What is Terrazzo?
Chances are, if you are visiting this site, you either have terrazzo floors or are considering purchasing a home with terrazzo floors. But to understand terrazzo restoration it helps to understand exactly what terrazzo is.
Traditional Terrazzo is comprised of marble chips in varying size and color, embedded into a portland cement binder, technically speaking, two parts marble to one part Portland cement (in practice, this was not always the case, the reason we are able to polish our floors to such an amazing level is because we know what was actually used in these floors, for more information please contact us.) . In Florida it is more common to see Terrazzo with a white cement binder, although we do often see gray cement in some older homes. During the mid-1900′s it became a very popular flooring option. A “green” product before the term existed, terrazzo was beautiful, clean and durable. However, maintenance typically involved just coating the floors with an acrylic sealer, requiring constant maintenance and not showing the true beauty of the stone. In the 70′s, carpet took over as the new flooring king. Had people known how beautiful and durable their floors could be if properly polished, this great cover up may never have occurred.
Today, we can appreciate the value of these floors. Terrazzo installation is a lost art, with few installers available in the country. Prices for new installation can be as high as $30 per square foot! It’s popularity is on the rise, it is considered a “green” flooring alternative and has never before looked so good! It is certainly a wise investment to bring these valuable, historic floors back to life. Today, we at TerrazzoGuy.Com understand how to properly polish and maintain terrazzo because we understand how to work with both marble, cement, limestone, granite – whatever is in your floor- independently and combine these techniques to make your floors better than new! Below is a history on how Terrazzo came to be…
The history of Terrazzo.
Terrazzo, from the Italian word for terraces, was created several hundred years ago in Europe when Venetian workers discovered a new use for discarded marble remnants. Since that time, it has become a logical, practical solution for contemporary design and construction.
Fifteenth-century Venetian marble workers began to use off-size marble pieces (remaining from the custom sized marble slabs)to surface terraces around their living quarters.
The uneven surfaces created, when the spalls were set in clay to anchor them, convinced the workers that flattening the surface would produce a smoother surface more comfortable for walking. They began to rub the surface with a handstone, achieving a flat surface.
The workers soon advanced their technique for rubbing the surfaces by designing a long handle with a weighted end to which they could fasten their rubbing stones. Now they were able to rub the terraces in a more comfortable upright position, utilizing their body weight to provide the pressure to abrade the surface faster. This tool was named the “Galera.”
A smoother surface was achieved with this crude equipment and back-breaking labor, but it still lacked the true marble color that only resulted when the surface was wet. As years passed, workers discovered the milk from their goats brought out the true color of the marble when applied to the surface. The true color of the marble was retained when it was dry. This was the first Terrazzo Sealer!
Gifted craftsmen brought the Terrazzo concept with them from Europe in the late 18th century, where Terrazzo was used extensively in monumental structures. (Our first President, George Washington, designed his Mt. Vernon home and selected Terrazzo for many of the rooms.) Soon the Americanized version of Terrazzo was created from the wealth of marble in the United States and American ingenuity advanced installation techniques.
Ingenious individuals devised a method of using wood strips to separate different colors of the marble chips. These strips were removed and the void filled with another material. These same people learned that adding marble dust to this material resulted in various colors. Thus, they could now create a design with this material.
In later years, 3/4″ colorful marble cubes, known as Mosaic Tessarae, were used as the division strips for separating colors. These became a permanent part of the floor and added further aesthetics. Marble strips, 3/4″ x 3/4″, one to three feet in length, were developed, providing another permanent dividing strip.
Brass divider strips became available in the mid-twenties, replacing or offering a second choice to the marble cubes or strips. In the thirties, white alloy of zinc metal strips were developed, and during World War II due to the essential need for metal, plastic strips were developed. These strips were not only designed to separate colors, but they played an essential role in the control of localizing shrinkage in the Terrazzo topping, preventing cracks from marring the aesthetics of this beautiful surface. Soon advanced technology gave this industry various gauges of all these strips, resulting in the creation of elaborate and intricate patterns and designs.
In 1924, improvements on the Galera led to the development of electric grinding equipment to achieve a fine finish. The technology of carborundum stones on a rotating head, aided in advancing grinding and polishing procedures to today’s standards.
When white Portland cement was introduced into this industry, it expanded the horizon of Terrazzo colors with the mineral color pigment additives. Now the spectrum of color for Terrazzo was unlimited.
Today, advances in polishing machinery along with polishing compounds allow near mirror-like finishes to be achieved on Terrazzo in very little time. Please contact us today if you would like to be a part of the resurgence of this beautiful, historic floor.