Polished Concrete Takes the LEED
By Jim Cuviello
Polished concrete starts with the processing of the concrete surface, the act of changing an existing concrete surface by means of a mechanical process that involves cutting and/or refining the surface to a desired finish. Polished concrete is one of many end results in the processing of the concrete surface by mechanical refinement through the use of multiple abrasives that are measured in grits (much like sand paper for woodworking). Grits are applied from roughest to finest and each girt density refines the concrete surface in preparation for the ultimate surface finish we want to create. When “properly” processing concrete to a achieve a fully polished finish, one that has clarity of reflection and durability, a contractor will use six to nine different grits depending on many factors. During the process a densifier is applied that creates a crystalline structure within the pores of the concrete to make it denser, thereby increasing the concrete stain resistance. The densifier also fills is micro surface imperfections making the surface more uniform and helping us attain clarity of reflection and durability we ultimately want to see.
Once we are finished we have a beautiful, durable and efficient floor surface that eliminates the need for carpets, wood, tile and other flooring materials that require expensive replacement, maintenance and use of harsh cleaning chemicals. The natural concrete floor provides long-lasting beauty and ease of maintenance as additional environmental benefits.
Concrete processing has been in use for a slightly more than a decade. It was first used as a matter of function in warehouses to eliminate dusting, increase lighting, reduce ware on equipment and to create a permanent, low maintenance, coating free flooring solution. Advances in concrete polishing technology have allowed contractors the ability to add color, decorative saw cuts, specialty aggregate that latter gets exposed by grinding and then there is the engraving, sand blasting and etching of the concrete surface. As a result of these advances the process of polishing is now being promoted as a flooring solution to other markets such as retail, restaurants, schools and office buildings. The end result is a functional astatically pleasing flooring solution.
There are three components that make concrete processing and polishing green and sustainable – the concrete itself, the process of polishing and the final floor finish.
Polishing the existing concrete eliminates the need for any additional flooring material (all of which require manufacturing and transportation). Processed concrete has a longer life cycle than any other flooring currently available such as carpet, wood or bamboo. Depending on the quality of the concrete, a properly polished floor will last forever and eliminates the need to fill landfills with old worn out carpet or the environmental impact of transporting and remanufacturing materials into recycled products. VCT and other resilient materials have extensive maintenance cycles that require stripping and refinishing. These processes are applied with the use of caustic chemicals that require repeated applications. Coatings and epoxies have the potential to flake or peel and also require refinishing or replacement. Carpeting requires frequent cleanings and unlike carpet the polished surface provides better indoor air quality because it does not traps and hold pollutants. The polished surface of concrete reflects light and increases the effectiveness of overhead lighting. Polished concrete has significant sustainable benefits not available from any other flooring material currently on the market.
LEED credits that can be achieved when using polished concrete:
ENERGY & ATMOSPHERE
Optimized Energy Performance
The concrete polishing process does not affect the thermal mass of the concrete floor. This credit can be identified because the aesthetic beauty and ease of maintenance of the polished concrete surface does help in the decision to select concrete as the primary floor substrate. Thermal mass is a property that enables building materials to absorb, store, and later release significant amounts of heat. These materials absorb energy slowly and hold it for much longer periods of time than do other less dense flooring materials. This characteristic helps offset heat costs and reduces spikes in the heating and cooling requirements.
Construction IEQ Management Plan – During Construction
The concept of processing concrete to a polished finish is, in itself, innovative. There are three benefits to green or sustainable building – Indoor Environmental Quality, Overall Reduction of a Building’s Environmental Footprint and Energy Efficiency. Polished Concrete addresses all three of these benefits.
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