Terrazzo Flooring: The Definitive Guide

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terrazzo flooring

Terrazzo flooring has graced offices and government buildings for over 400 years. The idea of bringing it into your home is now far more than a reality.

With benefits such as life-long application, low maintenance and unlimited design potential, homeowners are rushing to get Terrazzo installed in some part of their homes.

This article will give you all the information you need to learn everything about Terrazzo flooring and to find out if it is a great fit for your home.

If you decide that it is, we can even help you find a contractor to install it for you.

Common Terrazzo Applications

You may not have known what it was, but odds are you’ve walked on a Terrazzo floor. Perhaps even daily. Here is where Terrazzo is commonly found.

  • Commercial Flooring. Any large retailer will make use of Terrazzo floors including Walmart, Home Depot, shopping malls and others.
  • Airports, Train Stations, Bus Depots. Any time you decide to use mass transit, the first thing you will put your foot on is a Terrazzo floor.
  • Schools and Universities. Schools and Universities use Terrazzo because of its resilience and longevity.
  • Hospitals. Because Terrazzo is easy to keep clean and sanitized, it is also found in most hospitals and health care offices.
  • Corporate Offices. Large corporations use Terrazzo to make a lasting floor with logo designs embedded.
  • Government Buildings. Almost all state and federal office buildings use Terrazzo, too.
  • Residential Homes. Terrazzo is also found in many residential areas, just like yours.

What is Terrazzo Flooring?

Terrazzo is one of those things that becomes difficult to define. It is a simple flooring but with a lot of parts and each one deserves its own part of the explanation.

To put it succinctly, Terrazzo is a cement or epoxy based flooring that is poured into place that contains chips and pieces of various materials to make it stand out.

Because it is a permanent flooring, it will last virtually forever with proper care.

It also opens you up for designs, patterns, or even making words, logos and images directly in the flooring.

Terrazzo Flooring: A Brief History

About 500 years ago a group of Venetian contractors had high-scale jobs to install marble flooring. The jobs were completed and there were left over materials. So, the story goes, that these contractors took the small broken pieces of marble home and laid their own floors.

They used a clay base with the marble placed inside. There is also an Italian flooring method called Seminato that uses marble and cement, where the cement was poured and troweled and at the end, pieces of marble were tossed in.

When it came time to ground the cement after it had set, the marble inlay would shine and look amazing.

These two processes together have formed what we know today as Terrazzo flooring. While you no longer have to steal remnants from the job site to make your own terrace, you can still get the same incredible designs in either fresh pour or tile Terrazzo.

Terrazzo Flooring Components

terrazzo components

Terrazzo is made of two basic parts, the base mix, also known as the matrix and the stone, marble, glass or plastic chips, known as the aggregate.

Aggregate

The aggregate is what makes the flooring “pretty.” These are the small fragments of marble, stone, glass, plastic or other materials. The aggregate gets mixed in with the matrix, or seeded on top before the matrix sets.

Once the final compound is hardened, the top layer is ground and sanded to be even and smooth, resulting in a uniform color and appearance with the aggregate shining or producing a pattern.

Matrix

The matrix is the base material and is either an epoxy mix or a cement mix. Each one will have advantages and disadvantages, but most are there to set, be ground and hold up for a lifetime.

Epoxy matrix applications can be dyed different colors while cement matrix bindings are usually only white or gray. Depending on your foundation type and slab on grade depths, you will be required to use one or the other.

Types of Terrazzo

There are a lot of different types of Terrazzo and each one is explained below.

Thin-Set Terrazzo

Thin-set Terrazzo comes in two forms, epoxy resin and polyacrylate matrix. Both are sturdy and long lasting, but they have slight differences to make note of.

Epoxy Resin

Epoxy resin is the most common form of Terrazzo being used today and into the future. It can be dyed to make almost any color, has a maximum thickness of 3/8-inch and is extremely durable.

Because it is a 2-part epoxy, it will bond directly to the slab on grade. This means it is not suitable for outdoor use like the other options. However, with a moisture barrier or crack-reduction membrane, the floors can last virtually forever.

Polyacrylate

Polyacrylate is a mixture of acrylate and cement. It is a bit stronger than epoxy, but doesn’t have the ability to be dyed as many colors, because of the cement.

