A concrete idea

Concrete polishing may be the flooring of the future—and easier on the environment

Austin Willis, owner of ACJ concrete polishing, and foreman James Johns demonstrate floor polishing.

Austin Willis, owner of ACJ concrete polishing, and foreman James Johns demonstrate floor polishing.

Photo By David Robert

The quest for cleanliness can be both hazardous and expensive. Austin Willis saw the environmental and financial strains of trying to keep a floor shiny as a co-owner of All Clean Janitorial Services in Northern Nevada.

Ridding schools, restaurants and grocery store floors of dirt involved a host of chemicals to clean, strip and wax the floors.

Roughly a year ago, he and business partner Dave Aurand started ACJ Concrete Polishing, a business that gives the same shiny look without all the chemicals.

Concrete polishing is not about acid washing a concrete floor. The technique uses less abrasive chemicals—mostly liquid glass—and diamond-grinding equipment to polish a floor down to a smooth, even finish. Different etchings and water-based dyes and stains can be added for style.

While the service has been slow to take off in Nevada, Willis says his colleagues in the Bay Area and East Coast are often booked two or three months out. For instance, the floor of Reno’s soon to open Whole Foods grocery store is being concrete polished by a Bay Area contractor.

“I really feel this is the flooring of the future,” says Willis.

Here’s why:

* It’s cost comparable to traditional floorings, but it has a low impact on the environment. At about $3-$6 per square feet, concrete polishing costs more, initially, than a standard acid-washed concrete floor. Tile and hardwood floors cost a similar amount. With concrete polishing, however, the base material—concrete—is already there, so fewer resources are used. The careful process, however, does take some time to complete—about three to four days per 1,000 square feet.

* It’s low maintenance and cheaper over the long run. A 400,000 square foot school, for example, strips and waxes a floor at least once a year for $1.50 per square foot, or $600,000. For a concrete polished floor, the cost is about 50 cents per square foot, or $200,000 for the same school. And the need for fewer chemicals makes it easier on the environment and those working with the chemicals.

* A concrete polished floor reflects up to 33 percent more light than a regular floor. The reduction of energy used because of this earns builders one point toward the LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification.

Some may say his newest business is competing with his original business: “Being from janitorial services, we saw how much money they waste having us come,” says Willis.

And while the technique’s low impact on the environment is a bonus, that’s not why most people call him. “Ninety-nine percent of the people who contact us do it because it looks good, not for the green factor.”

Willis is taking a risk by entering the concrete polishing market—one about which most people are unaware or ill informed. “I really want to make a difference with the environment, but I also have to survive,” he says, regarding its growth potential. He wants to be in the regional forefront when, he’s convinced, it takes off. “It’s not like we’re trying to get people to recycle tube socks or something. This is real life.”