Thursday, April 21, 2011

How To: Terrazzo Restoration

This How To is about terrazzo restoration. Comprised of cement and marble chips, Terrazzo is by far the most durable long lasting flooring around. Used ubiquitously throughout the earlier half of the 1900's especially on institutional projects, terrazzo fell out of favor due to its high first costs (long run costs suggest it is least expensive - but we live in a short term society so its value is lost on us), as well as its schedule intensive process (not good for quick building). Call it a slow food architectural finish. Worth the wait.

Terrazzo came to be in Italy. Italian for terrace, terrazzo is what humble marble quarriers would do for home improvement, where dirt floors were standard fare. Each day the quarry workers would stuff their pockets and sacks with chips from the cubing and slabbing processes. Not but waste to their employers, the workers would bring this offal home to accumulate in a pile by the terrace. In time enough would accumulate to make a floor, and so the worker and family and friends would gather the mix it like you would concrete - cement and marble chips in lieu of gravel. Once poured, the worker would return on the second day while the pour is still quite green and he would set to grinding the top off of the slab thus exposing the beauty within the marble chips just beneath the neat paste cover. Following the grind, the worker would add a layer of neat paste as grout to fill any holes exposed in the first grinding only to return a second day to grind this grout layer flat again. On the third day the worker would finish with a fine grind to bring the floor to a high hone. According to Wikipedia he would seal it with goat's milk. There there no use in crying over split milk. On the fourth day he rested to enjoy his new floor with his family and friends and to make toasts to health and happiness and a bottle of grappa.

On the Forsyth-Vaquero project we had the opportunity to try our hand at terrazzo restoration. While in a serviceable condition their 80+ year old floor exhibited cracks and surface stains. I relied on the advice of local terrazzo guru Tony Anese, of Anese (Ah - knee - see) Masonry about how to approach it. The photos and captions below sum up his approach. Thanks Tony.

Enjoy and Happy tiling!

Photo 1: Cracks Chased
This photo shows cracks in floor now "chased". To Chase means to cut out the crack. This helps clean it out and make room for crack filler material. I chased the cracks with a mini saw popular among tilers. I used a 4-1/4" continuous rim wet cutting diamond blade. I set the foot of the saw to a depth which breached the terrazzo topping and went into the mud bed below, about 7/8".

Photo 2: Prep for mosaic inlay
Here, I simply cut a chase the width of the mosaic plus one joint. I used the same saw I used to chase the cracks. For control, to keep a straight line, I used my tile setter's aluminum straight edges held in place with my knees. Always the knees in tiling.

Photo 3: Cracks filled Mosaic set

My crack filler mix design is Portland cement, 50% gray 50% white, mixed with a latex admixture, grout additive. I set the mosaics flush with the existing floor, and packed the cracks with filler to the top and overfilled by a sixteenth to an eighth of an inch. It is important to overfill the joint so you can sand it flush later. The beauty and function of terrazzo is in its monolithic presentation and flush form.

Photo 4:Latex admixture
Heres a photo of a latex admixture product from Laticrete. You might also consider Tec, Mapei, Custom, or Hydroment brands - All top notch.

Photo 5: Slurry shot
I let the filler cure 24 hours. While hard, it is still green enough to work. Here I used a 120 grit drywall sanding screen, water and good old elbow grease to sand the filler flush with the surrounding terrazzo. You need not worry about damaging the surrounding floor. It is far too cured to be affected.

Photo 6: Before and After the Sanding Screen
Here is a shot of the sanding screen. Above the line of the mosaics you can see the overfilled crack. This is the before sanding condition. After about five minutes of vigorous sanding and below the mosaics you can see the after condition. The crack is now sanded flush. You will need to the process a second time, because the filler from the first go will shrink a wee bit while curing.

Photo 7: The Finish
Next I sanded the entire floor with 60 and 80 grit screen and water followed by three coats of Terra Glaze, a popular terrazzo coating by Spartan Chemical. This final step is all you really need do if you have a crack free floor which looks a little chalky or tired. A good sanding with water or perhaps add a bit of oxy-salicic acid to brighten up the marble chips in the mix. Keep it clean and keep up with the Terra Glaze from time to time.

Let me know what you think by hitting the like button above or leaving a comment below.


