Terrazzo is one of the oldest and most versatile sustainable flooring options. It is defined as a composite material poured in place or precast, consisting of marble chips and/or other aggregates combined within a binder material, which is ground and polished to a beautiful finish. Terrazzo today covers a limitless array of colors, and is known for being durable, sustainable, and flexible enough to accommodate designs from very simple and classic to extremely intricate and complex. From the royal palaces and serene bath houses of ancient times to today’s international airports, hospitals, and schools, terrazzo is a flooring canvas with infinite possibilities.
The term terrazzo is derived from the Italian “terrace” and has been known for centuries as “a form of mosaic flooring made by embedding small pieces of marble in mortar and polishing.” Elegant, practical, and strong, terrazzo was originally created in the 15th century by Venetian construction workers who mixed marble chips from upscale jobs to design attractive, low-cost flooring in their own living quarters.
Craftsmen brought the concept of terrazzo to America in the late 18th century. In fact, George Washington’s home, Mt. Vernon, was one of the first buildings in the United States to feature terrazzo flooring! Soon after, due to the large amount of marble throughout the country and ingenuity in advancing terrazzo installation techniques, materials became available for all concepts of American construction.
Today, terrazzo can consist of durable building materials such as marble, quartz, granite or recycled glass aggregates. These materials are mixed with cement or epoxy and polished to produce a sustainable, smooth, and uniformly textured surface. Either poured or precast, terrazzo offers architects and designers unlimited flexibility to create stunning designs—as beautiful as they are durable and easy to maintain.
Watch a TIME-LAPSE VIDEO of a terrazzo installation above, courtesy of the David Allen Company.
To start a terrazzo installation, contractors first begin by using a vacuum blast machine on the pre-existing surface. This is to prepare the concrete for a strong bond with the terrazzo. Next, it is necessary to fill and seal any fractures that may be in the concrete. Cracks are filled with a hard epoxy/sand mix, covered with mesh, and then sealed with epoxy.
Divider strips are cut and applied to the floor with an adhesive as a way to separate colors and to maintain designs. These are often complex and surprisingly beautiful pieces, allowing a remarkable level of detail in design.
Once the strips have been laid, a seal is then applied to level out the area. Divider strips are sealed with epoxy and then the mix of chips and binding resin is applied to create the various designs in the flooring. Once the floor has cured, it is then put through a three-stage grinding process with rough, medium, and fine stones. The terrazzo is then grouted with a matching color epoxy to fill in any pinholes.
When the grout has dried, the durable commercial flooring is then polished and a sealer is applied. This is to achieve a greater degree of color brilliance and to serve as protection for the floor.
Sustainable Flooring Design
Terrazzo is a signature, durable building material, and fills a number of sustainability requirements. More than a uniform substance, terrazzo is a unique product of design, technique, and skillful execution.
The economy and performance of this durable commercial flooring system contributes strongly to its often prominent role in LEED certification. An epoxy terrazzo flooring system installed 20 years ago can look as beautiful as a newly installed flooring system. Terrazzo is an integral part of many of today’s landmark buildings – those which will become tomorrow’s historic monuments. It has a truly lasting impression.
To get greater detail on the sustainable qualities of terrazzo and check out some of our LEED certified buildings, you can go to our dedicated Sustainability page to read more.
Clean, safe corridors and indoor air quality are essential. Terrazzo’s non- porous surface resists microbes and moisture accumulation, essential for a mold-free, healthy environment. Because it’s seamless, terrazzo maintenance is as easy as periodic sweeping, damp mopping and occasional machine cleaning.
Terrazzo shows its true colors in high-traffic areas where durability, longevity and minimal maintenance are critical. With proper terrazzo maintenance, a floor may never need to be replaced.
TERRAZZO CARE AND MAINTENANCE GUIDES
Terrazzo Floor Cost
Tempted by alternatives like carpet, ceramic tile, vinyl or wood, that might be less expensive to install? Think ahead. Because terrazzo almost always out-lives the building in which it is installed, these enormous costs never come into play. Terrazzo maintenance costs are minimal. Heavy traffic and messy weather are all part of a building’s life, day in and day out—terrazzo floors are the enduring choice.
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