Hard Surface Care
Phil Calabritto is the president of American Stone & Maintenance, of Charlotte, NC, a company which specializes in stone restoration, maintenance, supplies, and repairs. Originally, the company was a division of a contract cleaning service, and two years ago AS&M became an independent entity. Since then, the company has doubled its size, expanding its original eight-person staff to 16.
In the more than six years that Calabritto has been in the business, he has witnessed a renewed boom in marble’s popularity. “Thirty years ago, stone was very popular,” he says. “But in the way the stone was quarried and installed made the architectural use of stone very expensive. In the early 1960s, the diamond-tip saw blade was developed and improved, allowing stone to be quarried and installed at an affordable cost. All of a sudden, natural stone prices became very competitive with other building material prices.”
Misapplication of Materials
Perhaps architects were the first to realize the great advantage of stone over other building materials. “Stone is the only material that doesn’t go out of date,” says Calabritto. “Building with stone means the facility won’t look old and dated in 10 to 20 years. Instead, it looks classic.”
During the past 10 years, a growing number of architects have opted to use natural stone both its affordability and durability. But the renaissance of stone use in architectural designs has begun to take its toll on maintenance departments.
“The problem was soon apparent that architects didn’t do enough research about the stone they were using. They installed the stone in inappropriate places. Soft stone was installed in high traffic areas. And different types of stone were installed side by side although their maintenance needs were very different.”
The misapplication of stone has led to big headaches for the maintenance executives. “The stone industry needs to spend some serious time researching maintenance,” suggests Calabritto. At this point, stone maintenance is five to six years behind quarrying technology, and that’s what’s causing all of the problems. It may be very inexpensive to quarry, but natural stone is still very expensive to maintain.”
Technology Catching Up
Calabritto admits there have been some advances in stone maintenance during the past few years. “We’re slowly catching up,” he says. In one example, the quarrying technology of the diamond-tip saw blades has been adapted to diamond abrasives for maintenance needs.
Overall, the diamond grinding has replaced the older, more traditional method of stone grinding for most applications. Stone grinding was originally developed for thick slabs of stone which were securely installed in a floor or wall. Basically, this method uses a stone pad to grind the top layer of the stone surface — stone against stone; but it can crack and break stone that is less than once inch thick or tiles that are not firmly set.
On the other hand, diamond grinding is much safer to use on thin marble tiles, especially the 3/8-inch tiles that now are being quarried for easy installation. Unlike grinding stones, diamond abrasives come in a variety of configurations, including hand pads, belt disks, and flat sheets — another advantage.
A comparison of production rates and costs between stone and diamond grinding is also quite revealing. Diamond grinding can finish 100 to 500 square feet per clay at an average cost of $3 to $B per square foot. Stone grinding, in contrast, is much more labor-intensive, and production rates average around 25 to 100 square feet per day at a cost of $6 to $15 per square foot.
While the introduction of diamond abrasives is certainly an improvement over stone grinding for particular applications, Calabritto feels there is still more to be done in stone-maintenance technology. “It’s still a rarity to find equipment that is developed specifically for stone,” he says. “Most machines simply are variations of equipment used on other types of floor surfaces.”
Within the next year, Calabritto expects that equipment will be available which will reduce the cost of stone maintenance, making it highly competitive with the cost of maintaining a waxed tile floor. “Right now it costs about $1.92 per square foot of waxed tile floor a year, but within a few months machines will be able to bring the costs of marble maintenance to $2.50 square foot per year,” he predicts.
One of the big shortcomings in stone maintenance equipment is the amount of square footage that can be completed in a given time. “Equipment needs to be developed which can handle vast spaces economically,” says Calabritto. “Soon we will see machines that can withstand the pressure of running 12-hours a clay, covering three to five feet in a single pass. This will cut down on labor time dramatically.”
With such equipment available, current production rates will be increased to 2,500 square feet a clay. “That will help greatly in bringing down the cost of stone maintenance. The abrasives and chemicals are there; now the equipment needs to catch up with the rest of the technology.”
Technology Not Only Answer
Even with the advent of improved technology, stone maintenance is still a confusing issue to most janitorial executives. “Right now, we have a lot of manufacturers of traditional floor finishes who have tried to reboost their sales by getting into marble,” says Calabritto. “These products are confusing the entire stone maintenance issue.
Most often, such products are more complicated than they truly need to be. Elaborate systems for stone maintenance certainly will mean higher product and labor costs, but not necessarily higher quality results. “Traditionally, stone has been maintained as naturally as possible. That means nothing int he maintenance which can cause abrasion to the floor.”
Waxes, polymers, and synthetic finished are the biggest culprits in the improper maintenance of stone. “Finishes yellow, scratch, and scuff. Eventually, they have to be stripped. But caustic stripping chemicals and abrasive stripping pads damage stone and deteriorate its natural finish. That accelerates the need for restoration.”
A basic program for maintaining a stone floor can be quite simple and cost-effective. “The most important thing is to keep the floor totally clean at all times,” says Calabritto. “Sand and dirt scratches and mars the surface. Mopping only solves half the problem. After mop water evaporates, a dirt particle residue remains. To pick up that residue, a wet-vac should be used behind the mop water.”
Calabritto warns maintenance executives to be aware of how quickly stone floors can become damaged. Consistency is the key for any successful stone maintenance program. “Take care of the floor before it shows damage. The floor may look great one day, and so the maintenance department ignores it. But a lot can happen to a stone floor in a single day. It can look terrible with no care.”
