What to Do With Old Terrazzo Floors?

Written by jennifer marlowe

Inheriting a terrazzo floor from a previous homeowner has pros and cons. Terrazzo floors endure years of abuse and continue to look new long after installation with little maintenance besides a weekly mopping. Terrazzo, however, may add a cold, institutional look. Learn more about the history and qualities of terrazzo before making any flooring changes.

Refinishing Terrazzo

Uncover terrazzo's advantages and you may decide to keep and/or refinish your flooring. Installing a new terrazzo floor comes at a hefty price, so enjoy this housewarming gift. Known for its durability, beauty and easy maintenance, the all-natural terrazzo makes a great flooring choice for high traffic areas.

Invented in the 1400s, Italian mosaic artists created terrazzo flooring after sweeping marble remnants from their studios onto terrazzos (Italian for "terraces"). The marble became embedded into the ground as countless feet walked over the surface. Over time, the marble took on a smooth appearance. Artisans liked the look and added marble chips to clay which was, then, heavily polished. Terrazzo lovers of the past include George Washington (used terrazzo at Mount Vernon) and Michelangelo.

Manufactured today with concrete and marble chips, terrazzo hasn't changed much since its inception. Granite, glass and onyx, however, are often used instead of marble. Grinding and polishing the surface of terrazzo are still the last step before applying a sealant.

Older terrazzo floors which have lost the original lustre usually revive easily with a good cleaning. Use soap and water to scrub the surface. For floors with years of scratches or wax build-up, consider hiring a professional to grind the surface. Tackling this grinding project yourself may damage the floor. Cracks and holes, large and small, will disappear with the right approach. Specialists in refinishing and repairing terrazzo flooring will bring back the lustre of your old floor and give it another 100 years of enjoyment.

Covering Terrazzo

Installing other flooring over terrazzo requires some research. In cases where removing the terrazzo becomes necessary, do your homework before taking a sledgehammer to your floor.

Few people tear out old terrazzo flooring because of the labour involved. Hire a professional for a tear out. Using jackhammers and other heavy equipment to remove terrazzo could create structural damage to your home, especially if the frame is wooden.

Cover the terrazzo when the costs of a professional tear out run too high. Carpet, ceramic tile and hardwood flooring cover terrazzo well. According to the Tile Council of North America, terrazzo's glossy finish adds some challenges to installing ceramic. Sanding the terrazzo's surface allows for a better bond with the mortar used on tile. Use breathing masks if you go this route because of the dust produced. Consult a professional regarding the best tile and mortar for installation over terrazzo.

Installing hardwoods and carpet make the easiest covering solution for terrazzo. Both follow the same steps required for an "over concrete" installation. Nailing carpet tack strips into terrazzo requires specific concrete nails. Similarly, some hardwood floors require a wooden subfloor nailed to the terrazzo. Laying the wood over a rolled membrane underlayment may be another option. Read the manufacturer's directions thoroughly for different hardwood brands.

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