It has the highest impact resistance and wear resistance of any other type, though, making it ideal for high-traffic commercial applications. It also has a natural vapor transmission throughout and looks great indoors or outside.

Cementitious Terrazzo

The standard Terrazzo type is called cementitious. It uses the thicker cement matrix and is suitable for below grade, above grade or any grade in between. There are three primary types of cementitious matrix compounds, as seen below.

Monolithic

Monolithic Terrazzo is a 1/2-inch layer that bonds directly to the slab. Using metal angle dividers, the mix is then poured on top to create the finished floor. Most of the time the top is ground and sanded to the edges of the dividers, which leave them exposed to show, shine or give a tiled look.

Sand Cushion

Sand cushion Terrazzo uses a mud bed as the base. Using a 3-inch (usually) sand and cement mix poured over a wire-mesh support, the metal dividers are added before the matrix dries.

Once it does, the aggregate is poured on top and left to set until it is time to sand and polish. This type is best for buildings susceptible to movement from wind, such as high rises. The base matrix is laid on top of a sand bed and an isolation sheet.

The floor is required to have a 3-inch drop (recessed slab on grade) to accommodate the elevated flooring.

Washed

Washed Terrazzo is used outdoors. It is either sand cushion or monolithic but instead of the top layer being ground polished and smooth, the top layer is washed.

Right before the aggregate dries contractors use a hose to wash the top layer leaving the surface textured and rough. This helps with traction and durability when outside, in any weather conditions.

Tile Terrazzo

Terrazzo isn’t just made and poured on the spot. You can get Terrazzo tiles. These 2, 3 or 5-inch tiles (other sizes are available) are made using the same methods mentioned above. The difference is they aren’t poured or bonded directly to a slab.

Instead they are made into small, manageable tiles. These tiles can then be grouted and placed on your floors, walls, shower stalls, or even the ceiling. The most common use is for kitchen back-splashes and shower walls.

Installing Terrazzo Flooring

installing terrazzo

Terrazzo installation is a contractor job only. You have to have experience, expertise and the right tools. Because it is not a DIY project, you may need help finding the best contractor for installing your floor.

We have an easy to use contractor locator to get you free quotes in your area. After you have found the right company for the job, here is the basic process they will employ.

Mixing

Mixing is where the process begins and is slightly different based on the matrix type and aggregate content. For cementitious mixtures, you will generally find a 2::1 ratio of cement and aggregate.

Epoxy is mixed at about 6::1 (or less, depending on the conditions) of base color and hardener. For epoxy, you will also add in marble dust or other filler powders and mix in the aggregate. Cement is mixed with water, which is not found or needed in epoxy mixes.

Pouring

Once the matrix is ready, the compound is poured into place. Metal dividers will give the floor it’s shape, containment and height.

The matrix (or matrix and aggregate mix) are poured into the areas separated by the dividers. Most dividers are either straight or “L” shaped to create squares or tiles. However, modern designs incorporate circles, rounds, and other odd shapes for various color designs.

Rolling

Rolling is the process of troweling the floor after the pour. The first few passes are done by hand to mix the aggregate to a more uniform position, set the height and level the floor.

Next, power rollers or power trowels are used to group the aggregate tighter and closer, and to bring a more level and uniform look to the flooring.

Setting

Before the workers can move on with the installation, the flooring needs to set. During this time, some floors will be seeded with more aggregate to add more character. A light trowel may be needed after seeding.

For cementitious Terrazzo the floor will need to be set for several days. This will make the floor harden and set up to a near  finished appearance. Epoxy Terrazzo needs only about 24 to 36 hours to cure and harden before moving on with the install.

Grinding

The next step is grinding. Once the epoxy or cement is hardened, the surface is sanded and ground down. This will go until the metal dividers and pieces of aggregate are exposed.

First is the rough grinding. Epoxy floors use a dry grind and vacuum up the dust. Cement floors use a wet grind creating a type of sludge, or grinding slurry.

Next, this is followed up with a simple cleaning to expose the new, smooth floor. It also exposes divots, pinholes and voids.

Grouting

To fill the voids and holes, your contractor will perform a grouting. This is done by using a binding material similar (or exact) to the matrix and is poured in.

This part of the process is simple, but highly time consuming. The grout must then set and cure before the finishing touches are applied.