A consistent preventative maintenance program for stone floors includes polishing out traffic patterns, wiping spills immediately, and mopping and sweeping regularly. “If you keep up your standards,” says Calabritto, “you can reduce the need for major restorations greatly.”
False Promises and Expectations
The ideal stone-maintenance program includes consistently sweeping up dirt and sand, thoroughly mopping with a follow-up wet-vac, and promptly attending to spills and traffic patterns. Conspicuously absent from such a program are grandiose coatings, expensive waxes, and elaborate finishes. “Stone maintenance is so simple it’s stupid — and that’s the problem” he insists. “Anything more complicated is a sales gimmick, and too many maintenance executives are getting sold,” claims Calabritto. “Maintenance programs don’t have to be expensive or confusing. Keep them natural and simple.”
Calabritto’s rule of thumb is to duplicate in the maintenance program what is done in the quarry processes for the original polish of the stone. “First of all, a specialized person will need to care for he stone because each stone has its own specialized qualities,” he says. “A specialist will know what can be expected out of the stone. The expectations for the final appearance of the stone have to match the qualities of the stone itself.”
As an example, he points out that Americans like a very high-polished look on their floors. “You can’t shine up an already honed surface. Before installation, it’s important to select a stone that already displays the qualities you want in the finished facility. Don’t try to make the stone look different with maintenance after it’s installed — it doesn’t work.”
Part of the problem is the lack of communication between the installer, the building manager, and the maintenance department. “Installers may promise something they can’t give,” Calabritto says. “And building managers may expect something that the maintenance people never can accomplish.
Pre-installation meetings are what’s needed to ensure the proper care of stone floors and walls after installation. “Everyone should be involved in the discussion the architect, the installer, the building manager, and the maintenance personnel. Maintenance executives need to define what they physically can af- ford-in both time and money-to maintain the stone. That may call for changing the selection of the stone for the sake of appearance in terms of what the budget can handle.”
When Restoration is Needed
While pre-installation involvement is ideal, maintenance department personnel most often walk into an already installed stone floor. “The stone already set in a building may be the wrong selection for the budget and use,” says Calabritto. “More than likely, the stone has been maintained improperly and is damaged. In those cases, maintenance executives have to be sharp consumers to get the program that’s best for the stone and budget. There are certain guidelines to keep in mind when selecting a company for stone maintenance and restoration. lilt’s best to stay away from a company that shows more loyalty to a manufacturer than to the customer. A company that’s tied to a specific manufacturer can offer only a single approach, which may not be what you need for your stone.”
As Calabritto already has suggested, it’s best not to be cowed by systems that seem too complicated. Equally important is finding a contractor who offers a wide range of approaches and products. “Your discussion should revolve around the final expectations for the floor and how much money is allocated to the project.” he stresses. “Then it’s the restoration company’s job to find the manufacturer who can produce what you want.”
To adapt a restoration or maintenance system for your specific needs, the contracting company must have the freedom to pick and choose among an array of manufacturers. “Each building has different stone and a different budget to spend,” says Calabritto. II A vendor can’t go into a building and say, ‘I do it with plan A.’ Plan A might not be what the customer needs. The customer might need a little of A, and also some of Plans B and C.”
The basis of this approach is that there is no cure-all available for the restoration and maintenance of stone. “Every manufacturer out there has something good. But not one has the perfect solution for every application. The customer is the only party who’s important and that may mean choosing one manufacturer over another.”
Calabritto points back to the quarries’ to support his argument. “If one system worked, the quarries would stick with it,” he says. “But they don’t. They use different systems for different types of stone. That’s because each type of stone has its own unique qualities.”
Check Restoration Company
Another way to guard against taking in the wrong contractor is to hire two firms at once. “Hire a company from out of your area to consult on the job another company is doing for you. By hiring a consultant, you’re assured of a second opinion before the work actually is done.”
Maintenance executives who can’t afford to hire a consultant will need to do more research on the hired company and on the stone to be worked on. “Get in touch with the architect and find out why this particular stone was chosen advises Calabritto. “Make sure you’re not destroying the integrity of the stone by looking for the wrong results.”
With that information, you’ll have a better idea of the specifications to look for in a contracting company. But even if a contracting company appears to have the system you’ll need, make sure to ask for a large sample of references.
“It’s not out of the way to ask for 20 references from a company you may be contracting. Get an idea of what past experience the company has had with buildings such as yours. And don’t be afraid to ask for two or three bad references. Ask about the job that didn’t go perfect.”
Calabritto points out that stone is an imperfect world, and every maintenance and restoration company will have a few failures to pepper the successes. “How did they handle the mistake?” Calabritto asks. “Did they make a tremendous effort before they gave up? Did they simply walk away? Did they give the job to someone else to resolve the problem? Did they follow up afterward to make sure the problem was fixed, even if the job was finished by someone else?”
If you’re the facility that’s destined for a failed restoration program-and such things happen with natural materials- make sure you’re protected even before the work is begun. Check to make sure the company will offer its services to find an alternative firm to complete the job, and that it will show an interest in the final outcome of the project.
Overall, it’s up to maintenance executives to be sharp buyers. Don’t get hooked by grandiose sales gimmicks; know what kind of results you can expect from the stone you’re working with; and protect yourself in case of a failed project. In the long run, your efforts will pay off.
“Once stone is restored to its original condition, it is very economical and easy to maintain,” Calabritto promises. “It’s also a beautiful building material.”
By Terri de Langis
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