Project Award: The Pool

You gotta give to get. Its a saying I heard while reading up on venture funding. While Mosaic is the farthest thing from a Venture Capitalist's mind the principal rings true in this most recent project award. You see while we were furiously trying to meet the completion date on The Cooler project, an addition to a commercial kitchen, I noticed there was a floor drain failure in the existing kitchen. I proposed to the buildings manager at this prestigious facility to remain nameless that I should fix it while he had me on the job. He agreed, but he needed to know what it was to cost him. I told him naught so long as he thinks of me next time he needs some tiling done. Now, before the project was completed, he returned the favor by awarding me this my next project I'll call The Pool. The Pool is a repair project at my new client's outdoor swimming complex. The complex is 50 years old and has suffered countless harsh winters. Needles to say there are many tile about the pool coping in need of repair. The project will provide Mosaic Inc. about 9 work days of activity. So you see you have to give to get. LOTC marketers take note.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Do prevailing wages help or hinder our recovery?

Do prevailing wages help or hinder our recovery? For the uninitiated, prevailing wage requirements establish labor costs on construction projects at levels which closely track local union wage rates. More often than not these levels far exceed the market level of pay (by as much as 40%) for skilled labor in the same locales.
On one hand, workers receiving more pay will spend more back into the community. Call this the Aggregate Demand Argument. And on the other hand, more capital is exhausted per unit of prevailing wage labor. Meaning less work is accomplished, productivity is diminished - value destroyed. Call this the Free Market Argument. The outcome of these arguments is important because it determines the pace and strength of our recovery.

The impetus for prevailing wages owes its roots to the "Progressive Era" which brought child labor and workers compensation laws to the fore, reaching a crescendo with the Davis-Bacon Act (DBA) of 1931 which established prevailing wage requirements for Federally funded projects - required on projects receiving $2000 in federal funding or more. It was thought that DBA and the prevailing wage laws in 32 states would ensure only local skilled mechanics would be engaged on projects of public import both large and small while preventing migrant contractors using who knows what for labor.

In reality while the rules do prevent a race to the bottom in terms of wages paid, they create an onerous competitive barrier for scrappy upstarts like yours truly, a highly skilled tiler. This is true now as it was then when the concern at the time was toward upstart "Negro"-owned contractors or small contractors utilizing "Colored" labor encroaching on the market share of the larger more established white-owned unionized contractors. Likewise the history of building trade unions is similarly checkered toward African Americans. While this post is not about institutionalized racism within the construction industry, the facts illustrate how prevailing wage laws are more of a big-business protectionist policy paraded about in a "Pro-Labor" wrapper. It is well known that protectionism adds costs to and limits opportunities for society.

From this Friday's Wall Street Journal:
Currently, lawmakers and governors in 21 states are seeking to limit the use of prevailing wage requirements. The proposals open another front in a battle pitting Republican legislators against unions, and push the debate further into the private sector. One of the biggest changes has been proposed by my governor, John Kasich of Ohio. His budget proposes eliminating prevailing wage requirements for public universities and for local and many state government projects under $5M as opposed to the current hurdle of $78,258..."There are fewer resources in the state right now so government needs to optimize every dollar," said Rob Nichols, a Kasich spokesman..."Prevailing wage artificially inflates the cost of labor construction in the public sector," said Bryan Williams, director of government affairs at the Ohio chapter of the Associated Builders and Contractors, a trade group that backs bills curbing the rates. [representing smaller contractor businesses] The Ohio Contractors Association, made up of 90% union contractors, and the Associated General Contractors, with 55% union membership, oppose changing the laws. [both represent larger contractor businesses]
Why does this impact the pace and strength of the economic recovery? Up until this last recovery, housing has led the charge. I disbelieve the recovery thesis. And if you are underwater in your home, have seen little appreciation in your pay over the last decade (perhaps even took a pay-cut a few years back), or are close to a hardworking someone now out of work, then you are probably disbelieving the recovery thesis too. I believe we are more likely engaged in some sort of zombie recovery where the talking heads are ignoring the lack of a housing recovery. In fact housing is one negative monthly report away from being a double dip recession. Rather the pundits are postulating that perhaps we can have an overall recovery without a turn in housing.
For a while you can so long as you have a Federal Reserve to back it up, but the consequences on those of us who live paycheck to paycheck cannot be denied so long as the price of food and fuel continue to escalate. I think the Fed and the wealthy elite are out to destroy us. And, I doubt pundits can continue to ignore the impact this housing depression is having on their recovery.

