and limestone are composed of very fine crystals. Much finer than most granites and travertines. The difference between marble and limestone is that marble is harder and therefore will polish nicely. Limestone is actually the precursor of marble. All marble was once limestone but because of heat and pressure was changed into marble. So because it’s not as hard as marble limestone will not have a high polish finish but more of a patina finish.
Travertine is formed like limestone. It has a similar hardness but is chemically a little different and as a result is full of holes which are usually filled with a cement or epoxy after it has been cut into tile or slabs. Typically travertine has a larger crystalline structure than limestone and marble but the holes really give it away.
Granites have a very strong, large crystalline look. They can be veined or non-veined and some have a breccia appearance which means they look like a bunch of stones that were squashed together because they were, over a very long period of time. The veins can be orientated or non-orientated, not a big deal but important when you consider the layout of the stone on your counter.
Engineered quartz is exactly what it sounds like. An engineer took a pile of quartz crystals and some silica, mixed it with an epoxy resin, cast the whole lot into a block and when it hardened cut it into slabs and polished them. As a result you have a very hard product, a more uniform granite look with slabs that are all the same size and colours that are very consistent. Very good for kitchen and baths, not so good outside because the UV may affect the colour of the material over time.
So that was a quick and simple look at stone. Hope it helps.
You may have just purchased a stone counter or installed stone tile in your home and you are wondering a loud why the water you just spilled has darkened the stone. Answer, all stone is porous to some degree. That’s correct, all stone. Marble, limestone, granite, it doesn’t matter. All natural stone needs to be sealed.
I was recently reminded of the need to seal stone at a dinner party by a friend’s neighbour. My wife and I were visiting friends and while we were sharing pre-dinner drinks someone mentioned that I had a backround in stone. Suddenly one of the guests piped up and complained that water was leaving dark spots on her newly installed granite counter top. She was upset because she had been led to believe that granite counter tops are “maintenance free”. Wasn’t granite one of our earth’s most dense and imprevious stones? Did she purchase a faulty product? Worst yet, had she been misled? Yes, no and maybe a little.
It is most certainly true that certain stones are denser than others with granites leading the pack. It is also true that the denser the stone the easier it should be to maintain. However, all stones have pores and granites are no exception. There is also a large variance of the level of absorption bewteen the different granites that are available for counters and flooring so it can get a little complicated.
Not to worry. Fortunately for most of us, including the neighbour mentioned above, water is your classic canary in the coal mine. Water is a relatively small molecule and as a result it can be easily absorbed into stone darknening the colour of the stone. This is a sign for you that your stone needs to be sealed. The nice thing about plain water is the fact that it will also evaporate and leave no permenant stain.
Here’s the fix. You can address the problem of absorption in stone with a sealer. Acutally the name sealer is a misnommer. You want an impregnator which is a “sealer” that will be absorbed into the stone and not simply sit on the stone like a wax.
There are many impregnators on the market, water-based, solvent based, silicone, co-polymer, ect. Do some homework. I prefer a solvent based copolymer. I’m sure that the water based products will soon be as easy to apply and work as well as the solvent based ones but for now I’ll take the solvent based. In any case do some research and pick a product that will work well with your stone.
First read the instructions. Second test the product on a small inconspicuous spot on the stone. Most impregnators are as easy to apply as lemon oil on fine furniture. You typically apply a thin coat of the sealer to your clean dry stone with a clean dry cloth or you might apply it by low pressure spray. Then after a minute or so but before the sealer dries you then pick-up any excess impregnator with another cloth and buff the stone dry.
Apply at least two (2) coats of sealer. Again I can’t stress is enough, read the product instructions carefully. Some impregnators work best with wet on wet applications of sucessive coats. Others require a drying time inbetween the applications. In either case when you’ve finished applying the sealer wait over-night before you use the stone. Then test the stone with water. If the stone darkens you need another application of the impregnator.
Good luck and don’t forget about your old friend water, the canary in the coal mine when you talk about stone.
See you at my next post.