Having the pleasure of living in Arizona, a warm climate that affords of very indoor outdoor lifestyle, enables me as a designer to explore flooring options that allow for said lifestyle. Well Terrazzo is one of the best!
Terrazzo workers create walkways, floors, patios, and panels by exposing marble chips and other fine aggregates on the surface of finished concrete or epoxy-resin. Much of the preliminary work of terrazzo workers is similar to that of cement masons. Marble-chip, cementitious terrazzo requires three layers of materials. First, cement masons or terrazzo workers build a solid, level concrete foundation that is 3 to 4 inches deep. After the forms are removed from the foundation, workers add a 1-inch layer of sandy concrete. Before this layer sets, terrazzo workers partially embed metal divider strips in the concrete wherever there is to be a joint or change of color in the terrazzo. For the final layer, terrazzo workers blend and place into each of the panels a fine marble chip mixture that may be color-pigmented. While the mixture is still wet, workers toss additional marble chips of various colors into each panel and roll a lightweight roller over the entire surface.
In the 1970s, polymer-based terrazzo was introduced and is called thin-set terrazzo. Initially polyester and vinyl ester resins were used as the binder resin. Today, most of the terrazzo installed is epoxy terrazzo. The advantages of this material over cementitious terrazzo include wider selection of colors, 1/4 inch to 3/8 inch installation thickness, lighter weight, faster installation, impermeable finish, higher strength, and less susceptibility to cracking. The disadvantage of epoxy resin based terrazzo is that it can only be used internally not externally. Epoxy based terrazzo will lose its color and slightly peel when used externally, whereas cement based terrazzo will not. In addition to marble aggregate blends, other aggregates have been used such as mother of pearl and abalone shell. Recycled aggregates include: glass, porcelain, concrete and metal. Shapes and medallions can be fabricated on site by bending divider strips or off site by water-jet cutting.
When the terrazzo is thoroughly dry (or cured in the case of thin-set terrazzo), helpers grind it with a terrazzo grinder, which is somewhat like a floor polisher, only much heavier. Slight depressions left by the grinding are filled with a matching grout material and hand-troweled for a smooth, uniform surface. Terrazzo workers then clean, polish, and seal the dry surface for a lustrous finish.
Terrazzo was originally invented by Venetian construction workers as a low cost flooring material using marble chips from upscale jobs. The workers would usually set them in clay to surface the patios around their living quarters. Consisting originally of marble chips, clay, and goat milk (as the sealer), production of terrazzo became much easier after the 1920s and the introduction of electric industrial grinders and other power equipment.
Newly-set terrazzo will not look like marble unless it is wet. That’s where the goat’s milk comes in, acting as a sealer and preserving the wet and marble-like look.