Is the answer striking down state prevailing wage laws and the federal Davis-Bacon Act? It's not quite clear especially given that housing is traditionally put in place nonunion low overhead trade contractors like myself. But when you consider the residential construction market is but a fraction of its size from its peak in 2006, there are literally tens of thousands of displaced small businesses with over a million highly skilled workers who could easily convert their target from housing to commercial work if not for the barrier of prevailing wages. Are not small businesses the engines of US job creation? And, does their workforce not deserve a right to work? Was not their skill level sufficient and safe enough for you to live with in your own home?

Prevailing Wages are Retarding Growth and Job Creation in my Hometown Toledo, OH:
a Case Study

I'm following the Toledo Blade's coverage of Mayor Mike Bell and the Dashing Pacific Group's attempted acquisition of the Marina District Property. (here) and (here). The city owns a significant stretch of undeveloped prime riverfront real estate. Up until this week it had a willing buyer/developer who sketched out a $200M residential light commercial development plan that would attract a diverse, moneyed, and international clientele. I can just imagine the amount of tile that will go into this development. Now what happened is a good deal hatched between mayor Mike Bell and DPG is falling through because city council wants to put a deed restriction in place which would require prevailing wages. For over ten years, the property has been a development target by various developers, most recently by Dillin Corp. - a local developer who flew high on leverage with the lovely Levis Commons development (a union only project), but is now in the dumps in this our post real estate credit bubble collapse. No doubt he is in the dumps because the cash flows from current rents do not justify his prices paid for union labor. The main point here is DPG is stepping away from the deal. Good for DPG bad for Toledoans.

What we have here is binary, on or off. With prevailing wage restrictions, no deal - no jobs. Without restrictions, the deal lives and the jobs prospect follows.

Score: Aggregate Demand Argument 1 Free Market Argument 0.

In the article, Mayor Bell rightly raised questions about Toledoans' understanding of the Global Marketplace. I agree. We have a great value in Toledo, inexpensive real estate, access to world markets, great universities, four seasons, skilled workers, and more. Of these, I think real estate leads the pack. Ours is an undervalued asset. One only needs to look at the fact that investors from the coasts and overseas are buying up our housing to hold for investment or to improve and rent back to us. Our properties cash flow among the best cities in the US, and in deflationary economies (your home values your wages) cash is king. Investors don't get cash flows from rents on the coasts - they gain on appreciation (speculation as of late). That speculation appreciation bubble broke...hard. Meanwhile our real estate has room to appreciate in relation to other markets, because it is undervalued, our location is remarkable, and it matters not in a global marketplace where you lay your hat to call home, so long as it is nice and live-able. I believe that as the middle class gets squeezed by food and fuel coupled with stagnant wages, families outside Toledo especially mobile wage earners will come to consider locales such as ours as a good place to call home simply because of the quality of life and their housing dollar goes farther here. This is what I believe Dashing Pacific sees in Toledo and the Marina property in particular. And here the Marina development is essential toward the nice-ness dimension and attracting new moneyed residents. I think this is the globalization point wasted on most Toledoans.

To get there, we need to break away from the protectionist views espoused by councilpersons Phil Copeland (Laborers Local 500 Sec-Treasurer) and Adam Martinez (union backed politico). Mr. Copeland says he is, "Pro-Citizens of Toledo" that he makes decisions based on "what affects the citizens of Toledo." Mr. Martinez feels council has a duty to protect, "our tax base and citizens". So long as I am held out from working on cherry projects such as the Marina, Messrs. Copeland and Martinez do not speak for me, a job creator. I guarantee most union contractor Owners and managers do not even live in Toledo. And how does Mr. Martinez justify his protection of the tax base when he chases $200M in foreign direct investment out of the city? For what? Another 10 years in development Purgatory.