Polishing and Sealing

Those finishing touches are the polish and clean. Once the floor is ground and grouted and everything has set, a wet polishing machine is used (for both epoxy and cement) in various stages.

The level of grit on the polisher will change from coarse to very fine, with the final pass being a high buffing 3000-grit (or higher) polishing wheel.

Once the polish is done the floor is sealed. Usually two coats of appropriate sealant are applied, with drying time between. Once the final layer of sealant is applied, the floor is then vacuumed, swept, mopped and cleaned before being declared complete and ready for use.

Repairing and Restoring Terrazzo Floors

repairing and restoring terrazzo floors

Repairing Terrazzo is needed when there are cracks or damage from heavy items being dropped on them or other disasters.

The repair process should be handled by a trained professional, but shouldn’t cost you a whole lot. The best option is to call the original contractor that installed the floor. They will usually have the colors and specs used in the original install to help color match the patches as much as possible.

The basic repair process starts off with a chisel to make the cracked area more uniform and square. The holes are then cleaned and dried to remove all debris and moisture.

The patch epoxy or cement is mixed and color as well as aggregate are added to match the existing floor. This process is the most cumbersome and difficult, since the natural fading of the floor is almost impossible to duplicate.

The rest of the repair process is similar to the original install. The mix is poured into the holes, left a little higher than the surface and allowed to cure. Once it is cured, it is then ground, sanded, grouted (if needed) and polished.

The entire process should only take a couple of days from start to finish. Once completed, the repaired areas will be very difficult to spot, if the patch is applied correctly.

Restoring a Terrazzo floor is something that can be done by the owner. You will need a polishing solution, many of which are sold at flooring stores, home improvement stores and even online.

You will need to clean the floor, have any repairs, re-grouting or buffing done that is required. Next you want to reseal the floor with a new layer or two of sealant.

Next, using the polishing solution, you will clean and polish the floor to restore the natural shine and elegance of the floor.

Restoration can also be completed by the flooring professionals who installed it. If you aren’t into the DIY aspect, this is a viable solution, as the company will have all the required tools and solutions to get the job done quickly and efficiently.

Frequently Asked Questions

faq terrazzo flooring

In this section we will answer some of the more common questions about Terrazzo flooring. If you have other questions or need more clarification, please use the comment section below.

Q. Can Terrazzo be a DIY install?

  1. While we can’t say you cannot perform a Terrazzo flooring install as a DIY project, we highly recommend that you do not. Professional installation is the best option as the knowledge, expertise and experience of installing this flooring type is critical to the finished product and success of the floor install.

Q. Where can I find a local Terrazzo Floor installer?

  1. Terrazzo flooring experts are found all over the country. There are a few in your area, for sure. If you don’t know where to look for a flooring professional, give our Pro Finder a try. It’s free!

Q. How long will a Terrazzo floor last?

  1. With proper care, cleaning and upkeep a Terrazzo floor can last a lifetime. Many floors are known to last hundreds of years and even archaeological expeditions in Turkey have uncovered pristine Terrazzo style floors from over 10,000 years ago.

Q. What are other Terrazzo applications?

  1. Terrazzo as a flooring has very little other applications. However, stairs, counters and even false walls can be made from Terrazzo. However the most options come from Terrazzo tiles. Back splashes, tiled walls, ceilings or floors as well as countertops, patios, and more can be made with tiled Terrazzo.

Q. Is Terrazzo waterproof?

  1. Terrazzo as it stands alone isn’t waterproof. It is highly water-resistant, though. For flooring you will want to use a moisture barrier underneath. However, epoxy based Terrazzo is much more waterproof than cementitious Terrazzo. Even though it is primarily nonporous, over time (about 75 to 100 years) moisture will begin to seep in and break down the flooring.

Conclusion

The right Terrazzo flooring option will last you virtually a lifetime. While it can be difficult to find the best Terrazzo installer, or know the process enough to understand what is needed, this article was designed to give you a leg up.

Hopefully, you have a better understanding of the history, use and application of Terrazzo and know if it is the right fit for your next flooring project.

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AUTHOR

Nora has more than 5 years experience in the floor covering industry, acquiring vast knowledge about installation and material selection. She now enjoys working as a writer and an interior decorator. Her work has been featured in The Spruce, Homes & Gardens, Southern Living and Real Homes. See full biography here.

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