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Good Communication

The Key to a Successful Polishing Project

Jack Bell By Jack Bell

Whether residential, commercial, or industrial, concrete is most often thought of as a structural component that is later covered, not to be seen again. Recent interest in sustainable construction has created a greater need for new options using exposed concrete. Polished concrete provides a durable, easily maintained, naturally beautiful finish, and its demand is on the rise. However, as this innovative technique is in its infancy stage, many architects and general contractors are not sure what to include in their specifications, and how to best sequence polished concrete. Concise communication throughout the project between the architect, owner, general contractor, and subcontractor is the most important factor to a successful project. There are several considerations that each party involved should be aware of to assure a smooth process flow. 

The architect specification should be detailed to polished concrete, clearly outlining each step, and guaranteeing consistency in each phase of the work. An adequate spec will allow subcontract bidders to compete with the end result in mind, eliminating costly change orders. Ad mixtures, decorative work, and quality control measures should be defined so that once the polishers arrive to create the final sheen, no additional slab preparation needs to be completed. 

With spec in hand, the general contractor must coordinate the mockup and sequencing of subcontractor installations, considering, of course, the needs of each subcontractor, protection of their work, and all quality control measures.  A mockup can be a useful tool for facilitating communication and expectations between the involved parties. The mock up slab should always be prepared using the same mix and curing techniques that will be applied to the actual floor. Sheen levels, coloring effects, and even aggregate exposures can be adjusted on the demo slab based on the client’s preferences prior to acceptance of the mockup. However, changes to these after completion of a slab is cost prohibitive, and often not possible if the initial grind was more aggressive than the client’s final selection. Acceptance of the mock up will set the tone for the remainder of the polishing process, so ensuring all parties are present and in agreement will prevent problems down the line. 

After the subcontractor has an approved mockup slab to work from, he must then begin preparing for mobilization of crews by ensuring all of his polishers review the specification, and understand what aggregate, sheen, and steps are expected of them. They should also understand what deficiency allowances will be made in the slab. What size pits need patched, and what size are acceptable? They should also review the general contractors schedule, and develop their own activity plan to coordinate. 

Though the polishing process is quite flexible, and can be completed as early, or as late into the project as the general contractor desires, it is important to remember that polished concrete is a finish. The ideal timing is dependent on the desired aggregate level, but in general, concrete should be polished after the site is water tight, and most other subcontractors have finished, but prior to the final painting or installation of cove. Polishers should be given access to an open floor. 

If the polisher is brought in too early, concrete can be damaged by items dropped during other installations, or they may have to work around other contractor installations, dodging ladders or materials.   If polishing crews are dispatched before the job is ready, costs can rise as the customer pays for waiting crews that are unable to accomplish their mission due to scheduling conflicts. Prior to project mobilization, the subcontractor may want to consider meeting with the site coordinator one last time to ensure all of their needs are met, especially with large, multi-level jobs. 

Good communication from beginning to end will guarantee a final result that satisfies the customer’s expectations, and their budget.  Stipulating and following basic guidelines while working together is essential for success.