Note to Messrs Copeland and Martinez: Refer to the latest census report. People are fleeing the Midwest, principally Michigan and Ohio. This is clearly because we no longer have a lock on opportunities. In fact ours pale in comparison to other regions/nations. Manufacturing alone will not deliver us. Our president even says the jobs lost in the last recession will not be coming back. And, then there are structural problems with the governance and policies of our region. Adherence to prevailing wage requirements is but one of the problems. One only needs to look at nearby Detroit, a city which lost 25% of its population from 2000 to 2010, to see what is to come for Toledo so long as we cling to these old policies which are manufacturing centric and dependent upon a unionized political base. In the words of Upton Sinclair, "It is difficult for a man to understand something when his salary [power base] depends on his not understanding it!" On the flip side I also understand why Messrs Copeland and Martinez must fight zealously for prevailing wages on the Marina property and on any other project of import in Toledo. An undisclosed source tells me that Toledo is one major project going non-union away from becoming a right-to-work town. That as soon as one major property owner goes non-union so goes the hospitals and others.

Now look back at the Marina property and consider how similar it is to large swathes of Detroit. So long as the Marina remains fallow, the adjacent Front Street/Waite/East Toledo area will continue its decay. Here is where prevailing wages are hindering our recovery. And, I am reminded how Socialism destroys incentive. In Toledo we are still promoting it through Unionism, taking wealth from our collective tax revenues and redistributing it through prevailing wages (or lack thereof) in a way which makes us all more equally poor and miserable.

Now that I have said this my piece, Score: Aggregate Demand 1, Free Markets 10.


Friday, April 15, 2011

Project Award: The Bootlegger

I just received a contract to install tile in a residential addition. This project includes 550 square feet of 20x20 porcelain tile with a 13x13 diagonal rug inset within a mosaic border. For now I will refer to this project as The Bootlegger for my muse on this design. Located in the Toledo area, The Bootlegger will provide Mosaic 11 workdays of activity.

In addition to tile laying, this project will provide an opportunity to perform surface prep, leveling and antifracture as the existing sub floor not flat (varies 1-3/8") and is riddled with settlement cracks. Look for video content on this in upcoming posts under The Bootlegger link.

DISCLOSURE: I do not post the names of clients or their clients without their permission unless they agree or request to have their information disclosed in this blog.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

TEC Specialty Consults on Floor Leveling and Crack Isolation.

Charlie Renner from Tec Specialty Products, an HB Fuller Company (FUL on NYSE), drops in to help us get correct on a challenging slab. Our client wants to put 20"x20" large format porcelain tile on a slab which is over 1-1/4" out of level while exhibiting cracks throughout. Ever the professionals, we want to give our customer a super flat floor while warranting the cracks from the slab will not project through the tile. Charlie recommends Tec EZ Level and Primer along with Tec Hydraflex while discussing the features and benefits of both. Look for follow-up video where we cover the installation.


Wednesday, April 6, 2011

What Makes a Professional; The Significance of Humility and Own Tools.

In this blog I like to devote some copy to what makes a professional. I think this is important for two reasons: 1) I want to give my customers and associates an insight into my values, and 2) I want to give employees and fellow installers ideas about how to add value for their own benefit.

So these short serials on professionalism (search keyword professional) if done well can lead to a great thing called synergy - that's value in excess of the simple sum of our parts. Like when a good singer gets together with a good guitarist and these two collect a good drummer in a garage, and in what would be just another garage band goes on to become something more remarkable. That what they do and how they do it together along with good timing all gels in a way that appeals to their audience. They become a viral hit - multi-platinum. Even if these posts are done just OK, they can still lead to a good discussion.

This professionalism edition is about the beginnings of professionalism. What it looks like on day one, week one, and month one.

Imagine this is your first day on the tile job. You may be a kid just out of trade school (do we still have any of these?) or you may be a veteran CPA who is plumb fed up with cube life (hoo! rah!). You may never have mixed cement held a trowel or even swung a hammer, but you are pretty solid on the idea that you want to work with your hands to make something beautiful and you hope to provide for your house and home by trading time for money. You are the FNG. (Also known as the new gal). And, somehow you've convinced me or some other tileguy to pay you just a bit more than others get paid for flipping burgers to "help" lay tile. Help in quotes here should be read with sarcasm, because there is really no way you are going to help when you know next nothing about a thing which takes special skill and tools. Your primary purpose here will be to demonstrate the green shoots of professionalism in the trade.

