Friday, March 5, 2010

A New But Old Polishing Proceudre for Natural Stone Flooring

A New But Old Polishing Procedure for Natural Stone Flooring
By Frederick M. Hueston PhD
Putting New and Old in the same sentence is somewhat of an oxymoron. But in this case both of these adjective apply. What I am talking about is a polishing system for stone flooring that was used many years before chemicals came into existence and is now fast becoming the preferred method specified by architects and others. The word “Green” has entered our industry and I am finding that many projects across the US are now specifying that a green and sustainable restoration process be implemented in restoring both natural stone and terrazzo surfaces. This article will present not only what is sustainable but will give you an alternative to traditional polishing methods that is fast becoming the preferred method.

What is Green?
Everywhere you look individuals, government agencies, universities and schools and even private businesses are going green. As we hear news about global warming and how we are polluting our own environment, it is of utmost importance that we all do our part in saving our planet not only for our present generation but for generations to following.
What Does Going Green Mean?
The term Green or Going Green has entered our vocabulary but few really know what the term means. Going Green is principles that minimize the use of nonrenewable resources and seek to prevent air, water and ground contamination and other activities that degrade the environment. According to The US Green Building Council worldwide buildings account for 17% of fresh water withdrawal, 25% Wood Harvest, 33% CO2 emissions and 40% material and energy use.
Going Green is simply changing the way we build, operate and maintain buildings to reduce the negative impact it is having on our environment.
Many small businesses feel that they are too small to make an impact on the environment. Even individuals feel the same. Take a look at the following facts and you will see this is simply not true.
• A single quart of motor oil, if disposed of improperly, can contaminate up to two million gallons of fresh water.
• A 1/32" leak in a faucet can waste up to 6,000 gallons of water a month, or 72,000 gallons a year.
• Americans throw away 25 billion Styrofoam coffee cups every year, and 2.5 million plastic beverage bottles every hour.
• The amount of wood and paper we throw away each year is enough to heat 50 million homes for 20 years.

And the list goes on and on.

Stone Restoration and Green
Traditionally the restoration, repair and maintenance of stone and terrazzo surfaces use chemicals that are harmful to the environment and to people in general. Chemicals such as polishing compounds contain harmful acids. Solvent based cleaners and sealers emit harmful VOC’s. Not to mention the carcinogens and toxic effects many of these chemicals have on humans. The procedures used to restore stone surfaces also produce a copious amount of waste and use large amounts of fresh water.
I am currently working with a stone restoration company that is taking steps to eliminate all these harmful chemicals and processes. This company has developed methods to restore , repair and maintain stone surfaces using no harmful chemicals. As matter of fact the restoration and polishing of marble, granite, limestone and terrazzo uses no chemicals at all. Here is a summary of their process
The floor is ground and resurfaced using a fixed diamond abrasive and water. These abrasives are similar to sandpaper but differ in that there is no grit removed or left behind on the floor. The diamond abrasive is fixed to a pad. There are no chemicals used at all.
The water used will be recycled and reused in a specially designed system.
To polish the stone or terrazzo super fine abrasives are used. These abrasives contain no harmful chemicals.
Many stone restoration and janitorial companies are also using floor finishes to achieve a high luster on the stone or terrazzo surface. In addition to these finishes containing chemicals that are harmful to the environment. They also have a negative impact on the esthetics of the surface in the following ways:
-Most finishes used on stone and terrazzo are soft and tend to show wear and scuff marks in a very short time. This increase the amount of maintenance as well as cost for daily maintenance
-All floor finishes at some point will need to be stripped off. The chemical strippers used are caustic and can cause damage to the stone or terrazzo, not to mention the environmental impact.
-The old finish once it is removed will need to be disposed of. Most of these waste finishes are considered a hazardous waste.
-Most finishes do the opposite of what they are designed to accomplish. That is they become a dirt magnet. I have conducted experiments that show a coated surface will attract more dirt than a surface restored using a green system.
Even today’s stone restoration companies are using polishing compounds that contain dangerous oxalic acid.
A Green stone and terrazzo restoration process have no negative impact on the building environment or the occupants since no chemicals or finishes are used. The maintenance requirement after the stone or terrazzo is restored is reduced by as much as 50% or more saving on labor and chemicals.

Can Natural Stone be polished without the use of chemicals?
Many stone restoration companies will argue that it is impossible to achieve a deep high reflection on natural stone without the use of chemical polishes. This in fact is not true. Mechanical polishing using diamond abrasives alone with the proper equipment can achieve results that are as good as or superior to chemical polishes. These methods will be discussed and presented my next article.

Be Wary of Green Washing
Caution must be excerised when looking at what constitutes a “green” product. Many chemical companies have reduced the percentage of hazdourous chemicals in their formulations. However this does not make the product any safer. Many articles have discussed this and have called it Green Washing. A great example of this is in a article by The Environmental Working Group( , which uses the cleaner Simple Green as an example. There article states that Simple Green claims to be non-toxic and biodegradable but failes to mention that the principal cleaning ingredient it contains is a possible human carcinogen. The hazardous ingredient is still present along with all the dangerous it exhibits. To be totally sustainable it is best to use NO CHEMICALS at all.


Phil Albee said...

I learned how to polish stone, using snail lock and magnet lock magnesite polishing stones - which is how granite monuments were finished before diamond abrasives.

Our final abrasive was magnesium oxide paste, if needed.

The outcomes were monument quality finishes on granite kitchen edges.

We used the same basic process on marble, even for patch polishing surfaces. The harshest treatment I used was oxalic acid (for marble), and that was an exception, not the rule.

This was prior to 1990.

Fred's absolutely correct that we've been sold a bill of goods by the chemical companies. Environmentally responsible abrasive process works just fine for finishing stone. Diamond technology is your friend.

I have a great refinishing crew that I delegate this stuff to. Now, if only the effective sealers could be so benign...

Phil Albee

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