First of all you should be filled with something akin to humility. That having been plucked from the primordial ooze of warm bodies available in the job market, you are now being paid to get an education. You should be grateful and open minded. Specialized knowledge will now be transferred to you over these first days, weeks, and months. You should be like a sponge and soak it up. You should be like a performer, ready to repeat what you have just been shown and told. And, you should be prepared to screw it up and accept criticism no matter whether the criticism comes constructive and sage-like, or destructive and humiliating. Bottom line you must learn. If you are not a learner...or you have personality conflicts which prevent you from learning...I'll know, and I'll send you back where you came from - back to the burger flipping plant or the cube farm with you. For special skill only comes through the pain and suffering of learning and doing and failing over and over again. And, only humility can sustain you through this cycle.

Here's a few other ways to demonstrate humility on the tile job.

It's never too early to stockpile clean water. I have a lot of buckets. Show up fifteen minutes early and fill them all up with water. While you are at it roll out the power cords and set up the tools.

Tiling: "We start dirty and finish clean." Learn how to clean my tools fast. Do it often so long as I am teaching you the trade. Keep your tools clean too.

Second, A professional has their own tools. Tools indicate commitment. No matter the trade; skilled, professional or otherwise, commitment matters to professionalism. Hence, you must be willing to invest in your trade through tools acquzition. Contrary to what you may think considering the meager amount you are being paid, tools acquizition begins when you receive your first paycheck. And you thought the premium you got paid over burger flipping was for getting to wear a hard hat and using coarse words. Not!

I recall want ads seeking carpenters or some other skilled trade and the final line says, "must have own tools". In my early days I used to wonder how one came to have enough tools to qualify, but based on my experience and my considerable collection of tools, I have come to the conclusion that own tools comes from a solid and steady commitment to tools acquizition. There's that C word.

Let me give you a clue. Showing up week two without some new tools (hint: margin trowel, box cutter, and knee pads) is a serious signal to me that you lack commitment to the trade and thus the end your full ride scholarship with the University of Tile Laying is soon to follow.

Here's a couple more thoughts about own tools.

Since the time man first put a little rock under a long stick to create a fulcrum that moves a big rock with his relatively little weight, tools have helped man create value for society. This too is true for you. You must have faith that an investment in own tools will bring outsized returns to you and your society. Think of the tool as the long stick - the lever part of the fulcrum, and your small investment in the tool as the small rock in this simple machine. The returns you receive from owning the tool is the big rock moved.

Once you grasp this concept you will never look at the Lowe's Tool World the same way again. Tools of all sorts will bring visions of big rocks which need to be moved...moved by you. When you have your own tools I will begin to think less of you as a relatively small and unskilled hamburger flipping CPA and more so as a Mover of Big Rocks. Seeing that Mover of Big Rocks in you will lead me to putting you on more of my jobs more of the time.

Consider the core dilemma of the journeyman - How do I maximize value to my employer such that I get to work the maximum number of days in a given year?

Answer: Own tools.

Nobody cares for own tools better than you.

I don't mind destroying my own tools, but I hate when others destroy my tools. This may seem funny but misplacing my tools is destructive. Could you imagine if the doctor doing your heart transplant could not put her hands on her heart transplanter thingy at the crucial moment in your life and death situation because the FNG intern borrowed it a minute to use it as a hammer, or he figured you are the Big Master F'ing Surgeon, you of course provide all the tools in the hospital and so felt justified in using it on his patient's procedure and leaving it where ever he was at the time when he was done using it? the point here is The Big Master F'ing Surgeon's tools have a place. Learn them. Put them back in their proper place so the BFMS can enjoy their use when her time of need arrives.

Hint: If you like a particular tool so much and you use it a lot, then put it on your tools purchase list. Better yet show up next week with one of your own in your kit. I will notice.

Buying a new tool for the BMFS when you break one of hers is not a bad way to mend fences.

To recap, in the beginning there will be little you can do to control for your lack of skill other than be a willing learner and an eager doer. Humility is the key. Yet despite the experiential barrier to skill, there is something you can do to control for your lack of tools. Make a commitment to purchase some as you go along. At first it will be little things like margin trowels and razor knifes for these are good and humble tools, but later on as the vision and desire strikes you to move bigger rocks you will come to acquire own tools which will qualify you to lead your own tile crew. My little FNG, I do so look forward to that day.

What are your thoughts? How does my take on professionalism "in the beginning" compare and contrast with your experience?